Gamer Motivations with Nick Yee | Episode 147

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Nick Yee is the co-founder and analytics lead of Quantic Foundry. For over two decades, he has conducted and applied research on the psychology of gaming and virtual worlds using a wide variety of methods. At Stanford University, he used immersive virtual reality to explore how avatars can change the way people think and behave. At the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), he applied social network analysis and predictive analytics to examine large-scale World of Warcraft data.
He was a senior research scientist in Ubisoft’s Gamer Behavior Research group where he combined data science and social science methods to generate actionable player insights for different game development teams. At Quantic Foundry, he leads the research and development of new tools for analyzing the motivations of game audiences, and leverages these tools to provide actionable insights for game design and marketing. He is the author of The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us—And How They Don’t.


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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to Professor Game podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking who bring us the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration that help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE Business School in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to, start on our email list and ask me anything!

Rob (40s):
Engagers. Welcome to another episode of the Professor Game podcast. And we have today with us, Nick Yee. But before we introduce Nick, are you prepared to engage? Are you prepared Nick?

Nick (52s):
Oh, you’re asking me. I thought you were asking your audience. Yes. Are you talking to me? Or your audience at this point? Yes, I am

Rob (60s):
Fantastic. So because Nick, we haven’t today because he is the co-founder and analytics lead of Quantrek Foundry. And if you haven’t heard of it, it has been over two decades conducting and applying research on the psychology of gaming and virtual worlds using a wide variety of methods at Stanford University. He used immersive virtual reality to explore how avatars can change the way people think and behave. How cool is that? And at the Palo Alto research center, he applied social network analysis and predictive analytics to examine large scale World of Warcraft data.

Rob (1m 33s):
He was also a senior research scientist at Ubisoft’s gamer behavior research group and he combined data science and social science methods to generate actionable player insights for different game development teams. And of course at Quantic Foundry, which is where he is now. He is a co-founder as well. He leads the research and development of new tools for analyzing the motivations of game audiences and leverages these tools to provide actionable insights for game design marketing and so much more. And of course, he is also the author of the Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us – And How They Don’t.

Rob (2m 10s):
So Nick, is there anything that we missed that you might want to include in that intro of yours?

Nick (2m 15s):
No, I was just that listening to that, you know, it makes me feel old. Like every time someone’s reading that out, that’s a long list. Like I’m one of these people who, you know, was really lucky to have found my passion and research and the psychology of gaming really early on, like back in college. And I started running the surveys and I’ve just been really blessed to have really good mentors and colleagues to have worked with over the years.

Rob (2m 37s):
That is absolutely fantastic. And, you know, you were saying all these things that you’ve done, but today and nowadays, and even in this coronavirus environment, because I know you have a very remote type of team and work, what does a regular day with Nick look like? What does it feel to be Nick Yee in a day like today?

Nick (2m 57s):
So Quantic Foundry is a market research practice. And so I am really passionate about talking to our clients who may be game designers, marketing folks in-game companies and helping them better understand their audience. So whether that’s conducting a player segment analysis of the genre of gamers at there in, understanding their closest competitors, so they can better acquire new players towards their existing game or future game and so forth.

Nick (3m 27s):
And I think the part that I love the most is helping them understand the questions that they need to be asking and then figuring out a solution for them that’s tailored for what they’re looking for. And so I’ve always, you know, I’ve been doing research in this field for about 20 years. And so it’s really that tinkering process, that research process that I love the most. So on a really hands-down granular level, it’s chatting with, with clients, you know, new clients, existing clients over, over web meeting, we have a blog.

Nick (3m 59s):
So we’re oftentimes looking at the data set that we’ve collected internally and thinking of new things to blog about and share new ways that we’ve used the data. So, you know, in the past, we’ve looked at, we’ve had a recent blog post where we compared pre COVID with post COVID motive, game motivation data, to see if there were any changes and how people were playing games since the pandemic has started. And a lot of people are sheltering in place. In the past, we’ve looked at visualizing game titles based on steam spy data using steam meta-tags.

Nick (4m 33s):
And then the other part of my time, we’re looking at developing new tools or new models or new ways of understanding gamer motivations. So whether that’s coming up with new analytic tools to analyze our data set, new frameworks for gaming motivation. So, you know, we have the well-known one in the video game space, but we also have one for board games. We’re also in the midst of developing one, that’s more generic life aspirations in general. So outside the context of, you know, gaming, but something that would apply more generally in what people value in their everyday lives.

Nick (5m 9s):
So I think, you know, those, those three things, so working with our clients, figuring out new ideas to blog and also present at a talk. So we have a talk recorded prerecorded for GDC, which is digital this year, and then coming up with new ideas and new analytic tools for, for gaming motivations

Rob (5m 29s):
That is absolutely fantastic. And I’m sure you can very quickly see why we have Nick and why he is also a very special guest for us today. And Nick, I know you’ve, you know, you’ve been at GDC talking, you, you’ve done some amazing work. You’ve created all of these profiles of these research tools and frameworks and methods. However, I want to go for a different time, a time of what you would maybe call your favorite fail or first attempt in learning when, you know, creating one of these research tools or mechanisms for understanding gamers and players better.

