Mia Consalvo, Ohio University
Ian Bogost, Georgia Tech, also runs Persuasive Games
Jane McGonigal, researcher at Institute for the Future, and makes ARGs
3rd Annual Game Studies Download
We will fill your brains with the ten most interesting research findings of the year. The main question is what do we know about games and game players in 2008 that we didn’t know in 2007.
Game researchers are very smart people who care a lot about games, the people who play them, and the future of the medium.
Targeted expertise in HCI, economics, architecture, and more…
Looked at 100s of articles and studies, then did a rapid fire top ten list with ten ideas and ten practical takeaways, You can downlaod the slides at
#10: The best content understands exactly how the player likes to play and then makes it slightly harder.
Three scientists at U Essex had looekd at ways to procedurally generate tracks in racing games. And they wondered how to make them interesting, especially for different sorts of players. They called this “tuning for entertainment.”
They quickly disocvered that optimizing track performance is not interesting. A fun track is one where the player almost loses control. Drive fast on straightaways but brake fast on turns.
Rather than guess, they looked at how players performed as they raced and used it as a source to generate new kinds of tracks either live or in advance. (shows images of tracks)
Takeaway: custom procedural variations in limited environments can be more fun than big environments and open worlds. How can your next game use player-inspired procedural variation?
#9: Breaking the immersive spell can make gameplay more engaging.
Buckinghamshire Chiltern’s University in the UK. Does immersion really have to be seamless?
Breaking the 4th wall can be good. Clumsy controls can heighten fear and frustration, driving emotional reactions. Games that comment on themselves provide memorabl content and atmosphere. Disruptions can contribute to a unique game style.
He was studying horror games like Silent Hill…
Takeaway: making players remember it’s a game can actually heighten their experience.
#8: reality-based gaming is already a lot bigger than you think.
The first year we did this we were asked to exclude reality-based and location-based games. But now we can look at them because of the market size. Tsinghau University Beijing: are game players getting tired of screens? Very relevant to Chinese culture — a lot of backlash against games, addicting and so on. So there has been a new kind of reality-based game growing in popularity there, that is seen as an antidote.
For example Mafia/Werewofl/Witch Hunt. They developed a gaming console where the game can moderate itself, audio commands, etc, and people play them in real life settings. 1.5m subscribers to go to these location-based clubs with these games. Average age is 20-40, 1/2 are women.
Also developing an array of PDA-supported and laoto-supported games. Majoy City Area game, for exmaple — Counterstrike in the real world. It grew so popular they had to grow it beyond shooters and to dating and shopping and puzzle games. 495,000 players in 7 cities. A non-trivial market that is interested to watch.
Big insights include that in China these reality-based games are considered a better way to play with friends and family. Having standardized tools for fair gaming instead of a human moderator has produced the rapid interest. And that it’s mobile deivces and laptops that enable it.
Takeaway: reality gaming is taking games and mobile devices in a new direction. and off of screens.
#7: gamers can be altruistic, empathic and nurturing, and not just while doing something else but while playing!
Paper at Nordic Games Conference. u Tampere, Finland. Psychological emotion theory and media studies approach to catalog the emotions games achieve.
So can games tap into nice emotions as well as the not-so-nice ones?
In emotion theory there are four sorts to explore:
prospect-based emotions: tied to an event.
Attribution: related tot he emotions of others
fortunes of others: empathy and altruism
Attraction: likes and dislikes
Prospect-based; Zuma… sense of satisfaction. Narrative events in Final Fantasy.
Attribution: emotions of other characters in the game world. Ico, “save the princess” sorts of thing, the whole premise of the game is that you want to remedy the emotion the victim is feeling.
Fortunes of others is where it gets interesting. eliciting sympathy and altruism towards other characters. Animal Crossing, for example, sending gifts. Portal and the companion cube may be the same thing… the object helps us develop a sense of sympathy in the same way as the characters in Animal Crossing.
