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Feature: 'Designing Happiness'

In a thought-provoking article, Page 44 Studios (Freekstyle) designer Lorenzo Wang looks at recent research on happiness, focusing on six key find
In a thought-provoking article, Page 44 Studios (Freekstyle) designer Lorenzo Wang looks at recent research on happiness, focusing on six key findings that can help us all make better games. Before recognizing and dissecting what design approaches in video games contribute to a happier gaming experience for players, it's important to distinguish happiness from pleasure: "Happiness comes from the resolution of anger, ennui, fear, frustration, insecurities, and unimportance. Pleasure is an immediate, short-term rush, often visceral, and designers usually to call it "fun." You can have one without the other. For example, we all know friends who play a certain game constantly while complaining about its every flaw, like my wife when she plays World of Warcraft. She gets no happiness, having played the game to death, alone and guildless. But she gets a visceral pleasure in continuing to kill mobs, farm items, and level new characters." One finding Wang noted was that players have trouble predicting their future enjoyment, displacing their happiness estimates into their present state. Game designers should actively predict and meet their players' expectations: "The reward you dole out will be interpreted relative to the player's state at the time you hand it out. Giving an amazing reward when they least expect it will blow them away, but giving them pittance after defeating Beelzebub himself is a good way to earn the player's disgust. Also, try to predict what kind of reward your player expects. Sometimes it's a shiny sword, sometimes it's plot progression, sometimes it's acknowledgment. You don't have to artificially lower expectations to improve your reward, just get them the right reward. Put your fickle players in the mood to accept what they get. When Metal Gear Solid 3 put a narcoleptic old man with a group of elite assassins, I was astonished, yet somehow thrilled that he outsmarted and killed me. I shared Snake's lesson in humility, realizing the game had anticipated my expectations of an easy fight." You can now read the full in-depth feature on designing games with player happiness in mind and suggested applications for putting these ideas in practice (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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