Rob (6m 2s):
We want to, you know, sort of be there with you want to perhaps learn a little bit from, from that experience. What can we take out of that as well and, and, you know, be there with you.

Nick (6m 12s):
Sure. I think in the role of, of data analysis of games and in this era where we’re all swimming in too much data. So, you know, there’s, there’s so many KPIs, especially in the mobile space, but even any PC console game, there are now so many service side metrics and so many data points to look through that. It really is a, it’s a triage problem. And it’s really interesting triage problem because it kind of forces the analysts because in a world where we all had an infinite amount of time and resources to analyze why players are doing X or Y we would have the luxury of kind of slowly coming through all the data points, but none of us do.

Nick (6m 54s):
And so…

Rob (6m 55s):
Or the patience, even

Nick (6m 56s):
Or the patience. Yeah. And so the data analysis problems is fundamentally a triage problem and it forces the analysts to kind of balance the time they have with their own domain intuition of the specific game genre. They’re working on a figuring out, okay, I need to answer this question. What are the variables that I should be prioritizing? And it’s, it’s very much a best worst situation, right? You know, what, what are the stats I’m going to take? And am I going to be lucky this time or unlucky?

Nick (7m 27s):
And a lot of times we just don’t know, right? Whether we were lucky, unlucky. Cause we don’t know the paths we didn’t take, but let me give you an example. The best lesson that I’ve learned is to be very aware of your own confirmation biases, especially when you’re doing this triage. We were working with a shooter game at one point and they had a significant churn problem in the early game. A lot of players are leaving after the first day, and this is an off the shelf retail box game that costs about $60 off the shelf. So these are people who were playing, buying the $60 a game-playing for less than a day and then never coming back.

Nick (8m 1s):
And there was this big segment of people who were doing that. So we started with a segment analysis based on server-side metrics. And we identified several groups of players. One of which was this high churn group. They were leaving after a day. And what we found was among this group of players, they had very poor in-game performance metrics. So they were dying a lot. They were missing a lot of their shots. They had very poor kill/death ratios. They were failing their missions a lot. And so in the first round of analysis where we talked among the analysts ourselves and then presented it to the stakeholders within the company, I think everyone’s collective assumption at that point was that this group of players who were high churn were primarily newbies, they were new to the genre.

Nick (8m 49s):
They really didn’t know what they were doing. So they were kind of like fish out of the water. They were floundering in the game and they were trying very hard to play, but failing very miserably. And, and so the, the kind of collective reaction we had and the solution that we felt to make sense to ameliorate this moving forward was that we clearly needed a better tutorial for these gamers and a better way of kind of parsing them from other players so that maybe we could kinda like put them in a remedial tutorial.

Nick (9m 20s):
And it’s very, this very gentle handholding way and say, Hey, we, you know, here’s another mission we’d like you to go through before, you know, we end, to kind of like guide them through in this more gentle way. But you know, kind of before we finalize that we also wanted to run a survey of these gamers to kind of check some of these assumptions, but the starting kind of solution point in that first presentation, that was very much the story that we, you know, we were telling. And so there was this kind of tension in the group at that point of, okay, is it even worth running a survey?

Nick (9m 54s):
Cause it would take more time, would take additional resources, tend to go through this when the findings were so clear, like the, like all the metrics that the differences between the groups were so stark. And it seemed like such an interpretable story that people were like, Oh, don’t, you know, shouldn’t we just go ahead and, and not worry about this. You know, why, why spend more time on this? And so there was some tension in the group, but you know, we went in with a survey anyway, but it was kind of secondary and deprioritized at that point. So it took us longer than it ought to have taken us because of that deprioritization.

Nick (10m 26s):
But then about, you know, a month or two later, we got the survey data back. And what we found in the, in the survey, we included a, some personality questions and some gaming motivation questions. And the survey data told the exact opposite story, which kind of shocked everyone when we finally pulled the data set together. So it turned out that this group of players who had high churn were actually genre veterans. They were very much used to playing games in this shooting genre.

Nick (10m 56s):
But the thing that differentiated them was that they had a very aggressive, violent, in your face gameplay style. So in shooter games, these are the gamers who are the more run and gun folks who like to be very, very aggressive. And the reason why they were failing into the game was that the game was penalizing them whenever they were not taking cover and being cautious. So the game prioritized a very cautious play style. And this group of genres, veterans preferred a very aggressive playstyle.

Nick (11m 26s):
So the reason why they were failing wasn’t because they didn’t know how to play a shooter. It was because the game wasn’t allowing them to play the game the way they wanted to. And so that shifted the recommendation. So now it was clear that they didn’t need a better tutorial because it was not going to help them that would in fact, have made them leave the game sooner because then it would have made them more clear that there was not the game for them, but…

Rob (11m 50s):
It was not their game for sure!

