In January of 2008, a Cal Tech and Stanford Business School research study showed that the perception of a wine can influence the actual physical enjoyment of the wine. In this study, people who drank the same wine that was priced at $90 vs. $10 did not only believe that the $90 wine was better but in fact actually experienced greater pleasure drinking the wine as measured by brain scanning technology.


(Somehow this wine in the picture above looks really good to me)

Hence this study indicates that a person’s psychology and perception can alter a physical experience.

I believe similar to wine, the enjoyment of games can be skewed by the perception of the game. Hence, the better the user believes the game to be (whether by marketing, pricing, or other means), the more the user can actually enjoy and derive pleasure from the game.

The Apple fan boys who stood in line for hours or even days to be the first to get the first iPhones or iPads may have not only bought into the marketing but actually psychologically convinced themselves to enjoy the product more.

As a thought experiment however if we were to try to alter user’s perception of a game, how could we do this?

The obvious drivers for perception to me, seem to be the following:

  1. Brand: e.g., Warner Bros’s Injustice
  2. Production value: e.g., Infinity Blade (for it’s time)
  3. Polish/UI: e.g., CSR Racing 

However, perhaps more overlooked are the following:

  1. Social proof: Pushing social recommendations (e.g., Candy Crush Saga) and surfacing social play and rivalries (e.g., WindRunner)
  2. Price: See Square Enix’s mobile games
  3. Pattern matching: Having similar mechanics to other games especially as part of first time user experience can negatively impact your game. e.g., “City building again? I’ve played about 20 of those… [delete app]”. Having a unique and clever experience can however give the opposite perception: see Limbo. “What is this? I’ve never seen this before…”
  4. Waiting lists: Popularized by Mailbox (acquired by Dropbox) a mobile app wait list will block the user from using the app until some number of people ahead of them have been granted access. It’s basically the nightclub line or Apple fanboy line as access to your mobile app. Also being used by the new mobile payments app Clinkle.
  5. Exclusivity: Social networks like A Small World or social news sharing services like Quibb which initially launch their services as invitation only or via screening their user base.

Understanding user psychology is a goldmine. If you don’t believe me talk to any of the game designers at DeNA who have really studied user psychology to a degree I haven’t seen at other mobile game companies. There are very specific psychological motivations behind many of their features.

So back to the original topic: Can games be like wine?

And if so, what else can we do to skew a favorable perception for our games?

Comment and let’s discuss!