Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Gran Turismo 4: Cognitive Dissonance

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4 Comments:

Blogger Glacius said...

Thank you for that excellent article. It took me a while to fully understand the article, but I found it very informative and it explained some of my own habits in gaming.

While trying to fully grasp the concept, I came up with a few thoughts which may be interesting. To give some background info on myself; contemplating about these issues is for me a hobby. My current main occupation is studying Japanese and Korean (I'm Dutch, myself). Please comment on my thoughts and perhaps correct me where I'm wrong.

Reward in games can be a risky thing. I notice I often find myself playing a game without really enjoying it, but wanting to unlock the next thing. The problem is, that you play level A to unlock level B, NOT because you simply want to play level A. Then of course, you will want to unlock level C and then D etc. During this process, you are not actually enjoying the game, and after repeating this process a couple of times, subconsciously you decide the reward is not worth it since you are not enjoying yourself, and you stop playing the game.

You can't however simply give up this system of unlocking the next level in a game, because it's often tied to ramping difficulty and storyline. What a game needs on top of this system to become interesting is exactly what you are describing; something that a gamer will obsess about in the game's gameplay mechanic, which is (at least partially) motived by himself and not the game (which is, from what I understand, Cognitive Dissonance).

The tricky part here is that this is quite tricky to achieve. Giving the gamer too little incentive, will just get him to ignore it, and giving too much incentive, will make it a chore.

An excellent example which, perhaps unknowingly, makes use of this theory, is the xbox 360 achievement point system. The way it works is that you get points for certain achievements in the game, but the points do nothing. You can earn up to 1000 points per game. This on it's own is quite similar to the a-spec points example.

There is however an added element of motivation. The points show up online on your xbox live account. What changes, is that you not only get something trivial to obsess about, you also get to show it off to the rest of the gaming community. The point-gathering is still meaningless, but at least it doesn't go unnoticed.

Before reading your article, I thought it was a bad decision by Microsoft to let those points go unrewarded, but doing that would make collecting points a chore.

Another great reason why this system works, is because it is implemented in every game. You get confronted with it time and time again, and if you are able to motivate yourself on just one game to collect all the points through cognitive dissonance, you will be using the same self-constructed reasoning for every other game.

In the case of achievement points, the developer is free to spread the 1000 points out in the game in whichever fashion they like. It's common to award achievement points for unlocking things in the game. However, instead of tying points to unlockables, a better way, is to add them to gameplay elements that you wish for the gamer to spend time on. What’s especially dangerous, is if you award more points for unlocking something than for displaying skill in the game. This makes the points look worthless for anyone who doesn’t care for the points yet.

Even with having pre-established something that you want, like achievement points, you will still be motivating yourself on a case-by-case basis through cognitive dissonance. Using the a-spec example, you will never go for the near-impossible 200 points because with the amount of work it takes, you won’t be able to justify it. Having an unreachable limit is great to reach the full potential of cognitive dissonance, because it allows you to reach the limits of your self-constructed motivation.

One should wonder, where gameplay fits in with this theory. Gameplay is actually a determining factor to the limit of self-motivation. You want points, so you are looking to justify why your time spent on getting these points is worth it. This is where gameplay has to provide the answer. More skillful play should mean more points. Depending on the game this could be speed, damage taken, items collected, etc.

In short, I think that to get the most out of your game, you have to maximize the situations that allow for cognitive dissonance while tying this to as many gameplay elements as possible. Ideally, there should be a (near) unreachable limit to the amount of points, allowing the gamer to go as far as his interest in the gameplay can take him. Also, there should be one point system to tie every element together, so that there has to be only one moment of cognitive dissonance to generate interest in these points.

As I’m going to Korea for a small two weeks, it may take a while for me to reply again, but I definitely will check back. Thanks for reading, and please leave some comments! If my reasoning holds up, maybe after some editing it might be worthy as a blogpost?

21 August, 2007 18:45  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Thank you for your comprehensive answer. I'm sorry I didn't notice it earlier.

Basically, I would agree with almost everything you've mentioned. I didn't know the XBox 360 Point System because I don't own one but it seems to be quite comparable. Of course, as you've mentioned, being able to show off the points you've collected makes it a bit more potent reward then a-spec points. It is a very subtle balance you have to strike here.