Nick (11m 52s):
It was not their game. And so really what the problem was was that they had a player acquisition and marketing problem that the marketing team for whatever reason had decided to go for a very stereotypical shooter gamer profile rather than the profile of the gamer, who was more likely to enjoy the game. And by the time that, you know, they, the data science team had observed the churn problem, they were so far removed from a player acquisition that this was not apparent to them as being the source of the problem. And so it’s really, you know, it’s really confirmation bias is this really, really, you know, prevalent and dangerous thing.

Nick (12m 28s):
But I think it’s, it’s when you look at only one source of data and you’re kind of triangulating and you’re fixated on that as being the story that, that becomes really dangerous, particularly in the triage space for, for data analysis.

Rob (12m 41s):
Absolutely, absolutely. The whole confirmation bias. And that’s, that’s why, you know, smart people like Nick, not only smart, but that they dedicate their lives to, to thinking like a scientist, you know, testing out the things that we believe are just true, testing them out, see what could go wrong with them. And that’s the only way I, in my opinion, that he could have arrived at such a complex, you know, conclusion, because, for everybody, it was obvious that this is what, what is happening. And, and I’m guessing that, you know, by chance or by design, you asked, well, what if it’s not whatever that’s not what’s happening?

Rob (13m 17s):
What is really happening? We need to make that question because otherwise, we won’t be able to help this game succeed. So is there anything, I don’t know if I got that sorted right. Actually right or anything else you would like to add as well?

Nick (13m 30s):
Yeah. And I think my, my business colleagues, my co-founder named, his name is also Nick, Nick Ducheneaut. And we met at the Polity Research Center. He hired me as a summer intern, and that was the era of World of Warcraft, where we were both exposed to this pivot point in the game industry. This really interesting to pinpoint were for a long time game developers did not have access to what their gamers were doing outside of their playtest groups, because consoles were not connected to the internet. And so again, developers had no way of getting back player metrics, and then suddenly when PC games came around and especially when MMOs EverQuest Ultima online, you know, came onto the market, suddenly we were overflowing in data.

Nick (14m 10s):
And this is a very interesting transition point. And, you know, Nick and I, we started our kind of gaming research careers around that era. And so I think at first we were both enchanted with this idea of, and like a lot of people were in the field, this idea of big data and KPIs and coming up with these very interesting behavioral metrics. But I think, you know, we, we both came to a point, you know, a few years in, and especially after having looked at a lot of games and a lot of different server-side metrics that oftentimes these KPIs, these dashboards are really good at telling you what players are doing.

Nick (14m 40s):
So it was very clear that this group of players, they were doing very poorly, they were quitting early and never coming back, but they were much, it was much harder to kind of answer why from the server-side metrics alone. And that was already much, you know, one of the reasons why we started focusing more on coming up with a model of gaming motivations and really getting at the questions of, you know, why are people doing what they’re doing? One example is that the surface level, when you look at an MMO like, World of Warcraft, you can have this super antisocial player who in any other normal game circumstance would not interact with other players, but they may be very power-driven.

Nick (15m 17s):
So in the context of an MMO, they, and if they perceive that grouping up and being in a Guild is the best way to level up their gear, they’ll do it begrudgingly. On the KPI level, they’ll look like any other normal social player, but motivationally, they’re very different than someone who truly loves guilds and plays for the social aspect. And so, you know, we were very much sensitized to like really needing triangulating, using different lenses on what people are doing and why they’re doing it. And so that was very much one of the reasons why we spent a lot of time coming up with the gaming motivation model.

Rob (15m 53s):
Interesting, interesting. And maybe that’s what you want to talk about because I want to ask you about, you know, take 180-degree spin and, you know, look at actually a, you know, a challenge that you set up to do something and achieve it. And you actually had success, you know, from that, whatever that was the first or second or the nth time, whatever that looks like, we would like to know, you know, that story as well. We would like to maybe it’s that profile that you came up with, how you use it. I don’t know, just lead us, whatever, whatever wherever you want.

Nick (16m 21s):
So I think it’s, it’s one of those things that seems super obvious now but it’s important to understand why people are playing games, the gaming motivation model. And this is something that a lot of people had taken stabs at over the years. So, you know, Richard Bartle’s a well-known model. In academic papers and research, there are well-known a lot of kind of empirically-based models that researchers have tried in the game industry space, you know, apart from Richard Bartle, there are a lot of other models that people have developed based on intuition and their observations of, of gamers.

Nick (16m 54s):
You know, so when we started Quantic Foundry, you know, the one thing we were trying to solve. So in fact, in the game industry at that point that the problem wasn’t that there were no game motivation models. It was that there were so many motivation models that everyone was kind of free to choose the one that they liked the most. And there was still this lack of a standard language around, you know, why people were playing games. There were also two very distinct problems. One from the academic side was that yes, they had empirically-based models based on statistics and fact analysis, which we were using and sometimes, you know, decent sample sizes.

Nick (17m 31s):
The problem was that they tended to ask a question from a kind of clinical bordering on pathological angles. So in a lot of these models, they would have things like problematic gaming. There was one model that had a violence catharsis as a motivation, addiction scales that are built into the motivation scales, which makes sense from a clinical it’s like a psychological perspective, but it’s not very meaningful from a game design perspective. And then in the game industry side…

Rob (18m 1s):
Not necessarily useful either.

