Engagement and Personalization

January 24th, 2012 — 8:49pm

This is part three of the four part series on value creation in games. Part 1: Value Creation in Games; Part 2:Engagement and Content Volume; Part 3:Engagement and Personalization; Part 4: The Game Engagement Landscape.


So increasing the amount of content we can consume increases the possibility some of that content will be interesting to the player.  But that’s not much good if we can’t sort out the meaningful bits (in the Hitchcock sense), or make a higher portion of the content more interesting.

How do we do that?  Once again, three possible ways:

  • Tailor the content to individual interests
  • Share the experience with friends
  • Increase personal investment

At its extreme, hand-tailoring content to each individual would be far too expensive to be practical.  Some games do get close, like extremely well run pen-and-paper RPGs (i.e. where the GM is able to adapt the game on the fly to the group’s interest).  But even little things can bring a game closer to an individual’s personal interests:  specific themes (e.g. sci fi, fantasy, western) mechanics (e.g. strategy, action, puzzle), play style (e.g. exploration, competition, achievement), audiovisual style, and so forth.

You lose audience the deeper you go down this path since you’re adding something that will have no interest to (or possibly a negative impact on) a portion of your potential players, but you’ll likely increase the length of play from those you do capture.

Some games have attempted to introduce more asymmetric play to capture a broader range of interests, where the same game is being played differently by different players.  The best successful example of this lies with MMOs, where one can focus more on, say, exploration, or combat, or crafting, or trading.

Speaking of MMOs, simply sharing the experience with friends is another way to make it more personally meaningful.  Note that I’m not talking about telling others what you’re doing (in the Facebook viral sense), but sharing the play experience itself with others who are also playing.  Friends might be those you knew before you started playing or those you met through the course of play;  the important part is that they appreciate and validate your experience.

Lastly, increasing a user’s personal investment goes a long way toward making it more important to them.  Yes, that sounds a bit circular, but it’s more of a positive feedback loop:  the more I invest, the more meaning it has;  the more meaning it has, the more I’ll invest.

Persistence is the easiest form of this.  It captures the unique changes and additions the player has made, and reflects the unique history – the story – of the player’s personal involvement in the game so far.  That includes player relationships, assuming the game is structured to remember them over time.

Anything the player authors falls under the personal investment heading too:  I made it, so it has value to me (indeed, it likely has far more value to me than anyone else).  Not everyone wants to create, however, and the act of creation itself has numerous friction barriers to overcome.

It’s worth noting that what’s personally interesting to a player one day may not be what’s interesting the next.  Part of that’s the pattern matching problem, but it’s also a function of many external forces outside our control:  how distracted are they, how much time do they have today, are they in a good mood or bad mood, and so on.  Having the flexibility to adapt to a player’s personal situation over time would go a long way toward increasing their engagement.

Next time, a quick conclusion to this series.

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