The trend in mobile gaming over recent years has been a free-to-play model that uses a patience versus payment system for developers to earn a profit. Users are expected to play until they run out of lives or energy and then have to wait around for their ability to play the game to return. The setup of these games allow the user to play for short periods in between waiting for their lives and energy to return. To combat this wait period, players are offered incentives and bonuses if they are willing to pay their own money to advance. They can not only add accessories and customizations to their avatar in an RPG, but they can also fill their health bar, more forward levels, and skip the wait time preventing them from continued play. So in this new genre of mobile gaming, what motivates players to download a game and stay with it?
Player motivation has been the subject of many researchers’ focus in the world of gaming. Trying to determine why players buy and play games and why they stay loyal to a game is knowledge that game developers must understand. Knowing who their audience is and how to entice them is essential to the success of their game. To understand player motivations, one must understand psychology. Although there are many surface levels reasons people may choose to play a game, it comes down to a combination of psychology models that are used to develop the characteristics and mechanics of the game. Psychology and player motivations first became connected through Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of player types. He stated that gamers could be categorized as killers, achievers, explorers, or socializers. The motivation of each type of player and how they interact with the game world is different. An achiever, for example, would most likely be found following the missions and challenges in the game in order to continue advancing and moving on to the next level. Achievers enjoy game mechanics that offer them lots of opportunities to advance and earn rewards. Since Bartle’s connection of gaming and psychology, many psychologists and game designers have included their own thoughts and discussions on the topic. Bartle’s theories have been adapted based on different types of games people are playing and been given sub-categories that can further identify each type of gamer more specifically.
The stratosphere of mobile gaming is one of the most interesting places to apply some of these psychological theories for understanding player motivation. Whether it is the narrative, mechanics, graphics, or some other characteristic of the game that keeps players coming back, there must also be a psychological need being met by the game. Without that psychological need being met, what is keeping a player from switching to a different game and trying out something new? Paula Neves says that player longevity and commitment to a game can be explained by that psychological need being met. That need can be different and individual to each player. This explains why different groups of players like different games and become loyal fans.
An interesting release in mobile gaming recently was Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. This RPG follows a student at Hogwarts throughout their seven years of school, following along the storyline developed by J.K. Rowling. Reviews have been very mixed about the game since its release. The Verge contributor Chaim Gartenberg said the game is stuck in the past of free-play mobile gaming and relying solely on the built-in Harry Potter fan base for its audience. The game only allows users to play for very short periods of time before making them wait for their energy to reload. Of course, a player can choose to pay their own money to refill their energy right away. However, even if a player chooses to pay some of their own money, it will not go very far in the game and they will end up waiting again after only a few minutes. Players are often stuck and unable to advance to the next school year (level) until they have finished some smaller classes and quests that take hours to complete. For this reason, even players who typically enjoy mobile gaming dislike Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. There is no skill or ability to advance without monetary sacrifices included in the game. So the question arises again. What is it that keeps players coming back to Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery?
The obvious answer is that Harry Potter has a large global fan base who is always willing to try out the newest venue in which Harry Potter is being used. That accounts for the majority of players who have chosen to download the game, but not the reason many of them are continuing to play. Additionally, there is a subset of players who are not necessarily fans of the Harry Potter franchise, but still continue to play and enjoy the game due to its mechanics. The explanation for this player loyalty is the psychological makeup of these fans.
More than likely, these players would be classified as Bartle’s achievers. They enjoy playing games where they can continually accomplish tasks and obtain rewards. What makes Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery fans different than the typical achiever, is that the type of achiever who enjoys this game finds the waiting and counting down part of the adventure. While the typical achiever needs to be satisfied throughout the entirety of the game and wouldn’t enjoy interruptions in game play, Harry Potter fans find the ability to work against the clock waiting for time to fill up their energy bar as something that can fulfill their sense of achievement. It satisfies their psychological need to achieve and makes them feel as though they are winning when they are able to move on to the next level, even with all the barriers that prevented them. Waiting for their energy bar to refill and working around it is part of the game dynamic for them and a mechanic they have to figure out. Instead of being frustrated or annoyed by the ticking clock, they find it exhilarating and check back often to see how close they are to playing again. Free-to-play game developers rely on these types of achievers to build their game’s popularity and attract other achievers who will spend their money to keep advancing and continually competing.
There is no magic formula to correctly utilizing player motivations in order to make a game popular. The variables are different for each type of game. Pre-existing fan bases, game genre, game mechanics, characteristics, and many other factors contribute to a game’s popularity. However, keeping psychological needs in mind and understanding some of the psychology behind player motivation is essential to successful game development. Designers already develop their game with specific groups of people in mind and create personas for their audience. They should also consider the psychological personas of their players and design game mechanics around them. Creating a fun game isn’t enough anymore in the mobile gaming community. Designers have to take their game to the next level and give it something different than all the other free-to-play games out there. If they can do that, players will be much more likely to come back and open their wallets.