Maslows Hierarchy of needs for gamers

Game Design Psychology Levers

Psychology Levers Every Game Designer Should Know

Game design is not just about creating visually appealing games; it also involves understanding the psychology of players. By incorporating psychological tricks into game design, designers can create more engaging and immersive gaming experiences.

I know a good game design when I see one, even though I’m in the game industry if a game can hook me I know it’s been well designed. By hook I mean the game loop gets me to keep playing, spend in-store, return the next few days and really buy into the story of the game.

In this article, I will share with you some easy-to-use psychology tricks every game designer should incorporate into their games to boost retention and engagement.

Great games know the key to players’ needs!

Psychologist Abraham Maslow designed a pyramid to classify human needs in 1943.. If a game designer has studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it can be applied to gamers basic levers to keep them engaged.

Maslows Hierarchy of needs for gamers

If you are in-game servers, forums, lobbies and online communities you can really notice a community interest and passion to play from people in the community. Game communities like GTA, Warcraft, Red Dead Redemption and more have sprawling communities in the millions dedicated to making gameplay great.

The takeaway = community is driven by passionate engaged players creating a successful game.
(The wheel’s been invented, use it in game design)

Read: How Im changing the way I develop games Buy vs Build

🀩 We all have 5 types of needs:

β€’ Basic needs (food, water, shelter).
β€’ Safety needs (health, employment).
β€’ Belonging needs (friendship, intimacy).
β€’ Esteem needs (dignity, respect, purpose).
β€’ Self-actualization needs (creation, beauty).

Players are humans -> who seek their needs in your game.

By applying this hierarchy to gamers’ needs, you build a community around your game. Communities while slow to build can grow very fast if all the attraction and engagement loops are in place.

🀩 Here’s the Players’ Hierarchy of Needs.
Every level aligns with a player’s needs.

β€’ Basic needs β†’ Fun
β€’ Safety needs β†’ Trust
β€’ Belonging β†’ Community
β€’ Esteem needs β†’ Recognition
β€’ Self-actualization needs β†’ Contribution

🀩 The hierarchy guides your questions:

β€’ What do players need?
β€’ Which needs does my game meet?
β€’ How do I convey these needs to players?

Layer Nested Loops Within the Core

While the core loop defines the main gameplay cycle, you should also design nested loops that add depth and variety. These could include:

  • Shorter loops for specific mechanics (e.g. jumping over gaps) 3
  • Longer loops for progression systems (e.g. earning resources to upgrade abilities) 

Layering these nested loops creates a rich, multi-faceted experience that keeps players engaged over different time scales.

Here are some Psychology Levers to work into your game:

1. The Power of Rewards: 🎁
One of the most effective psychological levers in game design is the use of rewards. Rewards can motivate players to continue playing and provide a sense of accomplishment. Designers can use various types of rewards, such as points, badges, or virtual currency, to incentivize players and keep them engaged. By strategically placing rewards throughout the game, designers can create a sense of progression and encourage players to keep coming back for more.

2. The Power of Personalization: πŸ’‡β€β™€οΈ
Personalization is another key psychological lever that game designers can use to enhance player engagement. By tailoring the gaming experience to individual preferences, designers can create a more immersive and rewarding experience for players. Designers can use player data, such as gameplay patterns or preferences, to personalize in-game content, recommendations, or challenges. By making the game feel more personalized and relevant to each player, designers can increase player satisfaction and retention.

If I can not customise my player I lose interest in the game, I do like the loop used where you have to grind 3-5 gameplay to unlock player customisation or offering a buy unlock now IAP. This works really well for making players task before getting what they want.

3. The Element of Surprise: 😲
Surprise is a powerful psychological tool that can captivate players and keep them engaged. Game designers can incorporate unexpected twists, hidden secrets, or random events to surprise and delight players. By adding elements of surprise throughout the game, designers can create memorable moments and keep players on their toes, eager to discover what comes next.

Using easter eggs in-game is also a nice surprise for players especially if you can tie in current trends or IP.

4. The Principle of Social Proof: πŸ—£οΈ
Social proof is the tendency for people to follow the actions of others when they are uncertain about what to do. Game designers can harness this psychological principle by incorporating social features, such as leaderboards, multiplayer modes, or social sharing options. By allowing players to see what others are doing and compare their progress with friends, designers can create a sense of community and foster healthy competition among players.

Leaderboards are your friend in game design.

5. The Principle of Scarcity: 🀫
The principle of scarcity states that people value things more when they are scarce or limited. Game designers can leverage this psychological lever by creating limited-time events, exclusive items, or rare rewards to entice players. By making certain elements of the game scarce, designers can increase player motivation and create a sense of urgency to participate in special events or activities.

Iterate and Refine

Designing effective gameplay loops is an iterative process. Playtest your loops extensively, gather feedback, and continually refine them until you achieve the desired level of engagement, clarity, and satisfaction for your players.

I had some friends ask me about game design and development and how easy or hard it was. The answer is it really depends. The type of game and target audience of the game can be challenging but in the same sentence, it can be easy. Hands down the hardest part of game design and development is the talent working on the game.

Not everyone is built to create video games. Playing video games does not by any means make someone qualified to design and develop video games as a career. This pathways visual for game design and development is a great starting point. If you want to get into game building as a career really take stock of this visual and then consider if its still for you.

game design pathways exlained

The Key Takeaway
A successful game is not just about graphics and gameplay mechanics; it’s also about understanding the minds of your players and using psychology to create unforgettable gaming experiences. If you build it they will not just come, you have to build the loops to attract and retain the players.

I hope this has been helpful.