GDC 2012 – The 5 Domains of Play: Applying Psychology’s Big 5 Motivation Domains to Games

Presented at GDC 2012 by Jason VandenBerghe of Ubisoft

This was an amazing and enlightening talk. Amazing because Jason VandenBerghe is truly entertaining. Enlightening because the subject matter points out things that are inherent in the human personality, but never widely quantifiable by one’s single experience.

The most amazing products ever created have filled an obvious need no one knew about until the product appeared. The 5 domains of play help us address this coming from the video game industry perspective by presenting tools that pinpoint what your target audience naturally gravitates toward and helps you define that in your product. Basically, it helps us to figure out a player’s motivation, which then allows us to make appropriate design decisions for the game.

The talk is derived from the Big 5 or O.C.E.A.N. which are 5 categories describing an individual’s personality. These categories are based on a spectrum of opposites, where the right side of the category is the category itself, and the left side of it is the exact opposite.

  1. Openness to Experience:
    Closedness <=> Openness to Experience
  2. Conscientiousness:
    Un-Conscientious <=> Contientious
  3. Extraversion:
    Introversion <=> Extraversion
  4. Agreeableness:
    Disagreeableness <=> Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism:
    Stability <=> Nueroticism

These traits can be discovered by taking the following personality test:

Next the Big 5 is translated into “The 5 Domains of Play” with six individual subcategories. Refer to pages, 60 thru 69 in the PowerPoint or PDF from the link at the top of the page for the range descriptions within each category.

  1. Novelty:
    Fantasy, Artistry, Melodrama, Predictability, Abstraction, Message 
  2. Challenge:
    Difficulty, Order, Obligation, Achievement, Work, Caution
  3. Stimulation:
    Expression, Crowd, Role, Pace, Thrill, Joy 
  4. Harmony:
    Trust, Integrity, Help, Competitiveness, Glory, Compassion
  5. Threat:
    Tension, Provocation, Gloom, Humiliation, Addiction, Danger

These domains essentially tell game designers what they are missing in a game. Slides 30 thru 34 gives good examples of how these domains relate to games currently on the market.

The basic conclusion?

  • We tend to play for the same reasons we live. For example, people who seek out novelty in their life will likely seek that out in their gaming experience.
  • Game design now has techniques for targeting most of the human motivations.
  • To reach a large audience, target both ends of the spectrum. Slides 78 thru 80 give good examples of game that do this.

Jason VandenBerghe’s “amazing” mental shift from these studies:
“Players want __X__!”
But the other half want the opposite.

Jason shared a realization about how the industry views gamers. All gamers are “achievement players.” This means that gamers strive to accomplish a goal to get rewarded, like earning trophies, stars, badges, etc. But it turns out that this is only half true. The other half are “contentment players.” This means that these types of players don’t strive to collect game trinkets, and boast or brag about them on their Facebook page.

There’s money in both types.

The Power Point and PDF for this presentation can be found on Jason VandenBerghe’s website, Email me if they are unavailable.


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