Designing for Your End Users – True for Games AND Babies

Baby Sloane helped her mom and dad play Gamestormers, our board game coming out next year, this past weekend. It was so fantastic seeing the creative games made, the strategies discussed, and also what changes I still needed to make to fine-tune the game before mailing out playtesting kits to our wonderful volunteers (if you want to playtest, go here and fill out the form at the bottom of the page)!

Sloane looking at her Sloane the Summoner card during a playtest.

What was really great about this particular playtest was that I had so many different types of players at the table. I had someone who loves game strategy and talking about maximizing their scoring potential based on the game system. I had someone who just loves a good story and narrative arc in their game. I had someone who loves to catch little details of how the game is played and how they can use it to their advantage. And I had someone who just loves to interact with everyone else at the table!

Whether you’re playing a video game, board game, social game, or any other games where you have multiple participants, you’ll see a variety of player types. The most popular method for “categorizing” gamers is Bartle’s Taxonomy of Player Types, which details for different players:

Achievers – These players are interested in doing the best, getting the badges, and finding the most efficient ways to win. In board games, this means mastering game systems, getting the high score, and leaving with bragging rights.

Socializers – These players desire the interaction in games. Can we work together in the game? Will we get a good story out of the game? Does the game create a good conversation while you’re playing? These are all wins in the socializer’s book.

Explorers – Ever want to find all of the little details and secrets of a game? You’re an explorer! These gamers hunt out the hard-to-find cards, edges of the map, and boundaries of the game world to see and experience aspects no one else might find.

Killers – The name is a bit of a misnomer – killers aren’t looking just to eliminate others, but rather cause chaos. If the game allows, they want to initiate mayhem. Whether it is sabotage, deception, or straight up winning in a runaway, killers want the glorious of victory while leaving a scorched earth in their wake.

A quick look at the Bartle Gamer Types

As a game designer, it’s a real challenge to build a game that appeals to a variety of different gamers. And, in fact, you might not WANT to actually try to engage each gamer type. For a board or card game, your game length, scope, and type may not allow for all categories of players to thrive. In addition, your target market for the game may not even BE a certain type of gamer. Instead, consider WHO might be the best groups for your game and, if it makes sense, give some opportunities for other gamer types to still have fun.

In Gamestormers, for example, Achievers have a great win condition through victory points and the Game Designer Award for most VP collected by the end of the game. They are incentivized to find the best way to rack up the points as they design their game.

Socializers also have a clear way to thrive in Gamestormers. Players are encouraged to talk through their game as they design it, even being rewarded with extra currency if they pitch their game in the Arena. In addition, players can cut deals to buy and sell cards to each other if desired.

Initially, I did not think Explorers had much to look forward to in Gamestormers, but one of my playtesters from this past weekend proved me wrong. He constantly shared insights about strategy with the other players, kept digging for newer and unfamiliar cards, and generally just tried to find whatever was around the next corner in the game. With 137 cards in the base game, any Explorer could lose themselves just trying to check out new cards to use to make a game!

If there’s any gamer type that may not care for Gamestormers, it’s Killers. And that’s okay! I actually took out a lot of mechanics that Killers would have loved because … well … it went against MY goals for the game and the spirit of the game. However, if a Killer were so inclined, they could still cause some havoc in Gamestormers. Want to buy and/or use Item cards to clear out the Market before anyone can buy anything? Sure! Want to enter the Arena just to defeat a rival player even if you don’t need the money? Go for it! Want to vote out of spite rather than genuine appreciate in the endgame? Nothing’s stopping you!

The winner of the Player’s Choice Award during a recent Gamestormers playtest!

When thinking of the different types of players you are trying to appeal to with your game, I got to thinking about my daughter, Sloane. Whenever possible, I try to think from her perspective, whether it is when she is upset, curious, tired, or in search of entertainment. Right now, both baby Sloane and Gamestormers players are my end user – and I need to consider what THEY want and what kind of experience I am providing for them.

A few years ago, I was selected to attend a Google Innovator Academy in Los Angeles. At one point during our training in design thinking, the presenter shared an example of being user focused. She showed a slide of a mobile hanging above a baby’s crib. Then she showed the baby’s perspective of the mobile – everything hanging from the mobile was facing out, not down – the baby couldn’t even see the neat visuals hanging from the mobile!

The mobile analogy in visuals! (Credit to Google Inc & Future Design School)

Now, whenever Sloane is playing under her mobile jungle gym, I try to turn the visuals to face her, or put a doll in her sightline to help her better engage with her surroundings. It’s a little gesture, but I hope it goes a long way in her enjoying the experience. The same is true for gamers – how are we ensuring that the little details are all about making THEIR experience better? That’s a great question for all designers!

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