Nick (18m 3s):
Right. Especially, you know, from a pathological lens, it’s unclear whether that’s really a gaming motivation or that’s completely orthogonal. And that they’re kind of baking too many things into the same model. On the gaming industry side, there was almost the opposite problem where a lot of them were more intuition-based. So there was really no empirical, empirical is a weird word. There was really no statistical reason for why the models are the way that they were, which led to this problem. They were hard to kind of validate in and of themselves. And there was no accompanying tool to measure those motivations that the way that they were proposed.

Nick (18m 37s):
And so, you know, Richard Bartle proposed the model of the player types, but there’s this player type test that other people kind of came up with to try to approximate, what he was getting at. So there’s this, all this kind of like translation problems. And it wasn’t clear that the player test was really modeling what Richard was really getting at. So there are all these, these issues on the game industry side. And so what we tried to do was to come up with a model that made sense from a game design lens and talking about gamers, and that gamers would be interested in taking, but that was based on a large data sample, was appropriately tested, that the motivations that were grouped together were grouped together for sound statistical reasons.

Nick (19m 19s):
And that’s how we came up with, you know, the model. We did a large literature review of models proposed in the academic literature, in the gaming industry. So dozens of these models, whether they call them player types or gaming motivations, types of fun and so forth. And then we created a large survey of these pilot questions of questions. Like how important is it for you to level quickly in a game to play the game at the highest level of difficulty, to chat with all the NPCs to learn their backstories.

Nick (19m 51s):
So about, you know, 70, 80 survey questions like this. And in fact, our analysis is, identifies how preferences do and do not cluster together. So it helped us understand, okay of this bundle of 80 granular things, what are the higher-level factors that are that group together? We created an online app where gamers would come take this five minutes survey and get back a report of how they scored on these motivations. Relative to other gamers that are taking the survey.

Nick (20m 22s):
And we slowly built up a large response that over time. So we launched in the summer of 2015, and we very quickly gathered about 150,000 gamers who had come through and were sharing their profiles to other gamers. And those games are, come and take the profile as well as we have this funnel of gamers taking the, the app. And then we’re up to half a million data points. Now that the app is still alive. But in that first year, that first summer was when we generated the, that we’re able to come up with that first robust model that was very stable.

Nick (20m 53s):
It wasn’t changing. And we identified these 12 distinctive motivations, and we have this, you know, online, and we talk about it a lot in our talks. So it’s things like people who like destruction and excitement and competition and community. So we found these 12 distinct motivations that group into six pairs. And so in the table where we present these results, for example, there’s this action column that encompasses destruction and excitement. So gamers who care a lot about chaos and mayhem and guns and explosions.

Nick (21m 24s):
These also tend to be the gamers who prefer fast-paced action with all surprises and thrills. So that’s a kind of statistical logic behind the visual ordering and the table. The second column is, is social. So people who like competition being in duals and matches also tend to be the same gamers who like being on the same team and chatting and interacting with other gamers. And this social one is interesting from a, especially if you you’re familiar with the MMO community and MMO design space, and for a long time in the MMOs space, people tended to have this polarized view of socialization that on the one end, you had these very warm, fuzzy, social care bears who tended to be stereotyped as being women.

Nick (22m 9s):
And on the other end, there were this kind of antisocial PVP griefers who were just kind of camping, you know, spawn points and killing you over and over again. And we’re having to PVP and who tend to be stereotyped as being younger men. And so for a very long time in MMO space, and you see this reflected in some…

Rob (22m 28s):
Just in case if you haven’t heard what MMO is, is a massive multiplayer online. All right. Just to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

Nick (22m 35s):
There you go. Games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest. And so for a long time in MMOs space, there was this kind of bifurcation of, Oh, in terms of gaming, there are your community care bears and your PVP competition types. And they’re polar opposites. And for a very long time, that was the kind of stereotype and the model that people had in their head. And you see motivation models that reflect this polarization, but in our dataset and other data sets that we’ve looked at, we found that this, this assumption is actually not true. It’s the exact opposite.

Nick (23m 7s):
That social is social. People who enjoy being stimulated by social interaction, enjoy social interaction, typically in most of its forms. So whether that’s a, you know, chatting with other players, being in a Guild, being on the same team, competing with them on an, on a level playing field, challenging them on a leaderboard that for them, this is all social stimulation. So oftentimes, you know, when you see games like shooters, you see competition and teamwork going kind of hand in hand that this kind of arena playstyle is kind of the, the actual typical platform.

Nick (23m 43s):
And the, the bifurcation is actually the atypical form. And that it’s really, you only see that in games where you have truly antisocial camping behavior, that’s not written. So there were older MMOs, like, you know, Star Wars, galaxies, where you could entice someone to come into your home because you set up a shop and then you could place a piece of furniture at the door and then block them in for hours until they get, you know, the customer service rep reps, attention to free them from your house of doom.

