Finding of the week #63

The research game – Part 1

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 think a bit about the presentation of science and research in computer games. Currently, science is mostly only a small part of a complete computer game. What about using research as the core feature of a game?

Natural sciences are cool! [citation needed] Generally speaking, natural sciences are about collecting data and deriving principles from the collected data. Of course, this is anything but simple and a lot of work and preparation is needed to achieve valuable results. Depending on the field of research this can be even quite frustrating and failures need to be expected. Additionally, it is also often about finding a way to perform good measurements: tools and rules need to be developed to ensure the measurement of good and comparable data sets.
From this point of view, natural sciences also require some creative thinking skills. Scientists need to be clever to come up with ways to collect their desired data in order to prove their hypotheses.
Finally, after the right tools were developed and precise measurements are conducted the scientist sits in front of a database and needs to analyze the data gathered in the experiment. This can be the most boring and frustrating but also the most rewarding part of the research process. On the one hand, it’s all about using different methods of proving the data’s significance. On the other hand, it’s also all about proving the hypothesis and deriving a principle from the collected data. It is really rewarding when the collected data proves the hypothesis of a principle to be true and the world’s knowledge was expanded by a tiny bit.

In comparison to real world science, research in computer games is mostly quite simplified and the rewarding part of discovering something new is often neglected. In most cases, research in computer games means spending a certain resource in a tech-tree to unlock new gameplay features. The resource itself is often gathered during regular gameplay and doesn’t require so much of a creativity.

I personally think, implementing research in a more creative way could be really beneficial and even entertaining. Furthermore, it could even encourage players with a non-scientific background to learn more about the particular science presented in the game and maybe to become a scientist themselves. The above mentioned description of the research work provides two main ideas how research could be implemented in computer games.

1) Research is a very creative work. Already several (sandbox) computer games provide the feature of assembling own vessels and constructions in order to explore or expand the game world.
The same approach could be used to challenge the creativity of computer game players to perform virtual research. Depending on the game, the player could be able to construct a research vessel from a broad variety of different measurement tools.

The next step would be to think about the way the vessel can be installed or launched to get the best data as possible. Does the measurement needs some time and the experiment has to stay at the right spot or would it be just enough to bring this experiment for a brief moment to the right spot? How difficult is the environment? Does the vessel need to climb up a rocky slope of a volcano or would just a weather balloon do the job?

On the other hand, it could be also about creating the right environment to observe the behavior of a plant or an animal. In this case, the players would be challenged to construct their own laboratory. Afterwards, they need to collect enough samples for their experiment – a challenge on its own. Where does this species live? How can it be captured?

Finally, the players could be challenged with some environmental influences they need to take into account when constructing the vessel. If the player is not protecting the vessel against a certain influence, then the results might be not as useful as they could be. This could be caused by too high or too low temperatures, corrosive atmosphere or radiation.

2) Progress in the game can be based on successful experiments. Only if the players have proven a certain fact, they will be able to construct more advanced technologies. This would make research vital for the progression through the game.

The challenge to achieve good results would also render the analysis of the data more interesting. It could be a very exciting part of the game when an experiment gets recovered and the player can have the very first glance at the data. Was it a successful experiment?

Finally the analysis of the data should also allow the players to get more insights about what kind of data they have collected. It could be quite interesting to discover some principles after using some analysis techniques. This would give the data an increased importance and it would be more exciting to see the results of an experiment than just to receive a short message about the success of an experiment.

[this article will continue in „Finding of the week #64“]

Finding of the week #62

Computer game research – cool science, but hard to advertise

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’m talking a bit about the reality of being a computer game researcher. It is a really great and rewarding work, but it is at the same time still very hard to convince the general public about the good use of computer games. It is often like being an ambassador of computer games instead of being a researcher.

Researching computer games or better researching the educational use of computer games is a really cool science. It is very interesting to discover similarities between the challenges created by computer games and the challenges offered in the real-world.
One of the most obvious relations between computer game challenges and real-world challenges might be the general reaction time. Reaction time is needed in almost every part of our daily life. It extends from the quick grab of a glass dropping to its death to the reaction time needed while operating a car on the streets.
A fast paced computer game often challenges the reaction time of the player. In order to proceed through the game, the player needs to become fast enough to fulfill the challenges. This reaction time of analyzing the in-game situation can be directly applied to the reaction time needed to analyze a real-world situation. The decision making reaction time in computer games can be applied the same way to a real-world situation.

This was just an example how computer games can help to improve ourselves in order to perform better in our daily life. Unfortunately, this relation is not so obvious to non-gamers or the general public. Furthermore, most of the benefits of today’s scientific research are not really obvious to the general public, because they are very abstract and often focussed on a very specific area most people even have not heard about. On the other hand, the research is still accepted and seen as a serious work.

