GDC 2010: The Importance of Evoking Emotions in Social Games

When it comes to a giant conference like GDC 2010, there are always great talks to be heard, but a few like XEO Design President Nicole Lazzaro’s discussion, “4 Most Important Emotions for Social Games,” really stand out. This is the kind of talk every social game developer should hear, as should every game player who wants to know why they’re spending so much time adopting stray pink cows, or what have you.

Lazzaro, who has a degree in Psychology from Stanford, also studied documentary filmmaking in order to learn storytelling, a technique often applied in the most popular games. Her company advises game developers on how to put emotions into their games. She herself applied some techniques in her talk to evoke emotions from the audience, then proceeded to give an outstanding talk on the most important emotions and some of the game mechanics that can be applied for each.

Lazzaro’s 4 most important emotions for social games:

  1. Amusement + grouping.
  2. Amici + grooming – Chumminess.
  3. Amidar + ranking.
  4. Amiero – Social bonding.

She admits that for her terminology, she borrows from other languages regularly, hence the Italian origins of some of the above emotions. There are in fact over 100 possible human emotions, though she feels these four are the most important for social games. The most popular of games evoke most of these emotions, and Lazzaro discussed the “how” in terms of game mechanics used to achieve this. Some of the many social mechanics include teasing, language, jokes, dancing (characters), healing, gifting, threats, and leaderboards.

There’s a goldmine of other social game development information in Lazzaro’s presentation, the slides of which will be available from the GDC 2010 site, and possibly from her XEO Design website. Her site, amongst other things discusses emotion and storytelling. There’s an 8-page PDF, Why We Play Games: The 4 Keys to More Emotion Without Story that is related to her talk at GDC. It’s available on the page Why We Play Games, and there are a number of case studies on popular games. She’ll also be giving a workshop in Silicon Valley on Saturday Mar 27 called “The Power of Play: Using the Power of Fun to Increase Engagement and Drive Viral Distribution.” Information is at her site.