Nick (24m 14s):
In the older requests, you could kind of, there were, there were really tricky ways of kind of training, a sorry, training, of kind of leading a group of monsters into another player as they were casting an area effect, so the monsters would all like, kinda attack him at the same time. So these, all these antisocial ways of playing in MMOs, that kind of were collectively grouped as being PVP, but, you know, spawn camping and trapping people in your house. That’s not really competition. That really is just being, that really is just griefing, which is its own set of behavior.

Nick (24m 46s):
But in a lot of most other gaming contexts, you know, community and competition really go hand in hand, let me step through the other motivations real quick. So under Mastery’s more longterm forms of, of gameplay. So whether that’s practicing and game over and over again, so you can take on the biggest baddest bosses and challenges in-game or the appeal of thinking and planning ahead and making complex decisions. Under the achievement, pair are different kinds of reasons for liking point systems. So whether you like points just for the sake of points of collecting all the stars, collecting all the trophies, completing a quest, completing all the missions, as opposed to points with instrumental, meaning in the context of the game, in the form of power.

Nick (25m 27s):
So getting a character that’s high level, getting a, a lot of gear with high stats. Immersion is the appeal of being in the context of the world, whether that’s the psychological sense of being someone else, someone else, someone else, somewhere else. So a sense of role-playing or being part of an elaborate story with a lot of interesting characters and uncovering their background stories and their psychosis and so forth. And then the creativity pairs playing the game in the broadest sense of the word.

Nick (25m 58s):
So whether that’s expressing your individuality through customizing your avatar, your spaceship, your city…

4 (26m 4s):
Are those two separate ones, the immersive and the creative, or is it part of the same profile?

Nick (26m 8s):
They’re under separate pairs. So under immersion is the fantasy, the role-playing. And the story and under creativity are designed this customization and discovery. So a sense of exploration. But, you know, we’ve also looked at this model at, you know, one step higher even. So what, what’s the, the level above this, these six pairs. And the highest level of the immersion and creativity do cluster together, the mastery achievement pairs do cluster together, and then the action social pairs cluster together. So the highest level, there are this kind of three big blobs, and then there’s a six pairs and then the 12 granular motivations.

Rob (26m 43s):
That makes a lot of sense.

Nick (26m 45s):
So, you know, when we’ve talked with, yeah, with clients, with people who are doing gamification, for example, we say, you know, start at the, the level of granularity that makes the most sense for you. But one thing to know is that you know, not knowing nothing else about the particular audience that you’re interested in, what we do know from the data that we’ve generated is that if anyone particular motivation is the one that you’re going for or that, you know, that your, your audience is inherently interested in, it’s the other matching pair in the pair that they’re most likely also interested in leaving you to expand your, your, the features and mechanics in your game.

Nick (27m 22s):
And then one step beyond that, it’s the other pair in the same three cluster bucket that they’re most likely interested in to be interested. And so if you know that your, your gamers are really interested in competition, then you know, that adding teamwork and ways of chatting and chatting with other players is probably your best bet again, knowing nothing else about that particular audience if you don’t have the time to do the, the additional research that that’s the next best bet. And then one step beyond that are the other motivations within the same cluster. So after competition and community, then it would be something like destruction or excitement that they would be probably most naturally inclined towards.

Rob (27m 56s):
Interesting. And one question, because I’ve heard some of the profiles that people use and think of, and have you found like when you, they define you’re defined as, you know, a, a social one, you know, sort of competition teamwork as well, that’s who you are, or is that how you behave in a certain type of context game, etcetera, or does it change? Like how does that, how does that go?

Nick (28m 22s):
Yeah, it’s a great question. So the analogy we often use is personality. So in the, in the field of personality research, there’s also this tension between stable traits and dynamic context. So example, I think that would make sense to everyone is that we all tend to be more quiet in the library and we all tend to be noisy at a party. So, so context clearly matters, but at the same time, we also all know people in our lives who are very clearly introverts or extroverts that there is this that, you know, despite the fact that people’s behavior changes a lot across contexts, we all understand intuitively and we all experience in our daily experience that there are people that people have these stable traits, and then may fluctuate across different context.

Nick (29m 7s):
But we understand that there is this underlying on this underlying trait. So in our model, we focus very much more on measuring that stable trait. But then when we work with clients, we can kind of assess gamers and ask them questions. Like when you’re playing game X specifically, tell me how these motivations play out. So we have a way of kind of getting at that motivation level within a particular context, but context is, is like, it’s this really interesting thing I think, and they’ve had a really hard time solving this in personality research because we don’t have a good taxonomy of context of what the granularity of that should even be like.

Nick (29m 44s):
In the gaming space. You can kind of say, well, maybe the context is at the genre level, that that’s the appropriate granularity of context that you need to go for, but it’s this very kind of intractable problem in the personality space, but it’s also something that we’ve not really addressed in the, in the gaming space of what, when we say context, you know, in the gaming space, you know, do we only mean genre or do we also mean things like genre plus the physical location that you’re playing the game and where you’re playing in the family room, the living room, or your, you know, your own really fancy gaming space and in your bedroom and so forth.

