Monday, February 11, 2019

The 8 Kinds of Fun

Understanding our audience is one of the holiest grails of game design. Mark Rosewater's psychographics are famous in this community, but he's not the only one thinking about this. A couple years ago, BGG users will remember Quantic Foundry's motivation profile going around. There's the Bartle taxonomy of players types. And I recently encountered another older analysis called The 8 Kinds of Fun.

Here's the oldest post I've found about it, the firstest, and the bestest.

The first kind of fun this analysis lists is Sensation. This is the kind of fun Timmy enjoys: They want to feel something. I would characterize this source of fun as Experiential, and would expect gamblers, nordic larpers, and dexterity gamers (including athletes) to most value it. Some methods to create sensation or evoke emotion: Create a distinct atmosphere or mood; Keep the game tactile / kinetic; Look for visceral interactions; Add lighting or a sound track; Make big events possible/likely; Skew variance high.
Next is Fantasy, which I've found interpreted a few ways. Some think of it in terms of a power fantasy, where the player escapes to a reality where their character has more control, influence, and admiration. Others in terms of immersing yourself in a deep world, alive with personality and history. I might characterize this as Escapist fun, and see this enjoyed among OSR roleplayers, blockbuster larpers, and super-fans (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Tolkien). You want to give these players rich worlds with lots of lore, 360ยบ immersion, powerful characters, and control of their own destiny. Arguably, they want high-theme, mechanic-light play, but I'm not so sure.
Narrative fun engages players by telling a compelling story and/or letting players tell the story. I'd expect game masters, indie roleplayers, and story gamers to value this highest. Give them meaningful relationships, significant backgrounds and motivations, plot twists, foreshadowing, character growth, and satisfying conclusions.

Vorthos enjoys some combination of Fantasy and Narrative fun.
Spike plays games for the Challenge. They're looking for something meaty to sink their teeth into, and to demonstrate their skill and understanding. Professional gamers, tournament players, min-maxers, war gamers, and puzzle players tend to appreciate Challenging fun with tough choices, webs of interactions, unusual puzzles, high-risk-high-reward odds, and direct conflict (but obviously not all of them enjoy all those things).
Fellowship is an integral part of the game night experience for a lot of us, Tammy included. I'd call this Social fun and see it in casual players, party gamers, and a lot of con-goers. These players enjoy games that reward diplomacy, negotiation, and cooperation, social deduction games, and simple group games. There's a lot of largely untapped potential for games that develop relationships between characters—or even better, between players.
Players that want to find every secret in a video game, are enjoying the process of Discovery. So are players that delight in spotting odd rules interactions. So are players seeking to learn new skills or expand their perspectives. Exploratory fun appeals to delvers, crafters, troublemakers, parlor larpers, and collectible gamers. Give them lots of pieces to combine in unexpected ways; give them subtle details, and hidden prizes; give them opportunities to see the world in a new light; and teach them strange or useful skills.

Mel is the hardest of Rosewater's characters to fit into this view. They enjoy Discovery, for sure; but also Fantasy where the world they're immersing themselves into is a complex rule set, rather than a fictional land or story; and to some extent Challenge and Expression.
Speaking of Expression, that's Jenny's bag, baby. These players want to deliver killer lines, emote affectingly, create new cards / decks / strategies / games. Creative fun draws in improvisers, performance gamers, combo builders, card modders, and most roleplayers. Give them the spotlight; let them act; get them up and moving around; deliver weird cards they can use in unexpected ways; hand them systems that are easily tweaked, expanded, or re-skinned.
Submission is the last of the 8 Kinds of Fun, but I'd called it Comfortable fun. Games you can play drunk—on the way home—while watching the kids or tv—deliver this casual sort of fun. Relaxing games do too, but so do games that compel hours of grinding. Casual gamers, busy gamers, stressed gamers, and lifestyle gamers all dig this stuff. It's about comfort and familiarity. Give them easy tasks, simple rules, endless objectives, and tons of little rewards.

I'd list the 8 kinds of fun as Experiential, Escapist, Exploratory, Narrative, Social, Challenging, Creative, and Comfortable, though I'm inclined to leave off that last one as it reads less like a source of fun to me as an alternate way to engage with games,

You probably found yourself identifying with most if not all these types of fun. Most people enjoy most kinds of fun, even when they have two or so that really hit their buttons. Some of you even disagreed with my lists of who enjoys which kinds of fun; "casual gamer" is a ridiculous broad label, just like "larper" and "Spike" are; ultimately we're all too unique for any categorization to be perfect. My goal here was to explore these eight kinds of fun in an attempt to integrate them into my own thought processes and see where they're useful and where they aren't.

