One of the problems game developers have is figuring out what players want. There are various papers, arguments, and forum threads on what constitutes fun and how to engineer it. Entire books may be dedicated to the question of what players like about video games. If we can find out what they like, we can make more of it.
The PENS model suggested in the article Rethinking Carrots: A New Method For Measuring What Players Find Most Rewarding and Motivating About Your Game seems to be a statistically significant predictor of player enjoyment. That is, someone has come up with a model that is incredibly accurate at predicting what a player may enjoy about playing video games.
The article is eight pages long and goes into some detail, but the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction model breaks everything down to three psychological needs:
Competence suggests that players enjoy activities in which they can feel effective. Getting to the next level, finding the next item, and surviving the next zombie all allow the player to overcome challenges, and the player enjoys becoming better at these activities.
Autonomy simply means that the player feels he/she has a choice. A game that allows the player to choose his/her way through will be more enjoyable than a game that acts as if it is on rails.
Relatedness is about the fact that video game players are social animals. The article suggests this part of the model has only recently become relevant to the mainstream player, but I think that MUDs, BBS, and various multiplayer video games have existed for a long time. I am sure relatedness applied there as well.
What’s interesting about this PENS model is that it seems to be much more accurate at predicting the success and popularity of a game than trying to measure “fun” in other ways. One of the more interesting quotes:
Describing the player experience in terms of genuine need satisfaction, rather than simply as â€œfun,â€ gives the industry the deeper language it deserves for communicating what makes games so powerfully unique. It allows us to speak meaningfully about the value games have beyond leisure and diversion, diffuses the political bias against games as empty experiences, and provides an important new lexicon in the Serious Games arena where, as the name implies, fun is not always the primary goal. When we speak of games in terms of their satisfaction of competence, autonomy, and relatedness, we respect that this is both what makes them fun and also what can make them so much more.
Some new words to make it easier to talk about video games? I’ll take them.