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A Study of Young Game Players: From the Perspective of Developmental Psychology

Young players have always been the user group that some game developers are very interested in and concerned about. But what characteristics do they have, especially in terms of social activities in a game?

Yongcheng Liu, Blogger

March 14, 2022

8 Min Read


Young players have always been the user group that some game developers are very interested in and concerned about. Various previous studies have indeed found that young gamers have many obvious differences and group characteristics from other gamers. For example, young players are easier to be attracted by the appearance of the characters or scenes of a game and are more focused on the functions which allow them to show their personalities. Many studies have used the word 'Generation Z' to label this group of gamers, but are these unique characteristics of the young player group really just a symptom of their age?

Of course, the players' behavior is shaped by time, but there exists a key factor from an important perspective that is often neglected by researchers and developers, that is, the influence of the physiological developmental characteristics of the age group itself.

Developmental psychology is the discipline that focuses on the mechanics and laws of an individual's lifelong psychological development, researching and summarizing the characteristics of each age group in terms of their performance of physiology, cognitive thinking, interpersonal interaction, values, and so on. In developmental psychology, young adults have some special characteristics. Preferring showing their personalities, sharing their hobbies, are not only the exclusive features of Gen-Z but also the characteristics under the influence of the adolescence period.

So, what are the psychological characteristics of young adult players, and what are they in the game behavior?

1. "Imaginary audience" vs. game KOLs and recommendations

'Egocentrism' is a typical characteristic of adolescence and that might have an influence on their young adulthoods. Many teenagers at this stage tend to have the idea that they are the focus of everyone's attention, which we call 'imaginary audience'. For the feeling that people around them are always watching and judging them, adolescents care a lot about what others say about them and often wrongly feel that they are the center of attention.

Under the influence of this mentality, two opposite groups have emerged from young adults.

① KOL: Some confident and extroverted young players, in the presence of this 'imaginary audience', will consciously or unconsciously behave with a “histrionic” tendency, who are eager to show their excellent gaming ability, ideas, and works to get praise and appreciation from other players or audiences.

② The herd: Under the influence of the 'imaginary audience' concept, another group of young adults is more likely to conform to their peers to avoid making big mistakes or not meeting the expectations of others, because they are so concerned about the attention and judgment. Therefore, some young player groups have a very obvious tendency to follow the KOL and the crowd.

This characteristic is also very clearly reflected in the gaming behavior of young players.

① More recommending and sharing behaviors. It is mainly related to the KOL group among young players, whose recommendations to others tend to be successful. "My friends around me are all into this so I decide to try out too" is one of the common reasons why young players choose to start a game. But at the same time, the exclusivity is also strong. In some games which has a relatively lower DAU, it is also found that non-KOL young players, even if they enjoy a game very much, would inhibit their willingness to recommend it because none of their friends are playing it. And they will not even play the game in front of their peer group, only starting it at home when they are alone.

② Young KOLs' preferences.

Preference for super popular games, big franchise games—it is easier to get appreciation by getting high achievements in these games. Games which has a relatively lower DAU can also gain extensive attention among young players by collaborating with some widely-known franchises, such as collaboration with Ultraman.

Preference for single-player games of high quality—games that can present one's excellent game taste; preference for games in which you get achievements through capabilities, such as cooperative ability and creativity—can show one's personal ability ('cash' power is also one of them, but it is relatively rare in young KOL players. And 'cash' power is a risk for hindering the display of other abilities, so take caution before the decision.)

③ Focus on the outward appearance of the game. It is an important factor that affects players' image in the eyes of others. Obvious in the research covering a variety of ages, young players indeed pay more attention to the character appearance, about whether it is good-looking, whether can be re-created freely according to their needs. And this influence in the adolescent is quite significant, no matter in the initial attraction or the long-term investment of players.


2. Who am I? — Personality building in games

Adolescence and young adulthood is the period of the second leap in self-awareness. Thanks to the initial development of cognitive ability and abstract thinking ability, they consciously or unconsciously pull back a large part of their thoughts from the objective world to the inner world, and focus more on their mind by thinking about a series of questions about self-awareness, such as, 'What kind of a person am I?', ' What is my personality?' and 'What kind of person I'd like to be in the future?'.

In addition to the inner exploration, they also tend to show their likes and dislikes in various expressions, either intentionally or unintentionally. Young adults are very concerned about the growth of their own personality, and they also put the perfection of their personality in the first place when both evaluating people and evaluating themselves. Therefore, no matter in social media or games, young players pay much attention to displaying their personalities, so whether the personalized content highlights their own characteristics is the point that is concerned a lot among young players.

Therefore, whether the game allows customizing the look so that they can have their own distinctive appearances, is almost one of the basic needs for young players to evaluate a game, especially in China’s game market.

To fulfill young players' needs, lots of games are also updated to support players to customize their appearance, which is popular among young players. Besides the image to other players, the freely replaceable avatar in the chat channel and background in the personal space are also included, in addition to signature setting and personalized labeling. If the game wants to meet the needs of young players, these personalization capabilities are quite essential.

3. Mindful social networking—interest-based socialization

Compared with the Generation X's relationship-based social interaction (finding partners) and mutual benefit-based social activity (cooperating to gain benefits), Gen-Z players have a more obvious tendency of interest-based, content-based social interaction (sharing interest content) and context-based social interaction (sharing experiences and memories) in terms of their preference.

Since they have just started their job or even not yet, the intention of achieving huge social network resources is not yet so strong. Therefore, they choose friends with common interests and dreams, similar sadness and worries, so they can form a mutual understanding in many aspects.

So the real deep socialization activities of young players in games are more out of interest in similar content. Less often it is to partner up to complete some task in the game.

Based on these social characteristics of young players, some changes that game developers have made or need to be aware of are as follows:

① More gathering because of same interest and topics, thus forming a deep social relationship. Traditional MMO games have a high proportion of numerical-oriented content, requiring strong intention and purpose of social interaction among players, which is not quite compatible with the social needs of young players in some cases. Now, the contemporary MMO games have added content-based gameplay and functions, such as exploring, building, solving puzzles, and higher richness of stories. Young players now have their field of more topics of interest, and they can explore the world together, create their homeland, talk about the plot, and re-create their own work. These content-based parts in-game provide the new social functions more adapted to young players.

② Less strong intimate social relationship. The traditional social relationships in games are usually mentoring relationships, sworn friendships (fixed teams), and even marriage. Now in some MMO games, multiplayer social relationships have contained the family, college, and other such social groups based mainly on common beliefs, preferences, and values; as for the two-player social activities, they also add the romantic and dating relationship. These changes are also more fit for the characteristics of young players.

③Franchise collaboration is also a natural social platform for young players. When the game collaborates with their favorite franchise, not only having a common topic to discuss with players in the game, players would also recommend the game to friends who have the same preference for the franchise and enjoy the collaboration. It is found that, for some young players who don't like to make friends in the game, taking the opportunity of great collaboration, they would form offline friendships by pulling their friends to experience the game together, which also makes up for the lack of in-game social interaction to a certain extent, and increases the number of new players at the same time.


4. Summary

The group of young players who are contradictory and energetic is quite important in-game market, for their unconventional style, unique characteristics, different preferences and needs consistently drive game developers to think and learn more, which brings a lot of fresh and interesting innovations and creations. And these functions and contents adjusted for young players also work for us who might no longer be young developers, giving us the opportunity to experience what they enjoy.

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