The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Indie Video Games

How Knowing This Will Help You Make Games That Sell Themselves

Why is shooting a projectile at a target so fun? Why is this action so popular? Why does this make money?

Let me show you...

Why is shooting or throwing a projectile at a small target more popular type of game play?
Why is shooting or throwing a projectile at a small target the most popular type of game play?

Basketball... you have aim a small ball at a small ringed target. Hockey... you have a very small puck, and you're goal is to get it into a targeted net... Football, you throw a small projectile into a small area in a person's hands...

But, sports like swimming don't get as much love.

And this isn't just in sports.

One of the most popular hobbies and money making activities is photography and video. You "shoot" a scene. You "snap" a picture. Photography and video is about "capturing" something.

Shooting is also done in photography and video capture
Shooting is also done in photography and video capture

Also, when you celebrate, you take a "shot". When you lose, and you want to forget, you take a "shot".

Why is this "shooting" so ingrained in us humans? And what does this have to do with selling indie video games?

My goal here is simple: to teach you how to make an indie video game that sells itself.

If you know a little bit about psychology, human behaviour, buying behaviour, this knowledge is going to help you when you're designing your video game.

So, let's keep going, and all of this will make sense...

Why Is Shooting a Projectile at a Target So Popular... And Why Does It Make So Much Money

Let me show you the science behind why "shooting" is so popular. Then I'll show you how knowing this will help you design an indie game that sells itself.

You've probably have heard about the "3 Brain Model". It's where you have your Lizard Brain, your Monkey Brain, and your Human Brain.

How the 3 Brain Model (or Truine Brain) is responsible for the most popular video games
Later you'll learn how the 3 Brain Model (or Truine Brain) is responsible for the most popular video games

Your Lizard Brain is the oldest part in terms of evolution. It's the part of your brain where your drive for survival, shelter, food, sex, self-preservation comes from.

On top of the Lizard Brain, is your Monkey Brain. It's the part of the brain that handles the social part of your brain. Things like relationships, bonding, cooperation, warm fuzzy feelings.

And the newest part of your brain in terms of evolution, is your Human Brain. This is your frontal cortex. This is the part of your brain responsible for abstract thinking, planning, forecasting, art, creativity.

This is the biological side of things... now let's look at the psychological side. This is where it gets really interesting.

How Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is responsible for the most popular video games
Later you'll learn how Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is responsible for the most popular video games

You've probably heard of, "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs". It's where your base needs in your life start with safety needs. Needs like food, shelter, security, sex.

Once you've met those needs, you can move up onto your next need: your psychological needs. Your psychological needs include relationships, friends, feeling of accomplishment, warm fuzzy feelings.

After those needs are met, you then have your self-fulfillment needs. These are your creative activities like planning, strategizing, dreaming, goal setting, art, self-expression.

But here's the thing... say you have all the money and sex in the world. But if your health sucks, all you're going to think about is your health. Even though your other needs are being met, your mind is going to focus on what's lacking. It may not mean you'll be motivated to change anything, but your brain is still stuck, worrying about that one part of your life.

Say you have good health and all the money in the world... but no relationships. Same thing, your brain will be stuck trying to figure this part of your life out.

Anyway, here's the interesting thing about the 3 Brain Model and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs...

How Your Biology and Psychology Make You Do Things (Like Want To Shoot a Projectile at a Target)

So you have your 3 Brain Model (this is your biology). And you have your Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (your psychology).

What's very interesting about this is, both models fit perfectly together.

How Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the 3 Brain Model is responsible for the most popular video games

Your Lizard Brain is in charge of your Basic Needs. Things like food, water, shelter, sex, security.

Your Monkey Brain is in charge of your Psychological Needs. Things like relationships, friends, community, cooperating with your tribe.

And your Human Brain is in charge of your Self-Fulfillment Needs. Things like self-expression, art, abstract thinking, planning, strategizing, forecasting.

I with I remember where I learned this from, because I want to give credit to the person who came up with this insight.

But it's very interesting because our physical brain determines our physiology which determines our behaviour.

And if you look back to into our human survival, hunting and gathering was our main object in daily life.

