I started to get skeptical just a few minutes into a talk by Scott Rigby and Troy Skinner – game consultants from Immersyve who focus on the psychology of games – titled “The Importance of Player Autonomy: Motivating Sustained Engagement Through Volition and Choice.” They made bold claims early in the talk about the death of a number of genres. Platformers I could understand, as they’ve been largely dead for years. Racing games dying off made sense to some extent as well, even though there were some franchises keeping the genre from resting peacefully. Narrative games, though, made me skeptical. The Last of Us won an unreasonable number of Game of the Year awards – including the Game Developers Choice Awards later that evening – and was considered a commercial success. How could they consider narrative games dead?
Success is relative, it turns out, and a bit of research shows just how right they are. It’s almost unfair to compare The Last of Us to a juggernaut like Grand Theft Auto V, but GTA V sold twice as many copies in 24 hours as The Last of Us has sold in its lifetime. Maybe it’s a bit more reasonable to compare it to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag instead. It’s another open world action adventure, but it didn’t set a world record for biggest entertainment launch in history. In just a few short weeks, from launch until the end of 2013, Black Flag sold some 10 million copies, compared to The Last of Us‘ six million in six months. The Last of Us was the most well received narrative game I’ve heard of in recent memory, and it scored a full 10 points higher in Metacritic than Black Flag, yet sales were dwarfed by the game that allowed players to write their own story.
The notion of autonomy is, in Immersyve’s view of gamer psychology, a prime motivator for a player to sustain engagement with a game. They were quick to point out, however, that autonomy is not to be confused with independence. Additionally, you shouldn’t confuse a lack of structure for autonomy. In fact, they cited studies that showed that autonomy is actually improved in a structured environment. The structure in Skyrim for example, nudges you in the direction of the main quest line, but never takes control of the player and forces you to follow the path. There’s structure in side quests, which give you clear objectives, but rarely if ever dictate that you complete them. This gives players the sense of autonomy – that they’re in charge of their own story – and nearly any action a player takes in Skyrim is a volitional choice. It’s what they want to do.
Want to read more, click here.