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Solsten's Josh Rivers on the elusive nature of “finding the fun” and the future of player-centered games

Meet the mobile games and Web3 experts at Pocket Gamer Connects Seattle, May 9-10
Solsten's Josh Rivers on the elusive nature of “finding the fun” and the future of player-centered games
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Pocket Gamer Connects – Europe's leading mobile games industry conference – is heading to Seattle as we bring an array of incredible speakers, industry experts, and unparalled networking opportunities to the US west coast on 9-10 May 2022!

You can check out our speaker lineup, but to give you a teaser for what you can look forward to, we spoke with our speakers to share a little of what they'll be speaking on, and their thoughts of the mobile games industry.

Josh Rivers, head of UX research at Solsten, will give attendees an expert glimpse of players’ motivations, speaking to the power of biopsychosocial insights beyond behavior and surface-level opinions. This understanding empowers development teams to create truly resonant and engaging game experiences that speak to returning players. What’s the most common mistake you see being made in the games sector?

Josh Rivers: I still see a lot of development teams and researchers focus solely on creating or testing for ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’ experiences. Fun and entertainment are relatively vague concepts and they’re hard to pin down accordingly. What makes for a fun experience for one person may not be fun at all for the next, but it may still be engaging for both.

Beyond that – and maybe this is slightly controversial – I don’t think games should be solely about having fun. Instead, I think it’s important to focus on creating powerfully resonant moments of human experience.

For example, some of my favorite games have made me ugly cry on my couch at three o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday. I wasn’t having fun in that moment, but I was deeply engaged with the game I was playing and I will always go back to those games that resonated with me on that level. That said, I know that some players actively avoid emotional moments in game and prefer fast-paced simple games instead. There’s a space for those kinds of experiences in games, too. It’s all about understanding why someone is playing a game, not if they’re having fun playing it.

Don’t get me wrong, fun is a piece of the puzzle for sure, but I have found that an understanding of resonance, engagement, and satisfaction is much more important when crafting game experiences for people.

What is the single biggest challenge facing the mobile games industry today?

Truly and holistically understanding a game’s audience, both its potential players and those actively playing the game. It’s tough to tap into the psyche of people, especially when they’re on the other side of a screen but understanding an audience holistically, that means looking beyond just behavioral data, to the biopsychosocial aspects of being human is key. It’s there that we can start to truly ‘get’ the people playing our games.

There are a lot of assumptions we have to make when looking solely to behavioral data and digging beyond just behavioral data and combining it with psychological data gives us not only more grounded insights, but more rigorously transferable ones too.

The mobile space evolves at a much faster pace than console and PC gaming, but is there a console or PC trend that you think has potential within the mobile space?

I don’t know that I agree with the statement that the mobile space evolves at a faster pace than console and PC gaming, I’d say instead that it evolves in a different way while following its own path.

Still, I think a recent trend I’ve noticed in PC and console gaming that I have yet to see ‘catch fire’ in the same way in the mobile space is improved accessibility. From basic audiovisual accessibility options such as colorblind modes and larger font sizes to entire gameplay settings that enable a more playable experience for neurodivergent gamers, console and PC games are at the cutting edge of what it means to make gameplay experiences more accessible and there’s still a lot of room for growth there, too.

I don’t think mobile gaming has quite caught on to that trend just yet, but there’s a lot of potential for mobile games to come into their own on that front.

When not engaging in the business of games, what do you do to relax?

Hopefully it's no surprise, but I'm a big gamer myself. I often dive into a game after work or on the weekends. I also love the outdoors and am an active rock-climber. There's something amazing about spending a day out in nature on a rock-face, or at a climbing hall if the weather isn't so great, then coming home and relaxing on the couch with a video game in hand.

What sessions are you planning to attend?

One thing I have always tried to do as a researcher is to stay in touch with the more technical side of development. I'm also passionate about community-making endeavors, so I'm eager to hear from the Bungie team about integrating cross-platform play in Destiny 2 both from a technical and player experience perspective.

I'm also excited to attend the talks on inclusivity in the industry and trans representation in games. I'm encouraged to see entire sessions dedicated to these topics. In addition to those sessions, I'm very keen to hear more from Swatee Surve about Litesprite's work in designing compassionate games. Generally though, every talk intrigues me and I wish I could attend them all!


There’s no place like Pocket Gamer Connects Seattle to connect with incredible industry leaders like Desiree Dickerson. Don’t miss out on attending our West Coast conference – secure your seat now and get early access to our meeting platform to schedule all the meetings and see who all will be joining us in Seattle come May 9-10.