And yes, the thing I didn't mention here is that of course, you need to have a gameplay system which is deep enough to allow people to invest so much time in it. If it can be mastered easily, the whole process will run dry quickly. Gran Turismo is of course has a very complex driving simulation so it fits perfectly.

The only thing I would question is if this effect is really so desirable at times. As you put it:

"..you have to maximize the situations that allow for cognitive dissonance.."

I wouldn't be sure about that. In the case of Gran Turismo it is a great tool to challenge traditional beliefs about fast cars and fully exploit the potential of the large ammount of avalible cars. However, I don't think such a trick is always necessary. I think it really depends on the situation. So you should make sure you know exactly what you are trying to achieve before implementing such systems.

01 October, 2007 16:19  
Anonymous TSPhoenix said...

Interesting article, I didn't quite get it at first, but when it clicked it did make a lot of sense. I know all too well the feeling of doing something in a game purely to get to the next part.

That said I don't think its impossible to apply reward schemes that don't force players to unlock. By making rewards only relevant to players that want them you can more safely reward players.

In Gran Turismo 4's case you could make A-Spec points unlock slower cars, as those who drive for A-Spec points use slower cars and those who don't like slower cars don't care about A-spec points. By doing this you allow players interested in accumulating points to perpetuate it by rewarding with super-slow cars that maybe yield over 200 points for a perfect performance.

This does create an issue of balance however, while the slower cars are balanced within itself, there is no reward other than winning races to play with fast cars. While freedom is there, winning a race with the fastest car in the game has no lasting satisfaction. So while you won't feel forced to use slower cars, you won't feel any achievment for not using them so you might just go for the slower one anyway.

The simple displaying of 183 A-spec points on a given race is enough to make you remember how much you enjoyed that race, no such satisfaction exists for races with faster cars. Its easy to quantify A-spec points, not so for fast cars.

None of this is to say there couldn't be some similar reward system for faster cars. I would think that by rewarding players with further play in the area of the game they've chosen to explore allows them to have a positive experience no matter how they play and because they get rewarded no matter what they do they may not feel compelled to explore all avenues of play out of duress. There is and always will be the completionist who will do everything in a game, but for the majority of gamers as long as they are playing, enjoying and getting positive feedback from the game however they choose to play it, I don't see rewarding for everything is in any way inferior than rewarding for nothing.

As long as a game provides ample objectives in every area a player should be able to play a game as he wants and get continually rewarded.

04 December, 2007 04:29  
Blogger Krystian Majewski said...

Wow, thanks for the lengthy answer. I will do my best to address your concerns:

"That said I don't think its impossible to apply reward schemes that don't force players to unlock. By making rewards only relevant to players that want them you can more safely reward players."

The thing is that I really question of rewards are really something you want. It is a knee-jerk reaction of game designers to add reward when they want to motivate players. I think this kind of game design creates the wrong kind of mentality among players. So the question is not how to "safely reward" players but how to motivate them without rewards.

"In Gran Turismo 4's case you could make A-Spec points unlock slower cars, as those who drive for A-Spec points use slower cars and those who don't like slower cars don't care about A-spec points."

This solution creates some of the problems I mentioned:
- You have to have LESS cars at the beginning of the game in oder to make them unlockable
- Players will collect A-Spec points just to be able to drive that Fiat Panda, not because they enjoy it
- The game will tell the players how much they need to "work" ("You need 300 more pints to unlock car XYZ") whereas now, players have to find out themselves what is most fun for them
- You are also diving players into two groups: the A-Spec players and the other. Dividing players into groups never solves any problem, it just creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. That two groups might never existed in the first place but you force them into that decision and reinforce the segregation through rewards. After all Everybody's Hardcore.

"The simple displaying of 183 A-spec points on a given race is enough to make you remember how much you enjoyed that race, no such satisfaction exists for races with faster cars. Its easy to quantify A-spec points, not so for fast cars.

If you really had fun while racing, displaying a number at the won't change it. The reward should be the race itself, not some kind of rating. If you are having fun because of all those cool ratings you get, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons.
Also, races are already quite the quantification. So if you are first with a fast car, that's already a very clear reward.

"I don't see rewarding for everything is in any way inferior than rewarding for nothing."

It is unintuitive but it's true. If you are still not convinced, try this talk by Jonathan Blow.

04 December, 2007 15:03  

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