Attraction: the idea that the aesthetics of the environment cause emotions, like Katamari or unfriendly, like in Silent Hill…
Most games we see privilege the first two, that’s what we do well and pursue most frequently. There’s unexplored design space in the other two, especially in the fotunes of others.
Takeaway: empathy, altruism, and so on can benefit ANy sort of game. How do you make you rplayers want to be nice to the characters in the game?
#6: it takes ten hours of gameplay for women to play witht he same spatial attention skill as men.
U Toronto, part of an NSF grant, how do we get more women into science, math, etc. Videogames were part of their experimentation.
They did a first experiment where they looked at field of view tasks, etc. Gamers vs nongamers, and they found gamers were better than nongamers. Then they recruited men and women to play videogamnes. Control group used 3d puzzle game, and the other group used Medal of Honor Pacific assault, and they tested them at the start and end.
They were looking at spatialattention, what you bring to the process of rotating and locating on a screen.
In the pretest women did not score as well, which is consistent with past findings. And the end, women had gained more, and had almost equalled the men — to a non-statistically significant level. Five months later they tested them again, and they had maintained the ability.
Takeaway’; Women can excel at spatial attention gameif you give them the time to learn. How can you get new gamers to invest 10 hours in your game while they improve?
#5: The exit screen matters.
Every year we identify one piece of the game that is undertheorized and underdesigned. In the first downlaod it was failure. Last year it was what happens when you die. This year it was the exit screen.
World-renowned architect, dean at grad school of architecture at Columbia. Took what he knows about real-world space and wrote an essay about how to better design the exit in a game space using the theory of architecture.
“Are you sure you want to quit?” — almost like the game has concern for us at the momentof leaving. in Daikatana it was “Are you broken?” The only real risk is to leave the game.
“Game space is a space defined by the complete occupation of our sense and attention.” — quote from the essay. “Game space is the only space that mobile phones and emails don’t reach. There are no messages from another world because when you are in the game you are in another world.” So he is defining game space as what real world space used to be. In RL today we are in multiple spaces all the time.
Exiting a game is not like turning off a tv or closing a book.
The abruptness reveals how deeply immersed we have been. So the moment of exit needs to ne dramatic and noticeable.
The only real risk is to exit.
Like any other architecture, the real key to game space is to design both the entrance AND the exit.
#4: Musical instrument tutoring can make you a real musical hero.
CS and music scholars at National U of Singapore. I was drawn to this study because of the popularity of Rock band and Guitar Hero, really bringing public awareness to the medium. The common objection is why would you spend all this time learning to play a fake instrument in a fake environment.
There is a disconnect, of course — you are not learning to play guitar but instead in a sim of rock star performance. But it is a valid point anyway, and even if not, it’s a public concern: moms calling in to radio, saying they’d buy their kid a real guitar, but not the game.
Insights; they applied lessons from traditional music education. It’s important for a music student to understand WHY a performance gesture is wrong, not just that it IS wrong. This is pretty uncommon in the music games. It will tell you that your technique is bad but just tell you what your pitch is, not how to get better.
Exercises are also really important in music learning — you practice before you go and perform. Many games offer practice mode, but it is the same as normal mode but with no score. Should watch the player play and suggest exercises.
They split the vision of future work into teacher’s lessons, student’s practice, and student motivation.
They went backto look at Loom as well as more recent games… They took these lessons and made tuning exercises for a violin teaching software.
Takeaway: music games can answer the criticism about why not play a real instrument without sucking and turning into just educational software.
#3: voice chat makes measurably makes you like your guildmates more, usually.
USC Annenberg and U Delaware. Did an experiment with two pre-existing guilds that had not used voice chat. had one use text chat only for a mont the other they sent them hardware and Ventrilo and had them use push to talk VOIP. Then they monbitored and did tests before, during, and after.
How did voice chat impact social bonds? Mixed results.
– It intensifies social feelings. Players had richer relationships: deeper, better and worse. More positive and more negative emotions. If you liked someone, you liked them more. And if you hated them, you really hated them.
