Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
arrowPress Releases
If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


User Research: How simulation games keep players staying

by Yongcheng Liu on 11/18/21 11:29:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.



Remember the frog you kept and raised 3 years ago? When you open Travel Frog as a habit in the past, not knowing whether your frog is home or not, and sometimes you pack his bag for him, pay attention to his every move, look at the postcards he sent back with smiles on his face....... That's right, you're into it. This subgenre of simulation game (Education Simulation) is another kind of simulation, with cultivation/raising to be its core element. Players need to cultivate/raise specific characters in-game and make them successfully, and the game bringing a sense of achievement is the key to making players want to stop yet can’t.

Emojis and words made by players of Travel Frog

1. The potential psychological mechanism behind simulation and cultivation

Simulation games can be divided into various categories such as love/dating simulation, assistant simulation, pet simulation and parent-child simulation. The nature of the simulation or cultivating a character determines the development of the game story and the result of the player's game. For example, the level, items, and equipment, skills, skins of the cultivated character, etc.

Cards in the dating simulation game Yujian Love

The feeling of addiction in these simulation games is the psychology of "the more you get, the less you feel adequate" (Diderot effect or matching effect), which refers to the phenomenon that when people do not get something, their emotions are smooth, but once they get it, they are not satisfied and keep pursuing the items that match with them. In games, the beginner tutorial triggers new players to progress, complete tasks, and get the corresponding rewards; then it might trigger players to commit and invest more time to the game, forming a closed loop. In the process, the nature of the characters keeps changing and upgrading. Players get satisfaction from it, while the sunk costs continue to drive users to enter the next round of the closed-loop.

                                                               Diderot Effect

2. The nature of simulation games

In Chinese Parents, players arrange the learning life of their children. The child's attributes determine the direction of the story and the ending, and the player needs to arrange the child's learning tasks with limited physical strength. The child's IQ, EQ, physical fitness, memory, imagination, and some other abilities will change depending on the player's schedule. The player also needs to balance parental satisfaction with the stress of the child. In the game, the results of the child's admission to a university and future development are the triggers for the player to keep investing time. In essence, it is a chance for a player to "do it all over again" with their lives in the game. It is the fulfillment of the player's self-realization and the satisfaction of higher level in Maslow’s needs model, which is the reason why these games are so enjoyable to play for some players.

              The admission letter in Chinese Parents is the return of the player's achievements

In the game, these attributes are not only expressed in the form of numerical values but also designed in the form of match-three games with brain imagination maps. The higher the number of brain imagination layers, the higher the gnosis that can be obtained. Players need to keep digging deeper and deeper, and the skill of upgrading brain imagination maps is the key for players to improve their children's abilities.

The game is also interspersed with many interesting stories and settings ----- “face” competition between parents, class position elections, red envelope wars, etc. The authenticity of these details allows many players to see their childhood again. In essence, it is the knowing smile and empathy of bringing players back during the game that makes this game soar to second place on the Steam sales ranking once it is released.

Onmyoji is an example of a clever combination of a simulation system and a challenge system, in which players need to match different shikigami according to the matchmaking mode. The shikigamis are drawn by gacha, and when the player draws a rare shikigami, it will bring him a great sense of satisfaction.

                                      The gacha interface of Onmyoji

For players, winning in intense challenges makes the main source of exhilaration, and when the difficulty keeps increasing, players may feel frustrated in the challenges, and the simulation system comes into play at this time. On the one hand, it improves the player's winning rate by raising the level of shikigamis; on the other hand, the simulation system provides players with rewards, invariably helping users to segment their tasks. Through the cycle of simulation and challenge, it guides users to invest more time. It offsets the accumulation of negative emotions of users and improves their stickiness as well as loyalty in-game.

                                                         Shikigami scroll of Onmyoji

This is actually the application of Pavlov's classical theory of conditioned reflexes. Pavlov's experiments show that a neutral stimulus (bell, red light, etc.) that originally cannot cause a certain instinctive reflex can also cause an instinctive reflex when it is accompanied by a stimulus that can cause an instinctive reflex several times at the same time.

A player continuously trains the cultivating object in the process of challenge, and the object wins in the duel. This strengthens the link between simulation and winning, and makes the process of simulation more exciting. It forms an acquired reflex and increases the satisfaction of the user in the process of simulation.

3. More research into simulation and challenges

The different behaviors of players in the simulation system, such as collecting materials, upgrading, training, etc., will bring a certain sense of satisfaction to the user.

- Repeating the cycle of "simulation - challenge" makes the connection between simulating and winning stronger.

- With repeated cycles, the satisfaction brought by the simulation system is enhanced.

- At the same time, the game's source of enjoyment is not only the challenge but also the simulation process becomes an important source of enjoyment.

- The two together can effectively balance the negative emotions of players when facing more powerful opponents, balance the rhythm of the game, and constantly give positive feedback to players.

                             Interaction between simulation system and challenge system

Of course, the setup of the simulation system needs to consider the following two points:


It is Mainly about the time players spend for the simulation and cultivation of an object and the frequency of operation, high frequency of cultivating/simulation can make players gain greater satisfaction in the experience, but players' excitement will also decrease with the marginal effect. In addition, if the raising or cultivating takes too long, players may lose patience before they are willing to invest a lot more time in the game and may just quit. But on the other hand, the rhythm of the simulation system determines the time cost spent on player raiding, and when the game updates do not catch up with the speed of player progressing, there is also the possibility of facing a decline in player loyalty.


The number of cultivating/raising objects is related to the expandability of the game, and raising objects with different abilities and characteristics can bring more freedom to the challenge system, and also determine the development space of the game. However, when designing the development objects, we should pay attention to the balance of the objects, so that they are mutually binding. At the same time, try to avoid homogenization and keep uniqueness and avoid players from losing their freshness and enthusiasm too fast.

4. Summary

Simulation games utilize the psychology that the more players get, the less they get so that players invest their time and energy. In the process, the satisfaction players get is an important reason for their addiction, whether it is the victory in the match, the growth of the cultivating object, or the direction of the story ...... These feedbacks satisfy the players’ need for self-realization in and out of the game, thus enabling them to acquire conditioned reflexes in a cycle that constantly brings the player a feeling of exhilaration.

Related Jobs

Studio Pixanoh LLC
Studio Pixanoh LLC — Los Angeles, California, United States

Combat Designer
Question — Tiburon, California, United States

Question - South Park - Lead Level Designer (WFH/Remote)
Gameforge AG
Gameforge AG — Karlsruhe, Germany

Mathematician* for Game Design [Studio]
Gameforge AG
Gameforge AG — Karlsruhe, Germany

Game Designer* [Studio]

Loading Comments

loader image