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By Design: The Emergence of Player Empathy

A piece on game design and how it shapes player empathy by on February 18, 2014   Twitter   Google+  

Let's focus on exactly what it is that makes games fun for us, the players. Do you know what exactly these developers do to make you have fun? Well, in short, it's all predicated by design.

Most games focus on a feature-driven design that they refer to as player-centric to pull off the fun factor and integrate replayability, but sometimes giving the player a slew of features isn’t enough to harness that ransom of player attention. According to Polygon, using an empathy-driven and an emotional approach to the design rewards an overall more play-worthy product than features and relatable characters alone.

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Where is this approach seen in design?

Mobile apps and consoles are currently on the cutting edge of design. However, there are also 2D platforms that push for this approach as well. Interestingly enough, this push can even come as late as a game's Beta. An example of this lies in a recent Gamasutra article where some designers are using player data seemingly outside of QA to determine the validity of their design between levels.

While this isn’t meant to upset any original content, level design as related to pacing are at the core of the effort, taking into account the volatility of the player’s reaction to an imbalance and its overall effect on continued gameplay.

Where is this approach seen in action?

Designing a game driven by empathy for the player, and not vice versa, is increasingly seen in games from platform to online to mobile.

Those including nonlinear storylines are at the heart of the change, and they have been since Fable hit the shelves. Nonlinear engines akin to that of Fable have moved out into games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain, which epitomize this design approach.

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The work involved to implement this approach online involves feature and style switching across multiple game styles and genres. One is easily able and highly likely to come across this at online casinos. Look to one of the more prominent companies, BetFair, and you can see that they offer not just single slot machines with unique features but a host of stylized and individual slots appealing to a multitude of sensibilities. Most online games of this caliber, if not this genre, require a lot of work and multiple designs of the same architecture to achieve maximum player empathy. But with the technology mentioned above, it may not pose such a cost-heavy threat to developers.

Perhaps designing non-game apps is most to the point, considering their functionality is based entirely upon efficiency for the user and providing him/her with an easy-to-understand interface meant to make common tasks easier for them. From this user-driven perspective, it’s easy to see why apps like IFTTT, for example, and banking apps rank highly among most mobile users.

Where will this approach be seen in the future?

Technology relating not just to design but to all aspects of gaming will undoubtedly contribute to the user experience. Adaptive music/dialogue and super-AI coupled with augmented reality are both examples that offer an approach putting the player at the center of the design. Online gaming will be no different, as even high-level implementation of these technologies is already in place.

In total, designing games with the player as the focus of empathy widens possibilities for features and pushing the technological envelope. The above examples show the push and stand as markers for what is to come.

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