Video-games: the jobs to be done

I had recently ran into @asymco in a private event, and I asked him his opinions on the future of PC gaming (given the context of the decline of PC hardware sales). He responded that I should think less of devices and more of “what is the job being done?” And hence I’ll try to take a stab at “the jobs to be done” by video-games.

(A casual 5-min literature research turned up this post on Medium, which was an interesting read but not structured enough for my purposes, though there are clearly some points which will overlap.)

At a very high level, what are some of the “jobs” that people employ video-games to do? A quick list on a napkin might look this:

  1. To kill time – many mobile games’ default use case
  2. To experience a personalized narrative – anecdotally it seems that especially with female gamers, quite a lot play games primarily to experience the story. I have met many Chinese girls who recollect fondly their experiences playing Chinese RPGs such as PAL (仙剑奇侠传, which has spawned a whole TV series) 
  3. To appreciate immersive, high-fidelity audio-visuals – the arms race for better immersion; some games have such great visual design they can appreciated as art
  4. To be mentally stimulated – Sudoku / Chess
  5. To relax and be amused – escapism from real-life stress
  6. To compete – competitive multiplayer is a core feature for many games today
  7. To socialize with friends, as a group activity – getting together for Rock Band, Wii Sports, or the more “hardcore” stuff such as Call of Duty / Halo
  8. To seek expression of individuality (creativity, dexterity, etc.) – sandbox games such as Minecraft
  9. To seek peer recognition – leaderboards and ranked ladders
  10. To seek a sense of achievement – core to any “addictive” video-game are the feedback loops that make players proud of themselves
  11. To seek a specific social identity and a sense of belonging – affiliation with an online community, but also in esports the emergent signs of personal identity traditionally associated with following “real” sports

This is a very hasty list (some items share overlaps, for example the motivation behind “to compete” could be to seek a sense of achievement and recognition, but there’s also the enjoyment from the struggle of competition itself). In any case, a game would usually hit at least a couple of the above; a great game will likely cover many.

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