Given that most everyone enjoys most of these, my top speculative takeaway is not that your game is fine as long as it does some of these, but that you probably want to figure out which one or two your game is best at providing and focus on really delivering those enough to stand out. A game like Magic tries to appeal to as large an audience as possible, which is mostly correct because their audience is so large (and therefore diverse in interest), and that strategy is supported by the game's modularity and the size of their audience. On the other hand, they're also shooting such a wide net that it's easy for players to miss the part that's for them and slip through. It's wise to consider each kind of fun and see if there's a no- or low-cost way to support it, but most games need to pick a couple and make them shine bright enough no fans of those things could miss:

Merchants of Araby delivers most all of these a bit, but focuses on social fun in negotiations, exploratory fun in card combinations, and challenging fun in hand management. A'Writhe is mostly experiential and social, with a hint of fantasy. Cahoots has no narrative, but delivers challengethrough a social mechanic. Legacy of the Slayer is very narrative, but asks players to build the fantasy world, practicing expression.

Do you have other interpretations of these kinds of fun, who enjoys them, or how to deliver on them? Do you have a different model with which to categorize players by the kinds of fun they enjoy?


  1. Great article! In my Master's pedagogical work I've been doing a lot of research on classifications and taxonomies of games, and what you talk about in this article reflects a lot of the research I've seen. I've actually originally seen these 'types of fun' as the Aesthetics of MDA (Mechanic/Dynamic/Aesthetic) Framework, and I think that helps capture the idea that they don't have to necessarily be 'fun'. Horror, for example, is fun secondarily, scary first, right?

    These also remind me in a way of the Eight C's of Engagement, themselves originating from the "four human drives". The drives are Mastery, Interpersonal Connection, Understanding, and Self-Expression. From there, Mastery branches into Competition and Challenge; Interpersonal Connection into Cooperation and Connections (to personal experiences); Understanding into Curiosity and Controversy; and Self-Expression into Creativity and Choice. I think it's evident how those closely correlate to Mark Rosewater's psychographics, though with some obvious wrinkles.

    The question becomes - how do you connect the 'types of fun', or Aesthetics, to these larger 'engagement profiles', and 'human drives'? That's actually what my Master's work focuses on - what games align with what engagement profiles (and also with what kinds of learning targets, but that's another matter).

    I think you find Mel a bit tricky because Mel isn't really an 'engagement profile'; it's primarily concerned with dynamics (the arrangement of mechanics) rather than with aesthetics (the emotional responses evoked). Vorthos is much easier to sort because they are all about dynamics that are arranged with direct correspondence to emotional evocation ("top-down"), while Mel goes the other direction, all about dynamics that are built from identifying pleasing arrangements of mechanics.

    I'd say that Timmy/Tammy are really the masters of Fantasy and Narrative, while Discovery is more of a Johnny/Jenny aesthetic.

    One might note that Spikes are not well-represented in the list currently. I'd actually say that's because Spike arguably cares about both Sensation and, surprisingly, Submission. Sensation is because, as Mark Rosewater notes, Spikes are in it for the 'adrenaline rush of competition'. I'd also say that they're Submission, because although Submission often brings to mind relaxing, casual, party games, it's really about "connection to the game as a whole", giving into the larger experience of the game; and Spikes do that immensely, as they dedicate themselves to the craft of the game. As you note in the article, Submission can be exemplified by "grinding" and "lifestyle gaming", which Spikes embody.

    Great article. It's fun to see other people's perspectives on these concepts. I'm looking forward to reading all the links in the opening paragraph!

    1. I wasn't familiar with the 8 C's. Thanks, Inanimate. Your Masters work sounds fascinating!

    2. I do like the breakdown of Self-Expression into Creativity and Choice. I love Choosing cool and weird decks to play, but dislike the Creativity of brewing the deck myself. I've always felt like a weird Johnny because of it.

  2. This article is absolutely fantastic. It's inspired me and helped me organize my values as a game designer and creator. Thanks, Jay.