Nick (30m 18s):
I think with most of the clients that we work with, whenever they ask context, they typically mean at the genre level. And so if that’s the level that they’re interested in, then we can work with them to conduct a custom profiling with their gamers specifically, even, and as their gamers, when you’re playing this game, X let’s walk through the gamer motivation questions and see what it looks like for you. Yeah. But that’s a great question, Rob. Yeah.

Rob (30m 42s):
Thank you very much. Just a quick break before we continue with this episode, if you’ve been enjoying this podcast, I would really appreciate if you share it with your friends and family and on social media, on Twitter and Instagram, it’s @RobAlvarezBt and the hashtag #ProfessorGame, all one word. And in Facebook, you can find the Professor Game page, thanks in advance for your engagement. Nick, is there, you know, something that you would say, well, when you’re thinking of your, because again, I was, I was gonna comment on like, Oh, but maybe what you’re, where you could be thinking is, you know, it’s not the same, this, this, you know, the student, for example, it’s not the same when he’s playing World of Warcraft or Fortnite or whatever he’s playing, he or she is playing.

Rob (31m 26s):
And then they come in, for example, into a classroom, physical or virtual, that, that there might be some slight changes. But I think that that is, that is answered in, in what you were saying when you’re thinking, I mean, think of somebody who is, you know, perhaps, well, you, you think about this all the time, people who are maybe thinking of creating a small game, something to attract their, their audience, their students, their learners, or, you know, whomever they might be interacting with. Is there any sort of tip any, I don’t want to call it golden silver bullet, but you know, something that would be, but maybe a best practice that you would say, well, think of these kinds of things.

Rob (32m 3s):
And maybe you’ll, your project could be a lot more successful.

Nick (32m 6s):
I think that in the gamification front, I think there, there’s a tendency to focus more on competition as a mechanic because it’s the one that seems the most obvious. Then it’s really easy to explain to people what a leaderboard looks like. But in a lot of kind of corporate context, especially when we’re talking about older folks by older, I mean, even above the age of 30 in some of the analog analysis that we’ve run. And so we, we do, we have a blog on the Quantic Foundry website where we shared a lot of the findings that we’ve seen and how these motivations change with age and with gender and with other demographic variables.

Nick (32m 41s):
Competition is actually the one that plummets the most with age. So by the time you get into your thirties, the appeal of competition has dropped very steeply from when we’re talking about, you know, people with, between the ages of 18 to 25, which is where it peaks. And, you know, when we blogged that we had a lot of gamers, older gamers who would come in and were commenting of, of how, yeah, they can totally remember how they were very focused PVP, you know, shooter gamers, you know, when, when they were younger, but the appeal of that is all gone. Now that they’re, you know, midway through the career, they don’t have the energy, they don’t have the response time to play.

Nick (33m 14s):
They don’t find the competition appealing. And in itself, it’s not very gratifying anymore. And so, and there are other kinds of other points like that, like also motivations that are more stable with age and motivations that are appeal more to older gamers and so forth that we blogged about on our website. But those are the things that kind of help, you know, in terms of, you know, your audience and the age it is of understanding, okay, given this demographic that I have, what are some of the motivations that we’d be thinking of, but also branching out more from just thinking of leaderboard mechanics, which are often what people gravitate towards at first of what are other mechanics that I could be thinking of.

Nick (33m 52s):
And, you know, one other way to think about it is to think about it as a coverage problem, that we know that there are these three broad clusters and motivations to make sure that you have something in there for everyone, if you really don’t know who your audience is, and you don’t have a sense of, this is what they may prefer to make sure that there’s something in there as a mechanic or a feature under each of those three prongs. And that as you build up the features in the game to make sure that you balance the mechanics across the three prongs. Because again, I think there’s a tendency for people to develop games that reflect their own personal play style.

Rob (34m 29s):
Yes. There’s a past guest called Jonathan that he calls this a self hugging or something like that.

Nick (34m 34s):
Okay. Yeah. I mean the favorite, the favorite story I like to tell I miss this and this happens all the time in the big game companies. And it’s really only very recently who you’ve seen this changing is what I typically call like the Chris and Evan problem, where you have these very vocal folks with very strong design senses or play styles. And they’ll be dominating these design meetings to the point where the rest of the team has to start referring to those motivations in terms of the stakeholders’ name.

Nick (35m 5s):
And so there’ll be like, you know, so Chris, maybe it is very gung ho fast-paced PVP gamer. And he only, he designs a game from that lens. And then the rest of teams, I would say, whenever they talk about a new feature mechanic, is this a feature that, you know, that, that Chris would like, because that, so the entire design lens becomes narrowed down to specific stakeholders, you know, in and around the design table. And they start building these blinders in terms of design space. And so one of the reasons why having this kind of standard taxonomy of motivation helps is that it kind of helped instead of it being a, an individual ego argument, you know, on the design table, they now have this model in a more neutral language to kind of talk about, are we sure we’re covering?

