Finding of the week #37

Improving your development with the aid of gamers!

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I discuss the idea to improve the development of new control interfaces with the aid of gamers. Gamers provide a completely different approach to the usability of interfaces and thus might provide good suggestions to make the interface more intuitive.

I’ve presented the concept of early access games in a previous article[1]. One of the main advantages of this concept is the early contact to interested players, who can suggest good improvements and give useful feedback to the game while it’s still in the development process. The developers then can implement these suggestions and release a game with a higher quality, that matches the interests of the players. Additionally, these early access players do all have a different background and a different playstyle. Furthermore, these early access players aren’t involved in the development as internal Q/A teams. They might provide a completely different point of view, which is completely new to the developers and helps them to come up with a new idea.

One of the most important feedbacks the developers can receive are suggestions towards the usability of the game interface and control options. They can rate, if all features have a good mechanic and if they feel comfortable while playing the game.

At this point, I think about the question, if it would be possible for other developers who work in a completely different area, to take advantage of this early access concept. I know, this is a complex idea, because in most cases, these developments are top secret and new features will be only revealed on a huge presentation of the new product.

However, let’s imagine a company that is currently developing a new aircraft. The new plane should take advantage of an improved glass cockpit[2] with several new interface options. Of course, the company will brainstorm about the usability and do several test flight sessions with test pilots. On the other hand, this involves only „few“ employees who mostly share the same point of view.

In todays gaming community, simulation games are still quite popular and gamers are interested in playing around with these simulations. Gamers are also used to learn new interfaces from scratch without reading a manual at first. These video game players would just start the flight simulation game and start to experience it right away. They would fly the simulated plane at its limits and thus they would rely on the interfaces provided by the game.

If a player in an early access game would have some issues with the usability with an option or with the structure of the menu of the interface, he would report this to the developers and they could adjust the interface. The same process can be applied to the development of a new glass cockpit. If gamers aren’t happy with the usability, they could report this issue and the developers can adjust this. Apart from this, gamers are used to learn from scratch and thus they like to have all important options visible. This approach is also important if something has to be operated under stressful situations like a landing under bad weather conditions. The design has to be intuitive and lead the user through the menus without requiring too much background information. Additionally, if the interface is intuitive, it won’t distract the user from the main task.

As a conclusion, gamers don’t need to hold a pilots license to rate the usability of an interface. They will just play the simulation and try out different things. They provide a completely different point of view and require an intuitive interface design. The interface design is one of the key features, when it comes to reducing risks while operating a plane.

With that being said, why not trying to improve the development of new products with a simulation gamers can play?
However, there might be a problem because things are normally kept secret while they’re under development. A new version of a car is tested in the wilderness and new features are only revealed during glamorous presentations. On the one hand, this is a good practice to keep the curiosity high. On the other hand, how long does it take until a shiny presentation is forgotten? A good, realistic and still enjoyable simulation of the own product lasts longer. New consumers can start experiencing the product even if it’s still under development. They can share their experiences with others and the new product might be better known when it’s released than when it’s released after one single presentation.

Finding of the week #36

Improving your gameplay!

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I discuss the way how World of Warcraft players are monitoring their performance and how these tools can encourage players to try to improve their gameplay.

World of Warcraft (WoW) players who are participating in raids often need to play their role in a perfect way. They have to master their class and know everything about it. This also includes the practice of the best skill rotation and the enhancement of the own equipment. These informations are mostly available in various guides published on well known community web pages. However, these guides can’t provide a guidance to every boss fight in the game. Players do have to adapt their gameplay by learning the fight. This allows them to time the use of skills with a long cooldown and thus taking the most benefit out of them. Furthermore, the performance can be also improved by doing some minor changes to the gameplay that are unique to the playstyle of each player. The constant change of the own gameplay is often a difficult task for players because they need to monitor their improvement over a long period of time.

