Using the Kano Model for GMs

In a way, an RPG is something like an Xbox (or Playstation or Wii if you prefer). It allows games to be played but is not the game itself. The game itself is created by the GM (or purchased as a module). In this way the GM is something like a game company themselves, they pitch and try to sell games to their players. The players ‘buy’ the game when they decide to participate. So if you, the GM, are a game company, who’s doing your market analysis for you?

Whoa whoa, you say, I’m not going to need market analysis. These are my buddies, I just ask them if they want to play a game and we do it.

Ok I understand, that’s fine if you’re satisfied with what you’re doing now as a GM. I was asking the guys that are really serious about being GMs. That’s okay, you can go now if you want.

Serious GMs Only!

One of the most important things a GM needs to worry about is player satisfaction. We ask our players if they like the game and try to rate it according to how strongly they respond “yeah” but we don’t really get a sense of why they say yeah. It’s just something in that game satisfied them and so we try to stick to that.

So how can we do this better? When you look at a GM as a game company, applying marketing science to planning their products (game sessions) starts to make sense. So lets look at how to apply one market analysis model to your games.

The Kano Model plots things that make a product (game) interesting to customers (players). It looks at what happens as you increase or decrease a feature to the player’s excitement. The important point of the model is, that not all features affect players the same way.

Mandatory Features

Mandatory features for a game are things that are required for the game to be enjoyed. These are things like a ruleset or consistency in applying rules. They’re things that, if left out will make the players totally dissatisfied with the game.

The interesting thing is, with a mandatory feature once the need is satisfied, no more satisfaction results. If you pile on rules that players don’t need to play, they aren’t going to be any more satisfied with the game. If important rules are missing or poorly made, the player’s satisfaction will be reduced.

Other examples of mandatory features might be a description of the game world. Once the players get the idea they don’t really gain more satisfaction by listening to hours of exposition by the GM on the minutia of the world.

Linear Features

Linear features are things that increase satisfaction for the players the more it is done. This may be in game rewards like money or experience (dependent on the game) or time for their character in the spotlight. The more you give them the more satisfaction they will derive from the game.

Linear features are the most intuitive features because their relationship is direct. More is better less is worse.

Exciter Features

Exciter features are ones that the players like when they see it but didn’t know they wanted. This is a little harder to give an example of. Well chosen music at the gaming table can be an exciter (poorly chosen music can really backfire though) the players may see their play experience significantly enhanced by it and never known they would have wanted it. In some ways art can be an exciter, the player may not have been interested in a specific aspect of a game until they see some dramatic artwork that intrigues them.

The nice thing about exciters is that since the players don’t know they need them, leaving them out does not negatively impact the game but adding them in enhances their enjoyment.

Which one is it?

So how can you know which feature is which? You can try to guess. Combat may seem like a linear feature to one GM or an exciter to another but the players may see it as a mandatory feature. How will you know? The real way is to survey the players using two types of questions. One asks how they feel if they will receive a feature in your games, another asks how they feel if it is absent. Both types of question are important. Together they tell if a feature is mandatory, linear or an exciter.

The form of question that asks how the players feel if they get a feature is called the Functional Form.

The form of question that asks how they feel if they don’t get it is called the Dysfunctional Form.

Each question goes like this.

If you can expect combat in a game session,
1. I like it that way.
2. I expect it to be that way.
3. I am neutral.
4. I can live with it that way.
5. I dislike it that way.

Later on in the survey the question is re-worded.

If there will be no combat in a game session,
1. I like it that way.
2. I expect it to be that way.
3. I am neutral.
4. I can live with it that way.
5. I dislike it that way.

Each pair of responses is then charted on a graph.

Dysfunctional Question
Like Expect Neutral Live With Dislike


Like Vague Exciter Exciter Exciter Linear
Expect Reverse Indifferent Indifferent Indifferent Mandatory
Neutral Reverse Indifferent Indifferent Indifferent Mandatory
Live With Reverse Indifferent Indifferent Indifferent Mandatory
Dislike Reverse Reverse Reverse Reverse Vague

So what are these other results Indifferent, Reverse and Vague?

The reverse result means the player would like the opposite of the feature in the survey. Indifferent means the player is not interested in the feature either way. Vague means they have given contradictory responses and further more detailed questions on this subject may be required to resolve the contradiction.

You will probably get different results from different players and that’s fine because people are interested in different things.

Putting it to use

You should plan to include all the features your players have identified as mandatory but spend only the required time needed to accomplish them.

Linear features are important to work as much in as possible. These should be the core of your focus.

Remember to spend some time implementing exciter features. Over time however, these are likely to develop into linear features.

If you use this to plan your games let us know!

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One Response to Using the Kano Model for GMs

  1. Pingback: Links of the Week: March 6, 2012 | Keith Davies — In My Campaign - Keith's thoughts on RPG design and play.

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