Nick (35m 51s):
You know, so when they’re just focusing on your competition and excitement and destruction to kind of have this lens of saying, Oh, these all fall into this cluster. And you know, we’re really, you know, prioritizing this kind of gamer, is this a gamer that we really want to prioritize? And do we want to, you know, kind of put all our eggs in one basket or kind of hedge our bets more and to kind of have that discussion in a more neutral, grounded way with a more standardized taxonomy. So those, those are some of the things that I’ve mentioned. Yeah,

Rob (36m 18s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I have a couple of these are pretty much paired questions. One is if there’s anybody that you would like to listen to in an interview like this one here in, in this podcast in Professor Game, and the other one is if there’s any favorite book that you would like to recommend this audience and of course, why, for the two of those.

Nick (36m 36s):
Oh, that’s tough. I mean, it’s tougher to get for you cause you’re a hundred, you’ve interviewed literally hundreds of people already. Like, I always feel like the people I’ve mentioned are people that you may already, you may already know. In fact, you mentioned Nicole Lazzaro library right before, like when we, before we started the call, you know, I was also thinking of you’ve must’ve have you interviewed Jason VandenBerghe? Oh, Oh, you haven’t? How, like, how could you, but he’s, he’s tough because he’s so busy, but I think Jason, I, every GDC, well, except for this one, because we’re not, we’re not, you know, we’re not congregating in San Francisco, but you know, we always meet up for lunch at Jason and Jason’s is such a fascinating person.

Nick (37m 16s):
Cause he’s had this long history in doing game design and Nick and I, we love talking gamer motivations with him because, you know, Nick and I we’ve, we’re great on gamer motivations more, more from like this data science research lens, but we don’t make games ourselves. Whereas Jason makes games and he loves talking about gaming motivations. And so we love talking to Jason about gaming motivations as a lens to talk through.

Rob (37m 39s):
So it sounds like a fantastic possibility. And, and of course, right next to your book, the book that you wrote is there, is there any book that you would like to recommend this audience?

Nick (37m 47s):
I, you know, I really feel I, cause I started my research in, in MMOs and MMOs have become this entirely different thing now than when they first started in the EverQuest, the Ultima Online era. There’s definitely a bit of like Rose-tinted and intelligent Rose Rose-tinted glasses here. But there was a point where MMOs didn’t spoonfeed everything to gamers where, you know, people kind of had to figure out the map on their own and figure out the quests on their own. And, and games are difficult to talk to players instead of barnstorming through a dungeon with other players without having even needed to talk to them anymore.

Nick (38m 20s):
And some of the more recent MMOs. And so, and I think some of that design sensibility has been lost because of that shift. So, you know, Richard Bartle is designing virtual worlds of, kind of had that sensibility of a lot of those underlying principles for what it means to design a community of people who, who play and talk to each other. And that in that earlier era of MMOs, I think it’s still very much applicable. And especially now that we’re moving to more remote learning and having an entire university potentially being online, a lot of those ideas come back because now you have essentially this MMO of learners that not, you don’t only have it at a, the classroom size, but you now have to scale it to a much larger scale.

Nick (39m 2s):
I think a lot of those lessons become are applicable in terms of what it means to scale a community. And how do you deal with game design problems at a community level was a lot of things that Richard definitely talked about in his book.

Rob (39m 16s):
Absolutely. Absolutely great, great book. And what would you say is your, is your superpower in this gaming community and this, this whole area of games and research in games, what would you say is that thing that you would say, well, this is what I do great. This is what I do at least better than, or better than most

Nick (39m 35s):
I, you know, I think in, in the data analysis, the data, the data research field in the gaming industry, I talked about the triage problem before and that, and the triage and how to triage that intuition is something that data analysts kind of build-up themselves over time. But I think the other thing that Nick and I have both realized, and I think a lot of, a lot of academics tend to initially deemphasize and deprioritize, especially amongst people in the social science fields, because we’re tended to, to be trained, to be more, more neutral observers is how important game domain knowledge is in making sense of the findings that you not only need to triage the data itself, to come up with a finding, but to also bridge the finding to conveying what the underlying story is and conveying that to game designers.

Nick (40m 23s):
And the only way you can do that is being deeply steeped in gaming in a specific genre that you’re working in and across. So you have a broad understanding of the mechanics that are possible, how the idiosyncrasies of different genres and so forth, and that, that domain knowledge, and it’s really that, that weird mix that you kind of really, it can only build up over time of having the, you know, what I call the underlying chops, right. Of the underlying mechanics of doing the data analysis.

Nick (40m 54s):
That’s one pillar, the, the, the triage pillar that, that being quick, being quick-witted and being able to triage that problem and being the understanding of it, here’s the best place to look. And then the third pillar is that game, that game domain knowledge, and it’s that balance between those three and having those three is something that you really own build upon over time. And, you know, again, it’s something that I’ve worked in, in the industry space from different contexts, from an academic context, we’ve worked with it. In fact, even with, with government projects and understanding player behavior in these virtual worlds, as well as in the gaming development context and kind of slowly building up my intuition and figuring out, you know, which of my intuitions can I trust and, and more likely to be correct, and which intuitions I shouldn’t trust and so forth.

