Future direction for game design: New research findings 2007

In an extremely interesting session at the GDC here in San Francisco today, game researchers Ian Bogost (Ph.D.), Jane McGonial (Ph.D) and Mia Consalvo (Ph.D) shared with the audience a boquet of insights into fresh and relevant research findings about games, gamers and their interplay in society. The top ten findings along with a shadow 10 (the next best top 10 which couldnt be presented) were shortlisted from several hundreds of game focused research studies, essays and articles published in the last year.

While the presenters had their own sequence of grading the research, each of the findings were interesting to take note of. Amongst these was that the Reality based gaming market is already bigger than most think it is. Based on the question, Are Gamers getting tired of their screens? the research was conducted by Zhao Chen Ding, from the Academy of Art & Design, Tsinghau University Beijing.

Reality Based Gaming

As per the insights from the study, In China, reality-based games are perceived as a better way to play with friends & family. Interestingly, instead of having human moderation, the games are moderated by consoles and standardized tools to facilitate fair gaming. And just like everything else in China, the numbers are large with more than 1.5 Million XClub members in the country who play these games.

The study indicates that Consoles, laptops & mobile game devices are key to next-gen reality games and in turn these kind of games are taking consoles and mobile devices into a more ‘traditionally social‘ direction.

Now that would make a lot of relevance to the Indian context too! And one has seen games like Kreeda‘s Dance Mela which resonate with this…

Emotional Quotient in Games
Based on the question, Can Games tap into nice emotions?, the research was conducted by Aki Jarvinen from the University of Tampere, Finland.

The finding was, “Gamers can be altruistic, empathetic and nurturing and of course, games can tap into the nice emotions of gamers”. And there was a huge untapped potential that needed to be realised in the game design for the future.

The study further states

According to emotion theory there are four types of emotions to explore

“Prospect-based” – tied to an event

“Attribution” – relating to the emotions of others

“Fortunes-of-others” – eliciting empathy and altruism

Attraction – likes and dislikes

Of these four, the prospect based and attribution types are already being explored and woven into game design and the other two are yet to be focused upon.

Disrupting immersiveness can sometimes heighten gameplay experience
While immersiveness and seamlessness are generally thought to be intertwined, this topic bucks the trend

Based on the question, Does immersiveness really have to be seamless, the research was conducted by Ewan Kirkland at the Chilterns University College, UK.

Insights that this study provided include

– Breaking the fourth wall can be good!

– Clumsy controls can heighten fear and frustration, driving emotional reactions. (They are evocative!)

– Games that comment on themselves provide memorable content, atmosphere

– Disruptions can contribute to a unique game style

The Exit Screen and its importance
For gamers, playing a game is like living a life. “How do players experience the moment they exit a game?” Mark Wigley Dean of the Columbia School of Architecture has written a wonderful essay on the same.

To paraphrase Wigley from his essay published in Space Time Play, “Game space is a space defined by the complete occupation of our senses and attention. It is the only space where mobile phones or emals dont interrupt, (rather we dont let them interrupt). Due to the deep immersion, exiting a game is not like putting off a TV set or a book, the abruptness of exiting a game reveals how deeply you have been immersed.” The essay hints that in such a scenario, just as the game, the entrance and exit periods and design bear a lot of importance

Musical Instrument Tutoring can make you a real music hero
The research conducted by G.Percival and G.Tzanetakis from University of Victoria and Y.Wang from National University of Singapore
says that the next level to recent music based games is to not only give points based on proper play but to tutor and mentor on why a performance gesture is wrong and not that it is just wrong.

The study points out how Music games can answer the criticism of why not play a real instrument without sucking.

Points to note include

– Practising can be enhanced by generating excercises based on computational analysis of pitch problems

– 3 goal areas for future work teacher‘s lessons, studet‘s practice, and student motivation

Five of the other findings (not as per the sequence provided by the presenters) include

– Voice Chat intensifies social impact, which is a mixed blessing.

3 key ways to increase the monetary value of avatars.
Based on the question, “What‘s my game character worth?” the research was conducted by T.Kujanpää, T.Manninen, L.Vallius, at Game Design/Research, University of Oulu.

The research which is more analytical in nature first focuses on the fundamental reasons of what people get out of games viz
Sense of Achievement, Social Quotient and Immersiveness.

Now these three are further sub divided -:

Achievement includes Advancement, Mechanics and competition

Social includes socialising, teamwork and relationship

Immersiveness includes role playing, escapism, discovery and customisation

There are further sub divisions and then based on the overlaps one finds, Player Behavior and Virtual Identity as being key.

The insights it offers are

You can increase player investment in your game by building more “social”, “achievement” and “immersion value” in your characters
and that the Overall value of game characters is increasing due to the persistence of MMO worlds & overall growth in economy.

And since gamers are increasingly looking as to what is their character‘s value, How will you use social, achievement, & immersion value to increase your next game characters‘ net worth?

Some of the other findings shared at the session included

– Custom procedural variations in a limited environment can be more fun than big environments & open worlds.

– It takes 10 hours of gameplay for women to play with the same spatial attention skill as men.

– Voice intensifies social impact, which is a mixed blessing.

– Videogames are the future of live sports.