Your drive for food is a basic human need (Lizard Brain, and Basic Needs). And in order to take down wild beasts, you needed cooperation with a group (Monkey Brain and Psychological Needs). And in order to work together, you needed to think in abstract ways and plan, and forecast, with your team (Human Brain and Self-Fulfillment Needs).

Now, here's how this all ties in with video games... and later I'll show you how to use this knowledge to help you make a game that sells itself.

What's The Most Popular Genre In Video Games That Makes The Most Money?

It's no coincidence that the most popular video games are Dota 2, Counter Strike, Playerunknown's Battle Ground.

Most popular video games fulfill the needs of the Lizard, Monkey, and Human Brain
Most popular video games fulfill the needs of the Lizard, Monkey, and Human Brain

These games incorporate the trifecta...

These are"pew pew" shooting game (Lizard Brain and Basic Needs). Also, you can even make money from playing these games, such as CS:GO.

You need to cooperate with your team (Monkey Brain and Psychological Needs). These games allow you to hang out with guys and gals that are like you.

And you need to plan, strategize, and use abstract thinking to win (Human Brain and Self-Fulfillment Needs).

The top selling games all let you express the top 3 needs in your life.

You see, even though you and I go to work... get paid... have a comfortable bed... go to a grocery store and buy almost whatever we want... we still have this urge to express our basic human needs.

And video games are the best way to to let that expression out.

Now, not everybody want's expresses their needs in the same way.

For example, I'm more of a strategist. Games like Civ 5, Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings, etc. fulfill my Human Brain needs.

And, one of my favourite indie games is Expeditions: Conquistador. It's a turn-based RPG with companions. It satisfies my need to lead a group of people, plan, organize, and fight.

Next, for some people, shooting is a turn-off. But they still want the challenge to survive. So games where you have "gather" are just as popular as any pew-pew games. This is why games like Stardew Valley are popular. You can play with other gamers, and build your farm, and try to survive.

Again, this need to survive, gather, shoot, hung, loot, cooperate, fight, build... is why these games are the most popular ones.

You and I can go to any store and buy almost anything we want... we don't have to sleep on floors... we don't have to worry about any of that. We live in what Desmond Morris calls the "Human Zoo". We have everything we ever wanted. We don't need to worry about our survival.


We still have this basic human urge to survive. And video games are the best way to express our basic human needs... needs that real life can't offer us.

Even movies, music, entertainment, aren't as popular as video games because they don't let us express our basic human needs. These are more of distractions away from our basic human needs. Video games are not passive like movies and music.

Video games are more popular because they go deeper than just "entertainment". And non-gamers don't understand this. Non-gamers think gaming is just entertainment.

But as our lives get less and less challenging, more and more non-gamers are starting to play video games. They're starting to understand how video games are a safe way to full our basic human needs.

And games that incorporate the trifecta (Lizard Brain Needs, Monkey Brain Needs, Human Brain Needs), are the ones that will always make the most money, and will always be the most popular.

How Can You Use This Knowledge To Sell More Copies of Your Indie Video Game

I just read an article about how Indie Adventure games are so hard to sell and market (PC Gamer). I'm talking about games that are mostly narrative and story based. Don't get me wrong, there's Telltale and other devs that have succeeded. But it's very hard to sell these games -- especially indie adventure games.

That's because it goes back to what I was just talking about. These games don't hit the trifecta. What I mean is, story based games don't let the gamer express their Lizard Brain, Monkey Brain, Human Brain Needs. It's a passive experience. It falls in with "entertainment". These games are competing more with Hollywood than they are competing with video games.

And this is the lesson I want to teach you here...

I'm not suggesting that you go out and make the an Indie Dota 2. No. I'm talking about how to incorporate a little bit of the Lizard, Monkey, and Human Brain needs into your game.

Being indie allows you to explore gameplay, art, design, graphics in more risky ways. You can do whatever the hell you want, and not have a publisher lecture you about "risk management".

But you can't go out of bounds in terms of human needs.

If you want your game to get any attention... if you want gamers to play your game... if you want gamers to talk about your game... if you want to sell more copies of your game... you need to follow human nature.

Gamers want hunting, shooting, shelter, survival, sex, relationships, planning, abstract thinking, loot, self-expression in their video games.

So, when you're developing your indie game, keep this in mind...