Nick (41m 42s):
I think that’s what I think I’ve become good at over time. It takes time. Yeah,

Rob (41m 48s):
Absolutely. I’m sure it takes time and you’ve invested a lot of good time into that. And we’ve been talking about, you know, that domain knowledge and, you know, that that basically means that you know about games. So this will be, you know, an interesting question because we would like to know what is your favorite game?

Nick (42m 4s):
You know, I think in my line of work, I mean, especially, so we collect a lot of data on gamers. And one thing that we ask them is, you know, what are, what are some of your favorite games? And so we’re constantly running across ’em. We have a game recommendation tool as well, based on that data set. So we’re constantly like coming into contact with new game titles and working with our clients, you know, sometimes, you know, they’ll say, Hey, you know, we’re just in doing place invitation of this game. And so every once in a while, if it’s a game that I’m familiar with, I’ll go load it, you know, and it’s just starting to play it. So you get a sense of the jargon and the mechanics in that game.

Nick (42m 35s):
And I play, you know, I play a lot of games on my own, like I’ll discover games on steam or I’ll, I’ll learn from, my friends, I’m always constantly trying to keep up with, you know, mechanics and features and trends and the gaming industry. But the one game that I always kind of keep coming back to, for a reason, are games in the Civilization series, I’m currently playing a lot of Civ six. I think it’s a game that, that perfectly matches my, my play style. I like these turn-based it’s. We had a blog post where we, you know, in, in the virtual world, MMO space, a lot of people who think, you know, early on you thought that people play these games escape to kind of invent a new persona.

Nick (43m 14s):
And they’re doing wildly different games when, when they’re playing games at games or where they explore and experiment. But in our data, we’ve found the exact opposite, no game people play the games that are them. And this makes perfect sense in hindsight, right? We pick the news sources that align already with our worldviews. And it’s the same thing in entertainment. We pick the shows that match our preferences and we play, we play the games that already are us. So people who are more extroverted, prefer more fast paced, social games, people like me are more introverted.

Nick (43m 47s):
We prefer more, more, more slower-paced games. And I’m a very analytical person in my day to day job. And that, and the games that I like to play, I like, I like planning out things. I’m thinking I’m making complex decisions and building things up over time, and that’s very much civilization. And so I play a lot of Civ Six.

Rob (44m 5s):
Absolutely. Civ Six, you know, Age of Empires and World of Warcraft, I’m sure many of those appeal to your personality, but I’ve lately I’ve been getting a lot of Civilization. It’s, it’s an interesting trend right now and how the game has Sort of lasted for, for so long. Well, not lasted exactly because there’s, there’s a new Civ six it’s still, you know, it’s still the same game in many, in many different ways.

Nick (44m 28s):
I think the interesting, like one reason why it has such broad appeal, is because it lets you play both at the, at the challenge level that you want to be playing it. If you want a more relaxing kind of sandbox builder kind of game, you can kind of set it up for that experience. If you want a very competitive multiplayer kind of strategic game, you can kind of set it up as that experience. I tend to play it more chill because like my brain’s fried at the end of the day from just working. And so I kind of take a more sandbox-sy kind of building up planning approach when I’m playing Civ Six.

Nick (45m 1s):
And, you know, whether you’re more of a designer or whether more of a strategic builder, it kind of has those gameplays too. And you have their plate flows, you kind of play it more from a storytelling perspective. I like to play the game and then tell this interesting story of their empires rise and their relationships with their allies and their enemies and, and how they finally defeated there. And, you know, and so there are all these different ways of playing Civ. You know, even though it looks like just a strategy game, but there’s still these different ways of playing it.

Rob (45m 28s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, Nick, we’re almost out of time, but I don’t want to let you go before you tell us where we can find you, where we can find all those gamer profiles and all those tools that you can have with those that are available, of course, for the audience. Anything else you want to lead us to before we say that, at least for now it’s game over. Yeah,

Nick (45m 46s):
Absolutely. So our blog is at, where we have a lot of findings, what we’ve presented of, of data we’ve collected. If you’re interested in taking the motivation profile for yourself, you can go to, and you can see the link for the gamer motivation profile there. We’ve given a lot of talks at GDC that are both on the GDC vaults on some of their public videos, but you can also find them on YouTube if you just Google Nick Yee GDC talks and so forth. So those are the three things I’ll leave you with Rob.

Rob (46m 18s):
Absolutely, absolutely. Very, very interesting. Again, thank you very much for your time for, for, you know, for, for being today with us, all those very interesting insights that you have given to the Engagers. However, at least as I said for now, at least for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers, it is fantastic to have you here and thank you for listening to this Professor Game podcast. And if you want more interviews with amazing, incredible guests like Nick Yee, then go to, get started on our email list and you know, hit reply.

Rob (46m 55s):
Tell me anything, tell me who do you want to have in the podcast? Just anything that you want and we’ll be in contact and you’ll know, you know, all the opportunities that Professor Game might be able to offer you now or in the future. And of course, don’t go away to your next mission before hitting that subscribe button. If you haven’t in your favorite podcast app, this place where you’re listening right now. And of course, go ahead and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there!

End of transcription

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