Game Development Reference
every moment of frustration. Nobody plays your game by itself; people play
it through the lens of what they already know about it. This means that a
designer can't ignore marketing.
Confirmation bias can even reverse how we interpret an event in a
game. For example, imagine a review says that a game is satisfyingly chal-
lenging. You buy the game. As you're playing, you suffer a frustrating and
seemingly unfair loss. But you don't blame the game for your failure be-
cause you were already expecting it. You were primed to interpret that fail-
ure as an intentionally authored part of the experience, not as a mistake.
Had the review described the game as stupidly unfair before you started
playing, you would likely have interpreted your loss very differently.
For designers, confirmation bias means that setting expectations is criti-
cal. Expectations are set in many ways, only some of which are under our
The title of a game is often the first expectation setter players en-
counter. Consider these titles: Doom , SimCity , Dark Souls , The Marriage ,
LIMBO , Fable , Condemned , Brain Challenge , Mortal Kombat , and
Rollercoaster Tycoon . Some sound evil and violent, others light and friendly.
Some sound artistic, while others sound commercial. Every title sets off
a different chain of mental associations and sets different expectations.
Next are the marketing messages. Advertisements, interviews, and
articles all set expectations. Advertisements can focus on characters or
action. They can be light, dark, fast, or slow. In an interview, if the de-
veloper describes how a game was inspired by his love of gardens and
children, players develop different expectations than if he mentions being
inspired by gore-porn horror flicks. If he says the game has a moment that
will make you cry, players will watch for that moment as they play.
Finally, players develop expectations by word of mouth. This is the
most powerful kind of expectation setting because it is amplified by social
pressure. Humans are social animals; we naturally synchronize our opin-
ions with those around us. When we're discussing a game with others,
we don't simply state what we think. We watch for what others think—
especially those of high status—and shift our own opinions to match.
We're not lying when we do this. Our opinion actually changes—we adjust
our memories to match the consensus. This effect occurs at a small scale
among groups of friends, and at a large scale across the entire game play-
ing community. Players take cues from reviewers, who take cues from one
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