Shard of the Week: The Psychology Forged in Design
What makes Keyforge popular?
Sure, we could sum it up to great gameplay. As a lifelong gamer, I tend to often notice the small details that make a game outshine the rest- and I’ve found Keyforge to cut deeper into a psyhological level than most.
So today, let’s take a look at what makes Keyforge undeniably perfect for you, me, your neighbor, martians, and almost everyone.
The creator of Keyforge (Richard Garfield) knows that games give a better sense of enjoyment when anyone can win. Skilled players win more often, but everyone wins or loses sometimes.
Dr. Garfield elaborates on this point eloquently during one of his lectures in 2012 during a Magic the Gathering themed cruise (it’s available on YouTube and worth watching). He refers to this type of design as “Rando-Chess”, which is basically chess but the values of the pieces are rolled dice values. You still need to know the rules of chess to win, but sometimes an opponent will just roll more sixes than you and have a stronger playing field.
Keyforge is the ultimate version of Rando-Chess. It combines incredibly deep strategy with the “Random” being represented in two different ways: the deck and the shuffle.
That excitement of opening a new deck is almost like another game in itself. After playing for a while, you start to get a mental image of your ideal deck. With odds far against you, the best you can hope for is getting exactly what you didn’t know you always wanted.
You will find alot of these along the way.
You might just realize that the deck you desired is already in your collection… the moment you go on an unbeatable winning streak.
The Rorschach Comparison
Rorschach tests utilize inkblots for psychological evaluation. While one patient sees a rearing horse, another sees a tortured dolphin. Many psychologists use this test to examine a person’s personality and emotional functioning on a deeper level than mere discussion. I find it fascinating that Keyforge utilizes this same principle in the design of their Archons. It’s ingenious marketing because the player sees what they want, rather than what they are given. While one player sees birds another sees bats. It makes for a product that is not only “exactly what you want”, but also a point of discussion from what others might see. It falls right back into the topic of getting exactly what you didn’t know you wanted.
Rorschack by Name
Even the names can be interpreted in a way that is personalized to the reader. My favorite deck gives the ideal example of this. While she is named “Harleigh ‘Sir Cash’ Curtius”, I rarely view the deck as female. Perhaps due to myself being male, I often refer to the deck as just ‘Sir Cash’. It’s possible that if I were of the opposite gender, I might have just adapted to calling the deck ‘Harleigh’. If I were a fan of ancient mythology, then my focus might have been ‘Curtius’ (a 1st century Roman historian).
Just as how an inkblot is random, so are the names… and we just tend to read what we want to read.
As the Inkblots Merge
The culmination of both name and Archon design can sometimes tell the whole story. Take for example this Archon…
It’s obvious that there are birds flying around the head of this Archon, but what are the odds of that?! How did the algorithm possibly know to link birds to the design?
Of course, it didn’t know.
Now here’s the same Archon with another name…
What lovely bats! I’m sure the horror fan opening this one is going to be quite pleased.
Exciting to get such a cool Vampire Archon…
…even though it doesn’t say ‘Vampire’ anywhere on it. Our mind creates those associations.
Take a moment to think about your favorite Archon. What’s the story behind that character? It might feel obvious to you, but that’s the magic behind it; the Archon didn’t create the story… you did.
Primal and Primary
Each of us is likely to have a color preference. It’s commonplace for someone to subconsciously wear clothing in the colors they prefer the most.
Colors we wear showcase who we are.
One lesser known form of advertising is called ‘color psychology’. Marketing geniuses can focus their advertising to the right target audience just by using the appropriate color pallette.
But the designers of Keyforge were not using color this way. They did something better.
Sticking to primary/basic colors, they added character to the Archons.
You might have a red archon with massive Aember generating potential, and now it makes sense… the deck is fast and aggressive like it’s color. How about a green deck that is equally quick at producing Aember? Well, now that leaves the visualization of growth and nature. Maybe the color goes well with the name. Maybe your orange Archon looks like a piece of fruit. Maybe your “Batlord” is green and diseased. It could be any number of things that seem to “make sense” from the random. Either way, it adds personality that wasn’t there before. It turns your favorite decks into a character you will never find a replacement for… unless it’s a knock-off…
the more I notice about this game, the more I love it. I mentioned earlier about finding the perfect deck, and how it will likely never happen. Well, I have my sights set on a few specific decks I’ve seen registered online, but finding the owners of those decks is practically impossible. Perhaps “Sir Cash” is actually just the girl of my dreams.
Until next time-