Visiting Ubisoft’s blog, I came upon an article presenting the theories of Jason VandenBerghe (creative director at Ubisoft Montreal), on player’s motivation and engagement. In line with Brain Value’s will to expand our references and enrich our approach on consumer insights, we will see how Jason VandenBerghe’s take on players’ psychology allows us to better reflect on Cultural and Creative industries’ upcoming challenges.
In the beginning was the Empathy
Passionate about video games as an art form and a media, Jason VandenBerghe cultivated a game-design philosophy that rises above the simple combination of specific game features, to focus on what he calls “players’ accurate empathy”, meaning that it is more important to understand the why rather than the what, in terms of player’s expectations.
Back in 2012, J.V. started to craft a model called ‘The Five Domains of Play’, aiming to understand player’s preferences based on their psychological and behavioral profiles (inspired by a dominant system in motivation psychology called the ‘Five Factor Model’). He has been developing, and perfecting this model ever since, driven by the idea that “this model is not about making better game-design; this model is about making better game-designers”.
And there was an insight
Looking to perfect his understanding of difficulties unsolved by the precedent model, J.V. merged the Five Domains of Play with another model called Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS). That’s how he designed his latest ‘Engines of Play’ model (presented at 2016 Game Developers Conference) based on the insight that you don’t keep playing for the same reasons you start playing.
The impact of taste satisfaction will go down over time
Most of the decisions we make are simply based around taste, but desires expressed by taste are rapidly and easily satisfied. So if taste can explain our interests in the first place, it fails to justify what motivates us to get involved.
J.V.’s take on the issue is that we are playing (more broadly we are looking to entertain ourselves) because we have unsatisfied existential or social motivations in our lives. That’s what the PENS model is all about: you might start playing a specific game because it’s fun, but very soon this won’t be sufficient to keep you involved. Research showed that you keep playing to satisfy three major universal motivations: autonomy (be the agent of your life); competence (control outcomes and experience mastery); and relatedness (interact with, be connected to others).
Meaningful satisfaction is the key
If you want to build a strong link with people, you need to ask yourself what you can provide to generate deep satisfaction. For instance you may experience meaningful satisfaction if a book, a TV show, etc. is having a real impact on your life, something that you can keep with you even once the screen is off, the book is closed: learning something about yourself, being able to debate with others, defining yourself through it, being part of a larger group sharing interests, etc.
Following that idea, financial success of a product/brand is not necessarily a good indicator of its impact on people. Deed of purchase is not an end in itself as it is a mere reflection of the enthusiasm you were able to kindle, and not an indicator of people positive engagement with your brand, ask yourself if you never bought and only read half of a book, went to see one exhibition never to return to this museum again… Taste will initiate short-term interaction when satisfaction will engage long-term involvement.
Take Netflix for example, as a producer and provider of content with a business model based on monthly subscription, the question of taste is necessary to bring people to the platform, but once, let’s say, your desire for a political thriller has been satisfied watching House of Cards, you’ll need to find other kinds of satisfactions to make you want to discover the rest of Netflix content. The thing is if you appreciated House of Cards because the show provided a deep and meaningful satisfaction then you’ll be more inclined to try other Netflix contents rather than switch to Amazon Prime or Hulu; and if you do switch content providers, you’ll tend to come back to the one offering the most satisfying experiences (from UX to the actual qualitative experience of content.)
So what can we learn from this?
Jason VandenBerghe has been perfecting his research for years, trying to understand the motivations at play in the specific experience of video games as a media. His insight at the root of the ‘Engines of Play’ goes beyond the experience of video games; it is relevant for every Cultural Industries’ concerned party.
Any actor wanting to provide a relevant service/product in a cultural environment overloaded with content needs to keep in mind these key learning:
1° People motivations and needs will change over time
2° People came in contact with your brand/creations for different reasons
3° But among them, those who connect with you do it for the same reasons
Whether you are an artist, a producer, a cultural institution, etc. you need to identify what motivates people to connect with you, and reflect on your creative flow, your strategic process with the aim of satisfying needs connected to said motivations.
Faced with multiplications of actors, contents, and media, Cultural Industries’ involved parties will have to find a way to be both appealing, in order to exist in the competitive landscape, and relevant, providing meaning in people’s life is the ultimate differentiating factor on a crowded market. Note that there’s not one way to be relevant but numerous. Netflix was relevant as a streaming platform giving access to all its content for a monthly subscription before being relevant as a creator of original content.
In the end, it’s not about what you create; it’s about how you create it, how you deliver it, how it is fit to answer people’s need and provide several layers of satisfaction at a specific time. But mostly it’s about how you are able to learn and evolve in order to keep providing meaningful experiences. Following Jason VandenBerghe’s approach, you can only achieve that level of mastery by being empathetic with the people interested in what you do.