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Study Claims Gap Between Developer, Consumer Game Engagement
Study Claims Gap Between Developer, Consumer Game Engagement
June 11, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander

June 11, 2009 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC

Game developers targeting a specific audience might be missing the mark in some areas when it comes to keeping those players engaged, claims a new study based on bio-sensory feedback.

Consulting firm Absolute Quality commissioned bio-sensory testing on both GDC 2009 attendees and a larger sampling of target customers for Gears of War 2, and made a number of relevant findings, including the fact that men and women experienced the same game differently.

According to the results, game developers surveyed at GDC who were familiar with the shooter genre were more highly engaged with key game elements like story, cut-scenes and scripted encounters.

But in nearly two thirds of cases, the target consumers showed higher levels of engagement during simpler aspects of the game, like run-and-gun periods.

Absolute Quality says the schism between the experience of the player and the experience of the developer is important because it can help developers better tailor their games to meet the needs of their target audience.

"This study clearly shows that these elements of games tend to reflect the preferences of the developers themselves and not the preferences of the target consumer," claims the firm.

The sample group of GDC attendees included game developers, testers and other professionals on the industry side. For this study, the "target consumer" group consisted of players not employed in the games industry who own or have access to an Xbox 360 and who play the shooter genre on a regular basis.

All of the tested participants wore a wireless headset from EmSense, a technology previously covered by Gamasutra which uses sensors to measure a variety of physiological, cognitive and emotional responses, including player brainwaves and reactions like blushing, continually.

One key finding from the bio-sensory study, which is available in full via the company's website, says Absolute Quality, is that women reacted differently to storyline and cut scene elements -- women showed "above average" engagement with those elements, while men were engaged with them only 37 percent of the time.

Production elements such as video cut-scenes, which focus on slick graphics and well developed characters, can carry significant costs for game developers. Additional elements like complex vehicles and weapons can also run up the expense of creating new games.

Developers can use data like this to reduce risk by investing in those elements most desired by its target audience and avoiding those with less compelling engagement results, says Shirish Netke, president of interactive entertainment for Absolute Quality parent E4E.

"A rigorous analysis of user data throughout the development cycle can help mitigate the risk associated with the publishing and marketing of games and improve predictability of success of new titles in the market," says Netke.

[Update: Name of specific game added.]

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Michael Correa
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I was unable to download the full study but I have to question some aspects of the study. Were the games people played new or old? Where did the study take place? What was the age group of the gamers described? I am just a bit skeptical about some aspects but as a whole it seems a rather interesting concept.

Guillermo Aguilera
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I agree with the Study, the people wanna shoot people and break heads. Me include.

The level of adrenaline in a fps game is too high, and any cut (movis, jumps, puzzles, quick, actions, bosses) break the wave. Ok, You can create some special level but not many one o two.

The best form to make a successful FPS game is not use game designers. Only good level designer.(btw I'm work as LD)

Owain abArawn
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This is something I've felt for a long time. Things like cut scenes and scripted encounters tend to be distracting interruptions. Even when well done, they have limited replay value, and after seeing them once, they are usually skipped as soon as they pop up. For as much development effort as they consume, the cost benefit ratio is not good.

Along with discussions about Games as Art, cut scenes and scripted encounters appeal more to developers than they do to consumers. Develop for your audience first. If you get game play right, then you can worry about such cosmetic fringe concerns.

Robert Rhine
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And yet, there is clearly a market for story driven games (the often remarked upon Mass Effect is a prime example). How can developers reconcile the need for gameplay as a core element (if not *the* core element) of a game with the developing expectation for immersible and interactive storytelling? The point of this article is made, but I don't think anyone would claim that Mass Effect was a flop, nor was it exclusively successful with women. But then again, this article was specifically exploring the FPS genre. What can we learn from this, in context?

Guillermo Aguilera
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imo The right of Mass efect is not mixed genres, in the shooter phase is a clasical shooter.

Christopher Wragg
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Even if the study is right, the real question is what does it prove....Does it mean we should remove cutscenes, or does it mean their placement, use and design is currently poor. Sure on replay a lot of cutscenes are skipped, or are boring, but I know from past experience this isn't always the case, there are some things that are just fun to watch. Also from having played gears of war 2 I'd say some of it's cutscenes are more boring or jarring than I've seen in many a game. It has them at rather odd intervals, and it often introduces more action with a cutscene, which imo, is the wrong approach. There is one cutscene I love though, and that's when your about to drill into the ground and Skorge appears and Marcus and Dom can't get out of the drill pod to help. It creates tension and it's appropriately timed, but it's then followed by probably the most boring part of the entire they create great dramatic tension and nothing with it.

Also I pose, are developers more engaged because they're interested, or because they're doing what developers do that the general public tend not to, analysing and assessing. I remember after studying film, it didn't matter if you were interested per say in a film, you'd still be engaged because without realising it, you'd often be assessing the filmic techniques used therein. So overall it's not really the accuracy of the test I have issue with, merely the conclusions drawn from it.

David Howell
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I have to echo Christopher here. The conclusions of this study do not necessarily follow from the data. There's certainly value in the data, if only to ensure one measures the response of the target audience and not that of the guys and girls in the office. I can't see how it implies or suggests that developers have missed the mark in the need for cut-scenes or scripted encounters, however, only that developers and non-developers react to them differently during 15 minute sessions at a developers conference.

Cut-scenes and scripted encounters aren't only used for story development, they can be crucial for pacing, foreshadowing, setting a mood, communicating something to the player that would be difficult or even more expensive to do in-game or to direct the player's attention to something they could easily miss. They can also simply give the player a break or provide some feedback on progression. I can't imagine a shooter that was 10-20 hours of continuous run-and-gun. I'm not suggesting the study advises this but one can't simply state that less engagement in cut-scenes is a bad thing. You need to give players time for a breather after hammering their adrenal gland. On the flip-side, even if it is a bad thing, it's not certain that the target audience would exhibit the same engagement response if they'd paid full retail and were playing for two or more hours in their own lounge rooms.

In sum, there’s value in the data but, as with any embryonic technology, one must be wary of drawing premature conclusions. The data shows that interesting features exist, a great step, but more work and properly controlled experiments are needed before it will be clear why they exist.

Jean Auguste
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The point with the cut-scenes is:

- They're not interactive so getting ride of them won't cut any of the real gaming time

- It's no more feed by the fascination the gamer had with the previous gap: Computer Graphics vs Real Time Engine

- It won't make you miss the mission objectives.

So mostly the cut-scenes are disconnected from the "in game" reality (stress, choices, control, etc...). Nevertheless, a frustration raises from the dilemma that even if you get ride of those it's still a part of what the gamer paid for. It's still something the developper wanted him to feel something about. It's a Condorcet's paradox as we name it in French

Let be more positive.

- The problem about the cut-scenes is there's a cut meaning "drop the controller". The camera won't spin around from the character's position, show you the scene then go back to the usual game view like in a sequence shot. In this situation the player would stay alert thinking that anything can happen, that he has to be ready to take control of his character at anytime cause there won't any distinct informative signal.

- include interactive dialogues during cinematics and sometimes don't. It gives value to the presence of the player in front of his screen at this very moment and in the end, not all of the cinematics during the game will have interactive dialogues but the player would anticipate them and so he'd stay focused.

If you're not working on a AAA title, this is far from your concern.

Guillermo Aguilera
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yes, I agree with you, the players are sheep and cannot speak about games.....