The Psychology of Gaming: The Secret of Sales Longevity


If anyone asked me why I play games, I would have a hard time putting it into words. The easiest and most obvious answer is to just say “because they’re fun.” Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Sure, but that answer is a complete cop-out. What is fun, anyway? It’s a boring word used to describe anything that we enjoy but don’t want to take the time to actual justify why we enjoy it. So, what’s the real reason? One study may be able to shed some light on our passion and give companies an insight into what makes us want to play.

According to this article on CBC, The University of Rochester, in Rochester, NY, has conducted a study of 1,000 gamers to try and determine the reason that people play games. The results of the study show that people are more into games for the achievements and freedom. People enjoy the sense of accomplishment that a game gives them after completing set tasks, or the freedom to explore a new world. Motivational Psychologist, Richard Ryan, had this to say about the results of the study:

“We think there’s a deeper theory than the fun of playing. It’s our contention that the psychological ‘pull’ of games is largely due to their capacity to engender feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness.”

Among the games that were played by participants, were MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games). MMOs offer the players a more expanded list of reasons for future play. Gamers that participate in, and enjoy, MMOs have the added draw of social interaction and character development to lure them back for more. This and its overall simplicity is what makes World of Warcraft the most successful MMO in history.

The smart software developers should be taking notice of this study. Herein lies the answer to what makes a hit game that has staying power. Now, of course, this doesn’t mean that other games won’t sell, it just means that games like Gears of War sell millions of units in the short term because of their graphics and fast-paced action, but a game like Diablo 2 still sells well years after its release.

Maybe Microsoft was on to something with the Gamer Score and Achievements.

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