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GDC 2006: "The Game Studies Download: Top 10 Research Findings"

The Game Studies Download: Top 10 Research Findings
Ian Bogost, Georgia Tech
Mia Consalvo, Ohio University
Jane McGonigal, UC Berkeley

This presentation consisted of short summaries of 10 research studies (plus a bonus study) relevant to game design.

10. "How does game music impact a player's effectiveness?" Used Project Gotham Racing 2 for the study.

  • Research findings: High emotional impact of music did not equate to high player effectiveness. However, control of and preference for music did equate to the best overall player experience. This was true independent of music genre -- when players picked their own music, their scores went up dramatically.
  • Take-way: Game music is not just about emotional impact or world building. Success hangs on it. How and when are you using game music to support or to challenge your players?
9. "What do players really think about voice chat and its usefulness in gameplay?" Used Moto GP and Unreal Championship for the study.
  • Research findings: Poor usability (interference from background music, other players making noises, trash talk, etc.) hindered players' attempts to be social. Players disliked the lack of control over what was sent over the channel -- players wanted to be able to send specific messages to specific players. Voice isn't always an advance.
  • Take-away: Voice communication needs to be designed with a particular purpose in mind within your game. What specific elements of your gameplay does voice chat enable or enhance?
8. "Gestural and embodied controllers are fun. But are they good for gameplay?"
  • Research findings: Trend toward transparent interfaces in human-computer interaction. Weird controllers create interaction that accounts for the body. But buttons abstract complex action well.
  • Take-away: Buttons are best for complex, symbolic action. Designs for new gestural systems should take this balance into account. Are you choosing the right gestural versus symbolic control system?
7. "Does the presence of other players make an online game more or less immersive?" Used Halo 2 and other games for the study. Used very intensive ethnographic research -- interviews, game journals, live gameplay sessions.
  • Research findings: Three kinds of "strong presence" identified that are pleasurable for gamers: spatial-physical (you project yourself in the space), social (you feel the other people playing present with you), and co-presence (the first two kinds of presence combined). Adversaries were depersonalized -- "the same as bots". All three forms of presence experienced mostly strongly in "collaborative online environment" games.
  • Take-away: Collaboration is an extremely powerful driver of immersion and stickiness. Where could you add moments of multiplayer collaboration in your game?
6. "Are players cheating as much as we (and other gamers) think they are?" People watched a 10-year-old boy take a test and were told that it was a high-stakes test, and that the boy had a history of cheating. The boy was briefed on the study and instructed not to do anything that would look like cheating. Despite this, observers believed they saw him cheating.
  • Research findings: If someone is supervised, we believe he would act dishonestly without the supervision. People attribute dishonesty and cheating to those they think might commit such acts.
  • Take-away: Perceptions are often more important than reality for fairness in multiplayer games. What concrete steps can you take to assure players that a competition is fair?
5. "What innovative game design uses are there for player-controlled cameras?"
  • Research findings: Interactive equivalent of cinematic montage is rare.
  • Take-away: Player-controlled camera movement can be thought of as an adaptation of cinematic montage. How can your game make more creative use of player-controlled camera cuts?
4. "What strategies do players invent to communicate to other players in online games... and can games be designed to better support these strategies?" Used Battlefield 1942 for the study. Highly recommended this paper to attendees for further reading.
  • Research findings: Players want to communicate three things: intentions, actions, and effects. A design-oriented taxonomy of 10 kinds of communication strategies. Least-supported strategies currently: gesture, non-verbal audio, and non-violent physical contact (like a high-five).
  • Take-away: Players are trying to invent new ways to communicate in your games. Have you explored non-standard possibilities for interaction forms?
3. "Can alternative controllers like eye tracking devices offer a PC gaming experience that is more fun and involving than mouse control?" Used Sacrifice and Half-Life for the study. Modified Sacrifice (a 2D game) to use an eye tracking device to aim. Modified Half-Life in various ways to use the device.
  • Research findings: With a 2D shooter, everyone rated the game as more fun when played with the eyes. Players' scored doubled from standard play to eye tracker play. In Half-Life, combining eye and mouse functions led to more players responding positively.
  • Take-away: Use of eye tracking could be a successful addition to your game, provided it has a useful function and is properly playtested. What novel input devices are you considering for your PC game?
2. "How can we generate facial animation that combines speech and variable emotion?" Used Half-Life 2 for the study.
  • Research findings: Speech-driven faces are common. But people look and speak differently under different emotional states. An original method for generating facial animation with lip syncing and emotional blending.
  • Take-away: Manually specify emtional content, or use a Support Vector Machine to identify emtional content from a script. Could your characters' facial expressions be more emotionally specific during speech?
1. "How do game events marking success versus failure affect a player's level of engagement?" Used Super Monkey Ball 2 for the study. Used a variety of techniques to measure player engagement: skin conductance, facial EMG activity, and others.
  • Research findings: More pleasure and excitement in active failure than in success. However, passive experience of failure (replaying their failure to them) makes players disengage. (In other words, failing is good, but watching yourself fail is bad.) Attaining a goal decreases player arousal and interest.
  • Take-away: Failure is an unexpected hot spot for excitement and pleasure. How much fun is failure in your game?
0. "How do we design for spectator as well as player experiences?"
  • Research findings: Specator experiences equate to manipulations and effects. Visible gestures that the system doesn't respond to still matter. Design principles: secretive, expressive, magical, suspenseful.
  • Take-away: Secretive and suspenseful spectator experiences are uncommon in spectator games. Have you considered the spectator experience in your game?

The presentation can be downloaded here. A handout with references to all the studies can be downloaded here.

This was the final session I attended at GDC, and so closes out my coverage, at least in terms of session descriptions. However, I'm planning on writing more about things that stood out for me, including study number 1 (on pleasure from active failure) above. It's a fundamental insight, I think.

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