There’re many ways of monitoring the own performance, but I want to talk about one website in particular: Users can take advantage of this website by uploading combat logs created by the game. After the upload is finished, the website creates a statistical evaluation of the combat log. Players then can analyze their gameplay in detail, compare their own performance with the performance of their teammates and also compare their statistics over a longer period of time by comparing different logs. However, players have to keep in mind, if they’ve done some major changes to their equipment. After equpping a new weapon, the performance of the player can be increased by a high degree. On ther other hand, players can track the changes they’ve made to their gear and decide whether an itemstat is useful or not.

The motivation to improve the own gameplay by analyzing the statistics can have two origins. On the one hand, players like to master their class and thus they want to achieve a perfect gameplay. If a player has made a great performance increase over several game sessions, the player might get motivated to try even harder to beat the best performance. It can result in the same motivation as in sports, when a runner tries to beat the own personal record for a specific distance.
On the other hand, many WoW players are interested in comparing their own achievements with the achievements of other players. Comparing the performances can lead to a competition between the players: players want to outperform the teammates and thus are comparing the gameplay analysis.

Analyzing the own gameplay adds another dimension to the gameplay of WoW. Players are now able to track their performance and compare it. They can see their own contribution to the overall goal of beating the raid instance boss. It also enhances the idea, that players are participating in something big. They need to form a group, because they can’t beat the evil monster without other players. Everyone has the same goal and now they can also trace their own contribution to the great goal. This makes the own performance even more meaningful, because it can be connected with the overall goal of the group.

I like to end this weeks article with an idea: what if we can analyze some other parts of our daily life as well? Would it be more motivating, if I can track my writing skills by having an analysis about the words I wrote in a certain amount of time? Doing sports greatly benefits from comparing the own performances and trying to beat the personal records. Does this also applies to other things, like beating my personal time record in vacuum cleaning my room or washing the dishes?

Finding of the week #35

Make it flexible!

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I discuss the announcement of social gameplay changes in the upcoming expansion pack for World of Warcraft. The developers will focus on gameplay that makes it more simple and also more meaningful to play with friend.

Blizzard Entertainment’s own convention „Blizzcon“ took place last weekend in Anaheim. During these two days, Blizzard announced the next addon for World of Warcraft (WoW) and shared a lot of new information and updates about all their other games. Furthermore, Blizzcon also featured the world championship in StarCraft 2 and other tournaments.

The next WoW addon will implement several new features to the game and also make some long desired improvements to the gameplay. WoW will finally receive a housing feature, allowing its players to build a whole garrison and recruit followers. Players then can give these followers some work orders or send them on a mission to return with some loot. Additionally, WoW will finally receive some improvements concerning inventory space and the stats of items will change according to the current role specialization of the player, making it more flexible to change roles.

Apart from new features and improvements, the developers will also focus on the social gameplay. They want to make playing with friends more meaningful. In todays version of the game, it makes almost no difference for players, if they’re in a random group or queueing with friends for an instance. Apart from the communication aspect, the gameplay makes no difference between both approaches of clearing an instance. However, in the next expansion „Warlords of Draenor“ (WoD) players will receive a buff granting a higher amount of a game currency reward on completion of an instance. According to the developers, this feature should also reward social gameplay from the gameplay perspective and encourage players to form groups with friends instead of using the dungeon finder and playing with random players.

Furthermore, raids, a key feature of the endgame in WoW, will also recieve a similiar treatment. In the next addon, almost every raid difficulty will be flexible in the amount of players per raid group. Currently most raid difficulty levels require either 10 or 25 players. However, the latest content patch implemented also the flex-difficulty allowing raid groups to scale from 10 to 25 players. This scalable content will by applied to all of the different difficulties in WoD. Only the highest difficulty level will require 20 players as a fixed amount.

Giving players scalable content should help raid groups to play with their friends. If more than 10 players signed on for a raid, all of them can participate. No one has to be benched anymore, because there’re only 10 spots available. On the other hand 25 player groups will still be allowed to go on a raid even if there’s missing one member. Currently a raid with only 24 players online won’t be able to raid. This improvement should make it more easy for groups to actual play the game instead of managing players. Additionally, this feature adresses the issue that WoW loses players and groups are struggling with member losses.

