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GDC 2010: The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong)
Bar Harbor
The Psychology of Game Design (Everything You Know Is Wrong)
Speaker/s: Sid Meier (Firaxis Games)
Day / Time / Location: Friday 10:30-11:30 North Hall D, Lower Level
Track / Format: Game Design / Keynote
Description: When designing a game, particularly one based on real-world or historical topics, it might seem that hard facts, physical principles, painstaking research, and mathematical formulas would provide the foundation for a successful game. Wrong. These and many other seemingly useful tools will have to take a back seat to the real driving force in game design: the psychology of the player.

Gameplay is a psychological experience: it's all in your head. The vagaries of human psychology define your game more than the laws of physics or algebra. Egomania, Paranoia, Delusion - these are tools to be wielded with precision and care. For the player, perception is reality and the center of the universe is right here. As we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion we discover a number of amazing things, among them: everyone is above average, 2/1 is not equal to 20/10, and the player is his/her own worst enemy.

Using actual examples from Civilization Revolution, Pirates!, and other games we'll look at how including player psychology as a fundamental part of game design can lead us to some strangely counterintuitive places and save us millions of dollars in time and resources. Along the way we'll learn why AI's should not be too smart, how nuclear weapons are like knocking over a chess board, and why gamers can't be trusted.

Alexx: This talk was very disappointing. Sid Meier is undeniably one of the greatest game designers of the twentieth century -- which ended some time ago. He hasn't kept up. He seems totally unaware of the growing role of metrics, and is still trying to design his games entirely by intuition. That said, some of what he covered is still true and valuable, if not exactly news. Here's some of that:

* When the player fails, always make sure they know what went wrong. They are then motivated to prevent that outcome from happening next time -- encourages replay.

* Designers tend to like to mathematically simulate situations -- players' expectations rarely match reality, though!
(Alexx version: We're not simulating reality, we're simulating an action movie.)

* Leverage the player's imagination. Go with flow -- present things player already wants to believe (I'm teh awesome!) with little art support.

* AI doesn't need to be another 'real' player -- role of AI is to be a foil.
- Players are predisposed to see AI as either dumb or cheating -- making the AI actually smart tends not to be perceived.
- Another AI function is to acknowledge and validate the player's actions; adds a bit of social dimension to single-player games

* Interesting decisions are ones which cause the player to think about the future, and to later wonder if they made the right call.