Jason VandenBerghe, Creative Director at Ubisoft talks about the psychology of games in this panel at GDC 2012 about making decisions about game design to draw in players based on elements of their personality. VandenBerghe has been credited on Rayman: Origins as well as titles in the Call of Duty franchise.
Caution, it's about to get stats-techy.
In this fast-paced talk (no exaggeration, I had trouble keeping track typing up all of his points), VandenBerghe discussed some of the ways that designers target players in developing the gameplay experience.
At the top of the talk, he explained that the the five domains, or the Big 5, are useful in making better game design decisions. It's alternately known as O.C.E.A.N. (or the Big Five Personality Traits), a spectrum of human motivation on a bell curve. The acronyms stands for:
Openness to new experiences
Consciousness of the way we control, regulate and experience eth external world
Extroversion or the way that we seek out stimulation and the company of others
Agreeableness which reflects how we feel about other people and social harmony
Neuroticism , which evaluates how strongly we experience negative emotions
So what's this got to do with you budding designers out there? Well, VandenBerghe says he started talking to people and administering a test to see where respondents fell on this continuum to see if the way they lived corresponded to the way they played. Or, "what is the aspect of your game that would satisfy a gamer" on this continuum. And he found that this model was predictive, that he was able to describe players as types.
With gamers seeking Oppenness, would target them with Novelty at higher levels for people with a high score on this scale and familiarity for those on the low end. Challenge addresses players' Consciousness while Stimulation hit the players' level of Extroversion. Harmony met player Agreeableness, or the type of player-to-player collaboration. Threat he described as an unusual one triggering player Neuroticism and how much they want to experience negative emotion, citing his own high score here and how he seeks out games like Modern Warfare 3 to maximimize his frustration and anxiety.
VandenBerghe moved onto implementing these facets into how designers and developers could look to target certain kind of gamers, essentially by giving the individual facets names and saying that what he was describing here was essentially how designers look at and talk about games already.
VandenBerghe used this as a counter to the problem of "thermometer thinking" which broke player experiences into quadrants and trying to get them to reach a certain level of emotional response to the gameplay. What does this mean for would-be designers? Well, it's like a super-granular way of looking at gamers and how they play and experience games. It's targeting their specific needs or expectations for a gameplay experience and crafting your game around that (although, I suspect, based on his talk, that VandenBerghe would caution trying to be all things to all gamers using this model).