The aforementioned „hardcore“ difficulty level however is a little bit problematic for current „hardcore“ raids. Today, „hardcore“ raid groups focus either on 10 or 25 player raids and thus have the appropriate amount of players. However, with the upcoming expansion, 25 player raids have to say farewell to some of their core players and 10 player raids have to mass recruit new players to be able to raid in the highest difficulty of the game. This is a bit contradictory because „hardcore“ raid groups do also have a close friendship among their members and now they’re facing such a change in the group size.

With WoD Blizzard tries to focus again on the social gameplay. The announced improvements make it more easy for existing groups to play with friends and recruit new players. However, „hardcore“ raiders have to face a hard change towards their group composition, which is a bit hard to understand from the social gameplay perspective. On the other hand, it’s easier to balance the difficulty of the content and provide a good challenge for every „hardcore“ raider, if every group has 20 players.
Although the flexible amount of players is an improvement for most groups, it can also be seen as a measure to adapt to the constant loss of active players over the last year. Additionally, making it more easy and meaningful to play with friends can also be seen as a method to gain new subscribers again: active players should be encouraged to ask their friends to resubscribe to WoW or even become a new WoW player.

Finding of the week #34

Computer games can predict outcomes of real world crisis

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I highlight another potential of huge virtual worlds: the potential to predict outcomes of a real world epidemic.

In „Finding of the week 32″[1] I highlighted how the huge dimensions of MMORPG worlds create a virtual environment that almost mirrors our real world. Scientists and in some cases learners can take advantage of these virtual environments and observe real world mechanisms. Additionally, these environments allow their observers to easily trace back the causes of the outcomes, because they are self-contained environments.

Another interesting fact these environments can be used for is to observe the dynamic of huge masses of people in a highly populated area. According to Lofgren and Fefferman[2] this can be useful to predict the spread of an epidemic. Back in the year 2005, a new World of Warcraft raid instance was released that caused due to a bug the death of many players.

During the fight against the final boss of this particular instance, players could get infected by a disease that spreads over to nearby players or player’s companions. Although the disease should remain in the instance, players infected with it were able to zone out of the instance and enter hugely populated areas like the capitals of Azeroth. The boss fight mechanic suddenly became an epidemic causing the death of many players being in these areas and won’t stop to spread until the developers of the game did a server reset.

This unexpected event had shown the potential of virtual environments to predict the dynamic of masses under such conditions. Although the World of Warcraft epidemic wasn’t planned and the developers never gave out data to analyze the spread of the disease, the potential for simulations of epidemics in such virtual worlds was obvious. The disease had infected most of the inhabitants of highly populated areas within a short amount of time.

The spread of a disease could also be observed during the pre-launch event of Wrath of the Lich King, the third World of Warcraft addon. During the event suspicious crates and infected roaches appeared in the capitals of World of Warcraft. Players who got too close to these crates were infected with a disease causing them to become a zombie after a certain amount of time. Apart from attacking other players, zombies could explode and cause nearby players to get infected, too. Players in highly populated areas were more in danger being infected than players in area with a low density of population.

Suspicious crates

Suspicious crates

But how can a game event share similarities with possible real world epidemics? On the one hand, players live a parallel life in these worlds. MMORPGs simulate an ongoing world that even goes on when the player isn’t online. In this endless world, players have a daily life, they buy and trade goods and meet with their ingame friends. Most of these activities require players to visit highly populated areas where, in case of an epidemic, the danger is high to be infected by the disease and to increase the spread of the disease.
This virtual daily life has some similiarities to our real world daily life: we need to go to highly populated areas. Shopping at a grocery story, going to the movies, going to work and traveling by plane or train require us to visit highly populated areas like the auction house in World of Warcraft.

Empty market place in Stormwind

Empty market place in Stormwind during the Zombie-Invasion

Apart from the daily business, players also do have a high attachment to their avatars. Over time, the avatars aren’t a tool to explore the world anymore. Instead, the player becomes the avatar and starts to feel like the avatar. This attachment increases the immersion of the game world and the zombie plague becomes a major threat to the player himself. The epidemic of the zombie plague becomes a global crisis in the game, because players start to avoid highly populated areas to protect themselves the same way, as we wouldn’t leave a safe spot in case of a real crisis. This however starts to highly influence the trading and results in a shortage of goods.