– They also found that people who used voice as well as text were more likely to only talk among their guildmates, whereas those who used text were more likely to talk to strangers.
– Over time they measured players’ levels of happiness and they found that the folks who were text only sort of declined over time, got a bit more depressed and isolated. Both guilds had members who knew each other in real life. These were guilds together in ayear, reaching end game, smaller, and realizing they were not big enough to do raids content, so there were natural tensions there. The voice chat folks were better able to want to stick together. (shows graph)
Takeaway: voice intensifies social impact, which can be a mixed blessing. How can you help players mitigate the downsides of voice chat?
#2: there are three specific ways you can increase the monetary value of avatars. U of Oulu Finland.
They wanted to know how are avatars valued — what makes the price move? Took a very rigorous analytical approach, borrowing from Nick yee’s motivation studies. Achievement motivations (advancement, mnechanics, competition), social motivations (socializing, relationsships, teamwork), and immersion motivations (discovery, rp, customziation, and escapism).
So how can you map these three motivations on avatars to determine value? In achievement we can think of stats, wealth, etc. Can measure social value with things like social connections, # of other player they are connected to and able to play with, member of a guild, have a reputation with value, etc. And the immersive aspects can be measured with uniqueness in the game world, the understanding of that avatar’s story, history in the game, changed in appearance over time, the way they are perceived.
If you add up these three kinds of value, they argue you can actually numerically calculate the value of an avatar. Achievement is easy to measure, the social stuff harder. And even the value of a screenshot of old cherished characters was immense to them. So the economy of avatars is not just stats but also proof of what they accomplished.
Takeaway: youc an increase player investment in your game (motivation to stay, not just sell) but building all three of these sorts of value.
And the overall value of game characters is increasing because of the persistence of game worlds, and also the potential interoperability across game worlds.
#1: the top research finding for 2008.
Videogames are the future of live sports.
Usually we look at aspects of the games research landscape… so doing a full survey was fascinating. And when we started, there was almost no work on sports games despite the huge amount of sports games sold every year. But this year, we have a sports study, and it’s a doozy and broke my mind. Indiana University.
The notion that real orld games are an academic or niche pursuit. In addition to real world games, we could toss in augmented reality into this mix. Still sort of an academic pursuit, frivolous from commercial development perspective. But this approach is of a totally different sort.
They asked, how do we mix real sports events with virtual ones. They discussed how sports viewing is changing in general.
– Net access is pushing TV aside as a dominant way for fans to participate.
– Games don’t let players participate except with rosters and the like.
– But live sports generates a ton of live data ready for transmission.
We often find ourselves on the couch with a laptop while we watch, interweaving the two things.
So there is a trend towards the evolution of sports games becoming a sim of televised sports — more a sim of watching than playing. Use of ads, TV graphics, etc, more and more common.
But if you imagine taking the visual aspects of watching the game, and taking all the live feed info, etc, and integrating it into the game.
There’s a whole world of untapped mixed reality games that aren’t about wonky telepresence and augmented reality, but rather based on all of the data we are producing. The researchers made an attempt to make a prototype using both real multiplayer performance, and also the results of a live local game in which real players were playing.
What they were tyring to do maybe didn’t quite work out — when a team scored in the real world, it affected how the computer players would feel about their performance. So they tried to couple one kind of data to the game.
Takeaway: sports viewing is changing, and videogames have a huge role to play. Ask how your next game in general can take the realities of live sports (or something else) and make a connection with it in gameplay.
So how might any game mix the realities of live real events with a virtual version of it. (Audience mentions WildTangent who did a baseball game with these characteristics).
There is a Shadow Top ten on the website with ten more cool findings on the website at http://www.avantgame.com/top10.htm
Overall: what connects all of these? A common thread. In game studies we talk about a magic circle, but more and more we talk about the engagement of a game with the rest of our lives. The circle has been broken.