Game Development Reference
Let's take a look at marketing. This is a topic on craft, not sales, so I won't
cover marketing in general here. There is, however, one aspect of market-
ing that all designers have to worry about because it deeply affects the play
experience itself. That is how marketing sets expectations, and how those
expectations affect the play experience.
Did you know that it's possible to make a good beer taste bad just
by describing it differently? The psychologist Dan Ariely discovered this
during an experiment conducted in a Boston bar. He offered pub goers
two identical-looking beverages. The first was Samuel Adams beer, a well-
liked but fairly typical Boston beer. The second was a secret “MIT Brew” —
Sam Adams with a few drops of balsamic vinegar added. In side-by-side
blind tests, MIT Brew was the clear winner. But if Ariely first told drinkers
what MIT Brew was, they hated it. Vinegar in beer sounds like it would
be horrible, so people expected it to be horrible, so they perceived it to be
horrible, even though it was the superior beverage.
CONFIRMATION BIAS is the tendency for people to perceive things in
such a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs.
Expectations are not separate from perception. Rather, we are biased
to confirm our preexisting beliefs. This effect is everywhere, and countless
studies have rediscovered it in various guises. Foods in expensive-looking
containers are perceived to be tastier, and products with high price tags
are perceived to be better. Pepsi wins the Pepsi Challenge against Coke,
but only if the labels are hidden. Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in
the world, once busked in a New York subway and was almost completely
ignored. Magical healing charlatans, dog whisperers, fortune tellers, and
other flimflam artists all depend on expectation bias to work. The placebo
effect is little more than expectation bias.
And confirmation bias is everywhere in games. It's in every review,
every recommendation, and every game experience of every player. Players
begin forming opinions the moment they start hearing about the game.
By the time they begin play, their established opinions and expectations
are already affecting their experience. When you've heard that a game is
artistic, you'll look for meaningful details—and find them. When every-
one says a game is scary, you will notice and remember every shiver that
runs down your spine. When the reviews say a game is bad, you'll focus on
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