The Devs' Role in the Psychology of Gaming

Discussion in 'Suggestions' started by Nimmanu, Feb 8, 2021.

  1. Nimmanu

    Nimmanu Lieutenant

    Jan 29, 2017
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    Hello again, fellow Galactic Travellers!

    I have always had a deep, even obsessive, fascination with psychology. When I began playing a game called Everquest in 2000, I eventually began to question the psychology of the game. One thing that I noticed and repeatedly watched with intense, compulsive interest was how the Devs handled complaints and requests for "Quality of Live Improvements." More than that, though, I was endlessly fascinated with THE RESULTS.

    What impact did it have when these QoL requests were met?

    I want to take a simple example so that it will be a bit more clear and helpful (I hope). In EQ, there were no horses or other rapid forms of transit except teleports. These teleports, however, were player spells cast only by one common class and one uncommon class. To get a teleport, people had to ask players.

    Everquest was not a large game, as far as world size. But that being said, it felt vast. Why? Because you had to travel on foot through terrifying dangers.

    The effect of introducing the ability to get around had two surprisingly negative outcomes:

    1. The world became very small. People had complained it was too big. Now it was too small. It was also too easy. Get attacked? Keep running! Very little could harm you any longer unless you were stupid and ran into a high level monster (compared to you).

    2. People no longer needed to interact to get help with travel. Indeed, they needed to interact less and less over time as more and more "quality of life improvements" were introduced.​

    I can hear you now. "That's all great, but we're not playing Everquest here." True, so let's talk about what I think is missing from the Psychology of Gaming in Empyrion. This will get long, so if you want to read a more Official and psychology-focused (less EGS focused) explanation of some of the things I'm about to talk about, try this article on for size:

    I want to start with why I made the suggestion about the loot and difficulty of POIs. You can find that post here:

    If you read the article, you'll learn two important things about motivation and/or keeping someone playing the game.

    1. Newness or unexpected results create more pleasure hormones. In other words, finding something unexpected makes us HAPPIER than finding what we expect. This is why I am encouraging a more robust loot system, and basing it on tiers.

    2. Gratification requires that your learning be rewarded and expanded.
    People are inherently lazy and few are self-driven. They won't seek out challenge simply for its own sake in a vacuum of reward. We want to get something for what we do. If I have to fight a harder POI, I want it to surprise me in bad ways--and more imporantly, in good ways. I want to feel a "jolt" when I am rewarded after a hard day's work.

    A person will take the path of least resistance unless they are motived to work for something. At the end of the day, the human mind is working for 'excitement'. Dopamine is the "get up off your back end and go get 'er done" drug. We want to work for it, though. If we get something unexpected but easy, we are less pleased with it. A person may have a piece of junk in their house which has absolutely zero objective value. They keep it because it was a 'reward' for something that took great work and effort.

    People are bored with the "end game" in large part because nothing new comes from it. They rush to finish it, try to find cheaty ways of reliably doing it over and over again... and wander away. They are mildly motivated, particularly if they have something they like coming from it. But they are bored because of lack of newness, and because they are being given WHAT THEY ASKED FOR instead of what is truly beneficial to them psychologically.

    In theory, we would all like to get up and go to the kitchen fridge and push a button. Voila, food! Yet when we work hard and unexpectedly our spouse takes us out for dinner... we appreciate that dinner in a way we couldn't and didn't appreciate the fridge-provided button. I might keep pressing my button to get food, but that doesn't mean I LIKE PUSHING A BUTTON. I have to eat, so I do. It feels grindy. It gets boring.

    But if one time in 200, I also get my favorite dessert, I'll push that button until the cows come home. The introduction of that unexpected reward that's different than the others and that is more pleasurable, makes that button-mashing feel possible.

    If I can get the dessert every time by simply kicking the fridge, though... I'll soon be bored again. It will all feel so trivial. So monotonous. Not worth it.

    Those who create loot crates that cost IRL $$ know very well what they are doing. Those crates have a POSSIBILITY of dropping something the player values greatly. It's the same old loot all the time... except when it isn't!

    People don't really know WHY just "harder" still isn't quite doing it for them. They want to feel challenged, but they want to be driven to challenge by reward. The most valuable reward, though, is that which is rare or unexpected.

    Care must be taken that Devs don't get led to create "quality of life" changes that people THINK they want but which can be detrimental. People will always complain. As in EQ, they complained the world was too large and it was all too hard. But they played and played and played and played. You could barely drag them away.

    They were given what they asked for. Rapid travel. Suddenly the world was too small and people were dissatisfied and now they were leaving. They were no longer being (for lack of a better word) REQUIRED to be challenged to get the things they wanted. With the loss of CHALLENGE, everything became commonplace... and was no longer WORTH working for.

    Many game devs give in to player complaints without truly understanding the psychology behind those complaints. The players thought things were too hard, then when they got what they thought they wanted (easy street), suddenly they lost interest.

