The beginning empirical work applying SDT to video games by Ryan, Rigby, and Przybylski (2006) led to a new measure of need satisfaction in play – the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction (PENS) model. In that original work, Ryan et al. assumed that successful games were highly intrinsically motivating, yielding significant satisfactions of basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. They conducted four studies involving various types of games that demonstrated that both game preferences and behavioral and psychological measures of intrinsic motivation for playing them were predicted by basic psychological need satisfaction during play. In other words, basic need satisfaction was found to be the pathway to enjoyable and engaging game experiences and to people’s motivation to persist at them.
These findings also highlighted how specific factors within successful video games enhanced the three need satisfactions thus increasing intrinsic motivation and engagement. Those factors included:
having controls that were easily mastered; feedback that was clear and consistent; choices regarding goals and strategies; and, opportunities for cooperative social interaction enhanced these need satisfactions. Since that original work, there have been a number of studies predicting how features of games either effectively evoke or undermine psychological satisfactions for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, and thus impact players’ intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, and sustained engagement (e.g., Przybylski, Deci, Rigby, & Ryan, 2014; Rigby, 2014; Rigby & Ryan, 2011).
(2006) Motivation and Emotion
Motivational pull of video games: A self-determination theory approach
(2018) Frontiers in Psychology
Designing for motivation, engagement and wellbeing in digital experience
(2014) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Competence-impeding electronic games and players’ aggressive feelings, thoughts, and behaviors
(2009) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin