GDC: Know your players
Mar 05, 2007 16:22:33

This morning I attended a portion of a GDC session entitled: Know Your Players: An in-depth look at player behavior and consumer demographics.

Panelists included Jeff Probst of Hidden Path, Jason Scott from Volition, Hans Lee from EmSense, Dallas Snell from NC Soft and Nicole Lazzaro from XEO Design. Each took a turn presenting the methods they use to gauge the amount of fun a player has during a play session.

Hans Lee the CTO at EmSense presented a method that sounds like science fiction but it isn't. When designing Gears of War they used a brain wave measurement tool that looks like a headband to measure brain activity. The goal of the measurement is to see where a player's engagement with the game content went up. They record this data side-by-side with a video capture of the player's game. This allows them to zero in on the activities that most stimulated the player. It seemed they also had the capability to gather data related to what kind of emotions the player was experiencing. Extremely cool technology.

In a similar vein. Nicole Lazarro President of XEO Design showed some video of a player's face and their game in split screen. The example showed a player having an issue and it was very telling that there was a problem with a part of the game. This is interesting, but far less measurable than the previous method. Too much variety in player personalities and the interpretation of a player's reactions exists to make this anything more than a cute experiment, IMHO.

Dallas Snell from NCSoft (Dungeon Runners) focuses on data mining recorded player activities. Dallas focused on hree coremetrics: recency, frequency and duration. Recency is how recently the player played. Frequency is how often they log in, and duration is the length of the play session. This method is clearly most useful in online games where player behavior can be easily observed. They use the data to examine player drop-off rate to determine where they're losing players. An example graph showed players dropping out at a 50% rate by level 5. This helps them figure out where they were dropping out, but the question is: why? Is it a level curve issue, it a problem with the skills, are they rich/poor, are they getting new items, are the quests being completed, are they traveling too much, too little, are they talking to other players, are they grouping, how much time is spent in combat, how many deaths and near death experiences occured? This led to a discussion of the importance of almost losing a particular game encounter. Near death situations are extremely enjoyable and create a 'woo-hoo' reaction from players when they narrowly escape death.

Much of the material covered may seem rather obvious, but the impressive part is the amount of thought the designers put into measuring fun. Game design in 2007 is not just guess work; it is science.

Submitted by Brent on Mar 05, 2007 16:22:33 CST (comments: 3)


'Three things' by scytale2
Submitted on 2007-03-05 19:13:42 CST
Firstly this "brain-measuring" technique is I suppose fine, but dangerous, if interpreted incorrectly. What's to say that the brain activity is actually "enjoyment". Do they really know enough about the brain to ensure that they measure appreciation of aesthetics, as opposed to the more motor-orientated PvP elements or "near death" experiences. Danger is that PvP will be overstated imho. I also find that I am in "angry" mode when the game is unfair, during lag, when ganked or when the game is bugged. Too many of these indicators mean that I will drop the game - it's not simply boredom that does it. These "angry" throw the PC across the room moments would be hard to discern from "elated" boss mob down moments, perhaps....

Also, these type of techniques are about measuring reactions to the same old same old. Concentration on this type of gimmicky measurement will simply end up with clones of existing MMOs and lack any innovation.

Lastly, MMO players may well have much in common, but they have many more differences than they have commonality. Focusing on a game and finding out the most popular part could easily end up producing "one trick pony" games. If you look historically at the FPS genre at how many of these games include people in army uniforms and carrying rifles, you'll see what I mean.

Apologies for the scepticism. Kids run many of these games companies and this seems just the kind of gimmick to sell to your 28yo Managing Director.

'no worry' by Brent
Submitted on 2007-03-05 19:21:40 CST
No need to apologize for expressing yourself. I really don't know how dangerous or exact brain pattern measurements are and it may be a gimmick, but it was interesting nonetheless. You may be right about all that, and you are mostly right about the companies being populated by young folk. It is true.

'Title must be between 1 and 100 characters in length.' by Bman
Submitted on 2007-03-05 19:26:02 CST
Well, according to Wikipedia and, Gears of War sold over three million copies in two and a half months, so the whole brain-measuring thing must not be entirely worthless.

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