Although this seriousness is mostly applied to every part of the sciences, computer game research still has a very problematic time. This is mostly due to the fact that computer games still have the general connotation of being „just a game“. Computer games are often seen as entertainment without having any good use then the waste of time. Moreover, even when the some „seriousness“ about computer games is accepted and that games can train some specific skills, then it is still a very long way to go until the application of these skills to the real-world is accepted.

The scientific community is more and more open minded to this serious application of computer games and the recent trend of gamification is really helping to make the good use of computer games more popular. However, it is still a very long way to go until the general public really starts to recognize the connection between computer game and real-world skills.

In this case, the reality of being a computer game researcher is not so cool anymore. The work itself is really rewarding and makes a lot of fun, but often it is more about being an ambassador of computer games in order to make the good use of them more popular. Most of the time, before I can start talking to a non-gamer about the recent findings I’ve made, I need to convince him at first that computer games really can have a positive impact on our real-world performance.

However, if I manage to convince somebody that computer games can really have a good impact on our real-world then I’m really satisfied, because I changed someone’s mind about my research. From this point on, I can finally start to present recent findings about optimizing educational processes and in this case our lives with computer games.

Finding of the week #61

Early Access – A marketing challenge

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’m inspired by the „Question Time“ session during an annual press event of a computer game publisher. Is the marketing of early access games really a hard challenge?

Computer game publisher Slitherine[1] hosted their annual press conference „Home of Wargamers“[2] this week in Milan. Aside from game presentations and meetings with the developers, Slitherine organized also a question time over, where the audience at the event as well as the stream viewers were able to ask the panel questions. The panel consisted of JD McNeil (Chairman), Iain McNeil (Development Director) and Marco Minoli (Marketing Director).

Being interested in the opportunities resulting from Early Access Releases (EA)[3], I sent a question in as well: „How would you rate the importance of early access releases concerning marketing and development opportunities?

Slitherine is currently experimenting with two EAs[5][6] to figure out how far they can benefit from this approach compared to a normal approach with a closed beta phase and a clear release date. According to the panel, one of the two running EAs has received a great change due to the feedback of the community[3]. However, it is hard to estimate whether the EA was providing more feedback compared to a normal beta phase or not. In this case, it is still unclear if the game publisher really benefits from providing EAs.

On the other hand, providing an EA could be still very beneficial for a game publisher, because this approach allows interested players to experience the game already at a very early stage of the development process compared to a normal beta test. At this early stage, changes can be done relatively easy and the game can be adjusted right away to make it fitting to most of the interests of the target group.
If these assumptions could be proven as true, then EAs can also become quite important to well established game publishers, because normally EAs are used by small developers, who are not funded by a publisher and who need the revenue of the EA to finance their development processes[4].

However, according to marketing director Marco Minoli[8], an EA is quite challenging from the marketing perspective. Compared to the normal approach of a game release, it is difficult to pinpoint important dates of a game development process. Furthermore, it is very complicated to plan marketing activities on a constantly evolving game which is already open to the public. On the other hand, an EA does not need so much of PR to be introduced to the public: a community will establish around the game over time and start to make it more popular by sharing their experiences.

The insight that EAs are getting popular over time on their own can result in a shift of the marketing activities. Traditionally, the marketing of a game release was often connected with press events and marketing campaigns. Today, this is still true, but EAs have opened up an additional communication channel to get in contact with the target group. Marketing becomes more and more connected with the community management, because engaging with the community can become a very effective tool of marketing a game these days.

Contests and community events which require the community to share their contributions over social networks can help to increase the popularity of a game by a significant degree. A single twitter message like „What was your greatest moment in our game?“ can result in a huge amount of incoming tweets, which can be retweeted to keep the momentum going. Additionally, these tweets are not just visible to the receiver – they can be seen by every follower of the sender. Apart from the fact that these events help to spread the word, the resulting advertisement has also a second dimension: it is written by someone who has the trust of the reader: the tweet is not comming from a company, instead it is coming from a friend or someone worth following on Twitter.

Naturally, traditionally marketing tools like release announcements are still very usefull. From my point of view, the marketing of an EA can be compared with the marketing of a running Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO). Both games are already played and both games receive updates on a frequent schedule.
The MMO has a first launch date that could be compared with the EA release date – an event that can be celebrated. An MMO also receives new contents in form of content patches or expansion packs. The content patches can be compared with major game updates increasing the functionality of the EA and they can be announced in a similar way to a content patch of an MMO which is often done with a trailer and a feature list. The release of an expansion pack is often celebrated in a glamorous way and can be often compared to a release of a game.
In conclusion, an EA would allow to advertize major game updates in a conservative way. Moreover, an EA also features two main events: the EA release and the full game release. Events which can be announced and celebrated in a glamorous way. Additionally, this would result in two major events to advertize the game compared to a single release event of a traditional development process.