    This is the psychology of why people are bored in "end game" in EGS: Not enough unexpectedness in loot, which leads to a feeling of lack of challenge.

    If they are given harder things but NOT given variability and unexpectedness, they will still walk away. Challenge without reward loses its spice; and players lose their motivation for challenge when it's challenge alone and the 'reward' is mundane. Nobody wants 50 neo that they don't need and probably won't even use because they already have 5 stacks of 4k of it.

    I know this is a long post. I just want to point out that people are quick to demand things--but it's important to consider the psychological ramifications. Ultimately, making a "good game" is about understanding human nature and what makes people tick.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2021
    Skavn, ravien_ff, Kassonnade and 3 others like this.
  2. Track Driver

    Track Driver Rear Admiral

    Jun 28, 2016
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    Kudos! A well written and cogent post.

    I am a lazy, non-self-starter ever since I was forced into retirement. I still want crosshairs I can see without having to build it myself!
    Skavn, Spoon, Kassonnade and 2 others like this.
  3. Kassonnade

    Kassonnade Rear Admiral

    May 13, 2017
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    Still, they have to spend a good stretch of time to get there, which compares honorably to lots of games that can be completed in the same time, and offer no replay value, but not for that low price Empyrion can be obtained. Also "veterans" that have been around for a while are completely spoiled and know everything about the game, and keep demanding something new to keep them busy or higher difficulty because they know all the tricks and mechanics like second nature.

    This causes a problem that you could experience yourself, as seen in a recent thread regarding difficulty of some missions. Making content that will satisfy veterans and new players at the same time is not an easy task, and because the game is open world players can jump in "end game content" at any time if they have material requirements, while lacking the skills or know-how. For veterans, all the "early game" content can feel boring, and that makes it hard for the developers to get adequate feedback as to how new or average players see the game.

    This is a generalization, I understand your post up here concerns details of the game loop that can be encountered both in starter and late game content, but the boredom of some players may have more to do with time already spent on the game than its real qualities and defaults. Also note that fine tuning has never been done like what we can see in some player made scenarios, because the developers have more than just tweaks to attend to. Note here that I don't appreciate some players making "custom content" and throwing rotten tomatoes to the developer, knowing that if Eleon does not work on important features these players would have nothing to brag about.

    In French we say : " mordre la main qui nous nourrit" / biting the hand that feeds us.

    My memories of the first playthroughs are the best ones. Working in an unknown environment, discovering everything, even with the limited content at that time compared to now, spending the first nights in a base made only of the few concrete walls and handful of grow plots I could manage to build with the scarce resources I managed to find, risking my nose out of the base to fetch water and rush back in, then at some point making my first vessel, strapping myself on the seat, and shoot for the sky. The first time we get to space is exhilarating and magic.

    That's why I have a hard time when I read what some players think of the game, knowing that they first went through the initial play's discovery and fear of unknown dangers, and now that they are spoiled and bored they lost that perspective and forgot about that part new players experience when playing for the first time. They don't think about "end game" at all, and they will have a long run before getting there.
    Spoon and Track Driver like this.
  4. Track Driver

    Track Driver Rear Admiral

    Jun 28, 2016
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    Same here. The planets, the galaxy, they are bigger and more beautiful than ever. Weapons and equipment, deco objects get more and more definition and detail. I love it.
    But in the beginning, that was real excitement! Like you said, early game meant digging a cave for shelter until enough resources were gathered to build a shack of steel or concrete. Dodging "plant monsters" and those 3 headed buggers whose name I forget. Fending off drones with a pistol. Diving for seaweed for food. I actually enjoyed the "grind" of maintaining my base and greenhouse. And yes, the first venture off planet was amazing even without a joystick. Trips to the moon to mine resources and finding "pentaxid crystals". Yowzah!

    I don't want to ramble on too much. Things have become more complex than I care for. It's not a bad thing, but does make it more difficult for "ME" to absorb. Still the game remains playable. I may not be playing the same game others are playing, but the great thing is I don't have to.
    (please pardon the dangling participles. I do know better)
  5. Kassonnade

    Kassonnade Rear Admiral

    May 13, 2017
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    I started playing in v5 so there were not even "environmental hazards" like we got in v6. From there, like you mention, it looks that only difficulty and complexity was added : more menus, more dangers/ illnesses (and cures, sure, but...) more "intermediary steps" and device requirements to get to the same points/ results, etc. I had my down times too when realizing this, and at the same time seeing that some players enjoyed the additional challenge I knew it was going to get mitigated reception from new players. For me, playing games is mostly to have something to share with my kid, and the additional difficulty made my kid lose interest in the game, and that bugged me for a while.

    But all in all, I'm quite happy with the way things evolved, and I don't expect miracles. That may be the reason why some players don't understand my attitude sometimes, but really it's no big deal, it's just a game, and these are real people making it. We tend to forget that on the internet sometimes...
  6. ravien_ff

    ravien_ff Rear Admiral

    Oct 22, 2017
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    I agree completely that the loot system needs an overhaul!

