The OCEAN Model

Last week, we watched a presentation presented by Jason Vanden Berghe, who is the creative director at Ubisoft, about The 5 Domains of Play at GDC 2012. In the presentation, Jason expressed his idea of mapping the "The Big 5" O.C.E.A.N theory from psychology to the 5 domains of game play. There are OCEAN personality tests free online and they can provide you a nice report of your personalities.

OCEAN to Domains of Play

Openness to Experience      -       Novelty
Conscientiousness           -       Challenge
Extraversion                -       Stimulation
Agreeableness               -       Harmony
Neuroticism                 -       Threat

I partially agree with Jason's idea. I play games for similar reasons that motivates me in my life and I believe other people also do so. I play Touhou series for its character design and its carefully designed and challenging Danmakus. Actually what motivates me to play is curiosity, the desire to know and enjoy each one of the game when they come out. And I visit art museums and exhibitions for almost the same reason.

Danmakus by ZUN in Touhou Series

The fact that people play games for similar reasons that motivates them in their life should have great affect on game designs. Challenge, for example, is a significant motivation for people to play, not only video games, but also sports and other activities with competition involved. And we know that some video games are becoming sports (E-Sports), such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. There are official tournament seasons each year, and the winner prize is increasing yearly. For instance, the first prize of The International 3, which is a global Dota 2 invitational tournament hosted by Valve in August, is $1,437,190 USD. And the fact that people are enjoying e-sports have clearly affected the design decisions in many games in many aspects, such as the focusing on balance, free-to-play model and in-game stores.

In game design, the OCEAN model can help establish the goal of game mechanics. It provides a statistical based measurement for game mechanics and target audience. I agree with the fact that different people have different personalities and those persoalities can affect how people enjoy video games. Some people may be hunters of achievements while some people may not care about achievements at all. So when designing games, designer should carefully consider the target audience and make sure the game mechanics fit their taste.

Facets of Play

The OCEAN model can provide us a interesting entry point to analyzing why people are playing a particular game and people's behavior in games, especially when facing choices. Many games force players to make different choices throughout the story that may lead to different endings and affect other parts of the game.

But we should also not over use the OCEAN model. Not all people fit into that model as of games and game design. I think we should only use the model as a assistant tool to measure game mechanics. The thing we should focus on is players' intrinsic motivation. There are many achievement acholic does not mean we should put achievements everywhere. Actually achievements are considered as a extrinsic motivation, which is not so good for games.


There are two categories of motivations that motivates players to play a game - intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic      -       autonomy, what people want to do
Extrinsic      -       what people instructed to but may not willing to do

I agree with Scott Rigby's view of the motivations - ideally all games will intrinsically motivate, with no need for extrinsic and game designers should focus on intrinsic. If a game can only relies on extrinsic motivations to attract people to play, then the game is meaningfulness.

But there are people who play games just for extrinsic motivations, while extrinsic motivations can lead to awful designs. A good example is in China, most of the companies in the game industry are developing what we called "money oriented games", such as games that allows people to purchase unbeatable equipment with their credit cards and put ads that implies sex or power all over the Internet. Those games also keep rolling top equipment out so that players have to constantly spend money in the game to maintain their status. And the old fact is even though there are literally hundreds of those kind of games, there are still people willing to put hundreds, even thousands of dollars into those kind of games.

Despite those obvious wrong use of extrinsic motivation, carefully used extrinsic can help game designs. Though personally I dislike the idea of achievements, I enjoy collecting them and trophies, especially in PS3 games. Clearly achievements are extrinsic motivations, but they could provide a way to guide players to explore the details you want the players to touch when designing a game, or place challenges to the hardcore players.

Starcraft II is a good example of how carefully designed achievements can affect campaign playing experience. In the campaign of Starcraft II, each stage has three different achievements from easy to hard. Players have to play very carefully if they want to get all the achievements in a particular stage and maybe replay for several times.

Achievements in Starcraft 2 Campaign

There are a wild range of extrinsic motivations, from external rewards to integrated goals. And I think integrated goals are actually good for games. For example, many games provides in-game collectible items that either the items themselves are meaningful or they can be used to unlock other meaningful and collectible contents, such as concept arts or background stories. Though these contents are not required to complete the game and have no effect on the core mechanics, they motivates players to explorer the game world and thus enhances the intrinsics. I think the line is extrinsic motivations towards identified and intergraded goals can be and should be used in some situations to enhance the intrinsic values.

Intrinsic motivations can also be enhanced by focusing on the nature of play, on different perspectives of human nature, such as curiosity and love. Journey, a masterpiece crafted by Jenova Chen and That Game Company, is a very good example of a game that focuses on intrinsic motivations. The game has no script and despite the fact that it can be a multiplayer game, players cannot talk or type in the game. The only thing players can do explore the game world and maybe meet other players randomly. It even won't show you the name of your companion. And near the end of the game, there is an only place that players can draw something on the ground and won't disappear within a second, thus your companion can see it. And many players end up just drawing a heart there. The game shows how an extremely intrinsic-focused game can be.

Journey by That Game Company


Jason VandenBerghe: The 5 Domains of Play: Applying Psychology's Big 5 Motivation Domains to Games

Scott Rigby: Intrinsic & Extrinsic Player Motivation: Design Implications & Player Retention

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