Finally, I like to end this week’s article with a very special example. The full release event of Minecraft, one of the most successful EA games, took place in Las Vegas after a 2 1/2 years development phase[7].

Finding of the week #60

Let’s plays – fragmented 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 think about the correlation between creating Let’s play videos and the time span in which the particular game is played.

I already presented „Let’s play videos“ (LPs) as a special form of playing and enjoying a computer game[1]. The most interesting aspect lies in the fact that LPs do have two dimensions of enjoying a video game. On the one hand, the player is playing the game as a regular player would do. However, the player also comments on his own actions thus creating an additional story arc. On the other hand, viewers don’t need to play the game themselves: they can follow the gameplay just by watching the LPs. Furthermore, they’re experiencing at the same time the additional story arc created by the player.

The additional content created by the player is the main aspect to differentiate between different LPs about the same video game. Moreover, the player has the option to interact with the viewers by directly addressing to them. However, this is mostly depended on the type of game the player is playing. A computer game with a linear story offers less options to interact with the audience than an open world game in which the player can influence the outcome of the gameplay. The linear gameplay allows the player only to react to the story line whereas an open world game also provides the opportunity to control the action.

Interacting with the audience also requires the player to receive some feedback from the audience before a new LP episode can be created. In this case, the gameplay gets fragmented into small segments which are separated by the release dates of the LP series. Furthermore, a typical length of a LP is mostly between 20 to 30 minutes. Considering this, the length of an episode increases the fragmentation of the gameplay by an additional degree.

As a result of the gameplay fragmentation, the content of a computer game starts to last longer for the player. The gameplay-time needed to finish a certain task in a particular game will remain the same, but the gameplay-time is spread over a longer period of time.
Building a house in Minecraft could require the player to play the game for one hour. However, due to the fragmentation caused by creating LPs the gameplay-time will still remain one hour in total, but the player might be required to spread this gameplay-time over a play-time of three 20 minutes segments which are separated by the release date of the LP. Finally, this would result in a longer time a computer game is played compared to a normal approach of building the house in a single game session.

Naturally, the fragmentation can be also diminished, if the player isn’t aiming for a direct interaction with the audience. In this case, the player could build the Minecraft house in a single game session and just split the resulting footage into different LP episodes.

Furthermore, the fragmentation is also controlled by the gametype. The aforementioned types of linear story and open world games often influence the fragmentation. The play-time of a linear story game is often less likely to be fragmented, because the player mostly reacts to the story given by the game. Moreover, linear story games don’t offer so much room to interact with the audience during the gameplay. In the end, this will result in a non fragmented game session and a long gameplay footage which can be separated into several episodes.

An open world game on the other hand is open to outer influences and has more potential to be used as a basis to interact with the audience. Compared to linear story games, the player is on his own and isn’t required to follow the story arc. This results in enough room to interact with the audience. In this case, the gameplay of an open world game is more likely to be fragmented in order to create a LP.

Finding of the week #59

Visiting new locations

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 think about how the virtual environments of computer games can help us to navigate through unknown locations.

When a traveler visits for the very first time a new city, he needs some time to orientate himself to be able to navigate through the unknown location. Over time, the visitor gets used to the city and starts developing shortcuts. Finally, the visitor is able to navigate through the city without getting lost, because he has developed a certain understanding.

The same thing applies to virtual cities in computer games: the player gets used to the virtual environment over time. After a short learning period, the player is able to move quickly through the environment and to develop some shortcuts.

These virtual cities mostly share some similarities with real world cities and thus the general location is mostly familiar to the players. In Mafia 2[1], the player explores the fictional city „Empire Bay“ which is based on real cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. At first, all the streets are completely new to the player and he doesn’t know where he is. But over time, the player gets used to the city and knows how he can navigate through the streets of Empire Bay.

This can lead to the assumption, that virtual environments in computer games can train the ability of computer game players to navigate through unknown locations without any difficulties. Additionally, developing a general understanding of a new city can be much easier to computer game players who are used to explore new locations on a regular basis.

Apart from the training effects of getting used to new locations, it could be also interesting to create real cities in a computer game. On the one hand, this could allow players from all over the world to explore famous cities, they’ve never visited before. Furthermore, it could be used in order to boost the tourism. The story of the game could take place at the most special locations of a city thus evoking a desire to visit this city in the reality.

On the other hand, it could be interesting as a preparation for a visit. The player can get used to the city and won’t get lost on the very first visit. Moreover, it would be an interesting experiment to rebuild a location in a computer game. Players then could start exploring the virtual version of the location and get used to it. Afterwards, they would be challenged to do a scavanger hunt in the real location to test out if they’ve really benefited from playing the game.