    Having a mix of common/uncommon "components" you can loot to craft useful things with, and rare/ultra rare special items you can obtain is best I think. But having everything be RNG is not good. There are times you want to add in a way for players to feel in control of their progression as well. I'll use two examples, one from World of Warcraft and one from Empyrion.

    In World of Warcraft you can do various PvP activities to earn PvP gear. Well it used to be that you'd earn honor and conquest points as you did PvP, which could be used to purchase the PvP gear of your choice. There was a weekly cap on how much you could earn so you couldn't progress too quickly.
    Then in one of the more recent expansions they removed this and instead made PvP gear a random drop from winning a PvP match.
    I was a huge PvPer and loved grinding out honor points to upgrade my gear but that change killed whatever motivation I had to do PvP.

    When they brought back the honor point system this expansion I jumped right back into PvP and so did a lot of other people. By removing the randomness and allowing players to have control over their gear progression it brought a lot of people back into PvP and this has held up so far this season.

    There's still plenty of other RNG loot in World of Warcraft, of course.

    And then in my own scenario in Empyrion I added a tough Drone faction. They don't drop anything special except for Processors you can use to craft Auxiliary CPUs for your ships. They have no random loot, it's all consistent, every main drone ship will drop a random number of processors but they always drop some (unless you blow up their loot). And while they offer nothing else that is unique (I still need to add some), players will go out and hunt them for hours on end to get those processors. It gives a goal to work towards.

    On the flip side, I added a bunch of unique rewards to various factions and the alien containers, and I think people really enjoy that too.

    Balance is the key. Have cool random stuff, but also cool stuff people can work towards.
    stanley bourdon likes this.
  7. Spoon

    Spoon Captain

    Jun 27, 2020
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    @Nimmanu , I like your post and it was an interesting read. It may be true for real life but you cant transfer all of it to a game.

    This is a game and from a strategic point of view the 'path of least resistance' is usually better, when storming a POI. All depends on how you want to play the game. Sometimes it's better to blow holes through walls and destroy the core than to go through the 'corridor shooter' route.

    I have never got to the 'end game' bit, so I can't comment on that. I do love the beginning of the game. Starting with nothing and working from there.

    Not my thing, I love cooking, it's the way I was brought up, to look after myself. Just pushing a button wouldn't make me happy.
    From a game point of view, yes, it would be nice if the loot was more random with a chance of getting something really good.

    The devs are being pushed and pulled in all directions, as there are many types of players and many ways of playing the game. Don't get me wrong, they don't really help themselves with giving out info and suggestions or what they are working on. Things all seem secretive.

    Just to add, nice post by the way.
  8. stanley bourdon

    stanley bourdon Captain

    Oct 7, 2018
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    yes and the reason I want the original plant monster back. The best death I had in the game. I know it is not going to happen or ever be the same.
    Kassonnade and Track Driver like this.
  9. Pembroke

    Pembroke Lieutenant

    Mar 26, 2017
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    A well thought out post. It indeed is so that there are game mechanics that we may think we don't like when we actually do like them. That is, as you say, taking them away would make the game *less* enjoyable instead of adding to the fun. We should always keep that in mind when designing games. If you stop and really think, then it should come clear to most people that a good game needs to have challenges that are difficult enough to make you feel challenged but not too difficult to make them too frustrating. It's a fine line but something you really need to consider.

    However, when it comes to the quality-of-life stuff, then I think we should actually be clear about what we mean by that. Because there *are* quality-of-life improvements that are "safe" and that regardless of what your difficulty preferences are or how you think about the "grind".

    To me a "true" quality-of-life improvement is such that does *not* affect the in-game universe or the game rules and mechanics that apply there. It's simply something that makes the *user interface* better and easier to use for those things the rules and mechanics of the game allow you to do. To use a very obvious example: Different objects in the game have separate inventories and you can move things between those inventories with a drag-and-drop user interface action. A quality-of-life improvement to this would be to add SHIFT+CLICK as an alternative quick way to move stuff between the inventories. This doesn't affect the game world or its rules and mechanics in any way but it makes you interacting with them a lot easier. A true quality-of-life improvement. And, praise the devs, they added that thing early!

    These kind of things should be done. They make life easier for the player and they are safe. As opposed to stuff like the "fast travel mechanic" in your example that actually *changes* how things work in the game world. The devs, and indeed we all, should keep this distinction in mind when we ask for QoL improvements. If it affects the game world then it needs some serious thinking and, especially, proper balancing. If it's about the UI then go for it.

    Like, let's say, when I point my multitool at a block then in addition of informing the type of the block it would also tell me the *shape* of the block. So that I know *which* of the darn ramp corners I used here. Hint. Wink, wink. ;)

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