The combination of a high attachment to the own avatar and the resulting immersive role-playing causes even a game epidemic to reach possible real world dimensions and results of real world epidemic. The immersive gameplay becomes a simulation of our daily life and allows scientists to predict a possible outcome of such a crisis.
However, this isn’t as easy to achieve as it sounds. The deep immersion of the role-playing needs such huge virtual worlds as they exist in World of Warcraft and has to grow over time. Creating a meaningless virtual world wouldn’t create the same results during a virtual epidemic, because players wouldn’t be as attached to their avatars as in World of Warcraft. Additionally, games like World of Warcraft should be played because they make fun and because they provide an authentic environment. Tossing in a virtual epidemic without any connection to the game world could possible destroy the immersion.
Furthermore, the game industry makes their money by providing this immersive environment. Creating a virtual epidemic for real world research and giving out sensible data about the own players would be a high risk for these companies to lose the trust of their consumers.

To wrap things up, immersive virtual worlds do have a high potential to provide critical data to predict the outcome of real world dynamics. Unfortunately accessing the data is very difficult, because game companies can’t give access to sensitive data about their own players and won’t risk to destroy their game world by adding features just for science. However, if an in-game event as the above-mentioned pre-launch event takes place, scientists can do some sample observations just by playing the game.


[2] Lofgren, Eric T.; Fefferman, Nina H. (2007): The untapped potential of virtual game worlds to shed light on real world epidemics, in: The Lancet infectious diseases, 7 (9), pp. 625 – 629.

Finding of the week #33

Teacher Gaming: Computer games as educational tools

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I present the concept of the company Teacher Gaming to take good use of computer games to use them as educational tools in classrooms. The company had its first success with MinecraftEdu and is now working on its second project: KerbalEdu.

Teacher Gaming[1], a company based in Tampere, Finland, has recently started a new project: KerbalEdu[2]. The company’s first project is MinecraftEdu[3], a project to enhance education with the engaging environment of Minecraft.
MinecraftEdu is a collaboration of educators and programmers from United States and Finland to make the game an educational tool in schools everywhere. The team is also working together with the creators of Minecraft: Mojang AB[4].

Browsing the MinecraftEdu Wiki[5] gives a good overview about possible use cases of the Minecraft projects in classrooms[6]. Pupils can discover the history of ancient civilizations, doing experiments to measure gravity or get their hands on creating topographic maps.

Minecraft is an open-world sandbox game, that allows its players to shape the world as they like. Players can explore the randomly generated world, dig deep into the earth to mine different kinds of ore or create huge buildings using all kinds of ressources of the game world. The combination of activities is vast and every kind of player can find a way to play the game that suits them best. The aspect of randomness and open-world makes every game and every experience unique to Minecraft players[7].
The above described gameplay is also very addictive to players, because they always discover a new thing they want to do. The desired break after a ore vein is mined out is postponed because an opening of a cave was discovered behind the ore vein. The exploration of a valley suddenly reveals an awesome looking mountain that needs to be explored …

Combining this engaging environment with real world educative tasks can enhance in a great way the motivation of pupils to use the freshly learned facts to proceed in the game. Additionally, pupils can ask „what if…“ questions and do their experiments without the danger of being harmed.

Recently, Teacher Gaming has started the new KerbalEdu project with the intention of bringing Kerbal Space Program[8] as a new educational tool into classrooms everywhere as, too. Apart from a special lower school price, Squad [9], the developers of KSP, will offer additional technical support.

As I’ve already discussed in previous articles, KSP is teaching its players knowledge about physics and space travel in a very fun and engaging way[10][11]. By bringing the game into classrooms, pupils can even better understand how basic principles of physics work out. They can get their own first hand impressions on how a plane stays in the air or how Newton’s laws of motion work out.

I’m really looking forward to see the results of the first implemention of KerbalEdu.