Devcom Highlights: The Psychology of Play

Anna Brandberg, lead UX designers for Funcom studio The Outsiders digs into the mindset of every developer’s best friend… and greatest challenge

Devcom Highlights: The Psychology of Play

Understanding “play” is something developers and game makers have struggled with for years. On mobile we know that breaking down the mindset and psychology of an audience can be the difference between success and failure for any title.

But what do we actually KNOW about our players? And how can utilising user-centric design help transform your game from good to great? Well, at Devcom 2023, Anna Brandberg from developer The Outsiders, and their lead UX designer, has a few ideas to share.

The gist of it

The power of play is something that’s fundamental to the design of games, and their success, Brandberg argues. And it’s an idea few if any would dispute. She discusses examples from some of the most iconic gaming franchises including The Sims and its shift from architectural dollhouse simulator to the social life-story simulator that we all know and love.

Brandberg herself previously served with one of mobile’s most iconic companies, King, on Candy Crush Saga. Although King has resources most companies can’t compete with, including their own UX lab, Brandberg notes that this shouldn’t be an obstacle to following their example.

One key insight

“UX is literally not about you,” Brandberg argues. The old adage of “kill your darlings” is never truer and Brandberg encourages designers to think about player experience and how they engage with a game first and foremost ahead of their own preferences.

There is a caveat however. When processing player feedback it’s important to take what they say with a grain of salt. Sometimes players say they want a certain thing but in reality want another, and if they say they dislike something it may be due to frustration from unclear tutorials and onboarding.

The lesson here is that you must put aside your ego, and your own perceived genius, but more importantly, remember that the game isn’t for you, it’s for someone else. As Brandberg notes, “Games have the power to change people’s lives” and that’s a power designers should wield responsibly.

What’s the takeaway?

So what does this tell us about game design? And how can we apply this to mobile? We need only refer back to our coverage of Atomhawk’s talk on UI design at Develop: Brighton to get a brief idea of just how crucial even seemingly secondary design choices can be to improving the user experience and, through that metric, improving a number of key KPIs such as retention, user acquisition, monetisation and more.

Put simply, while we can “businessify” gaming, it’ll never take away from the single key fact that games are made for players. And players are as inscrutable as they are clear-cut, an endless paradox that, if you can unpack their mindset and put them first, can boost your game in every way that matters.

Brandberg offers the perennial and always valuable advice that “Behind every number is a person” and that, while we can try to break down players into categories they’ll always surprise us in how they interact with games and other systems. So knowing when to sit back and listen, and when to read between the lines is just as important as the nitty gritty programming.

Brandberg’s talk is just the start of what is already proving to be a great Devcom, so if you haven’t already, check out their official site for more about the amazing talks taking place in 2023.

Staff Writer

Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the editorial team in November of 2023.