We all know what it feels like to be so immersed in a game that you “zone out” from your surroundings. This condition of high level engagement is a state of focus, concentration and immersion.

Heather O’Brien and Elaine Toms defines the engagement process to consist of four distinct stages:

*point of engagement

*period of sustained engagement




Positive psychologist, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi theorized that players enter a state of Flow, a state of concentration and complete absorption with an activity and situation. It’s the optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where full immersion is experienced. So much, that he theorizes it is here where people are most happy.

Diagram of Flow in Games, Jenova Chen

© Jenova Chen

Jenova Chen expanded on Csíkszentmihályi’s sustained engagement theory of flow to a more specific application for video games. He describes a Flow Zone where harmony is reached, coming from both the challenge provided by the game and the abilities of the player.

Unique to Each of Us

Not all games are created equal. For that matter, not all players are created equal. Engagement is as personal as each human is unique. What engages us, its duration and level of intensity is different for each of us. Early arcade video games were designed and targeted for males 12-35 years old. In the high core visceral genres (shooting, fighting and driving games), designing for engagement is a much more simple task.

In today’s mobile gaming market, genres have broadened to interest a wider diversity of players. And with that is a proliferation of niche games, designed for specific audiences. A byproduct of this are titles that don’t easily resonate and engage with all audiences. Hence the saying, “you can’t be all things to all people.”

Not long ago existed the popular notion that females didn’t enjoy video games.  That they appealed only to a young male audience. As it turns out, developers were simply not designing games that engaged females. Smart designers responded to these findings by designing for a more diverse audience.

Research finds that females make up 48% of all gamers. In fact, the “2014 Essential Facts About The Computer and Video Game Industry” published by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) reported that computer and video games are now enjoyed by a diverse worldwide audience.

This same research debunks the myth that games are played only by teens. Today 29% of players are under the age of 18, 32% are between 18-35, and 39% are 36 and older.

Game design now takes on a level of sophistication as never before. And how players react and respond to games is studied by game user researchers (GUR), experts in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) specialists. Today data scientists analyze data every way imaginable. All with the goal of maximizing and sustaining user engagement.

As Games Change, Engagement Remains Key

Adding to all this, revenue models have been turned upside down. Free-to-play games are free to install, yet publishers must create a return on investment somehow. They turn to serving ads, and in-app purchases as sources of revenue. Both occur during game play and have the potential to disrupt the delicate condition of engagement and flow.

An over abundance of free-to-play games in App Stores has altered how games are valued and consumed. Games are often installed and deleted before any emotional attachment is made with a game. In this “throw-away” mentality, an industry is born simply on the need to acquire users for games that experience a constant churn of users.

Video games have come a long way in their history. Once considered a hobby, they now are a global industry. However games and those who play them evolve, the requirement of player engagement remains constant.

To read more about video game engagement, my other posts include:

Two-Minute Engagement: Learn From Classic Coin-Operated Arcade Games

Reduce Churn By Building Early Engagement

Engagement vs. Monetization: The Battle for Engagement in Games

Mobile Game Engagement Comes Full Circle

The Importance of Engagement in Video Games

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