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Shoot to Thrill: Bio-Sensory Reactions to 3D Shooting Games
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Shoot to Thrill: Bio-Sensory Reactions to 3D Shooting Games

December 2, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

5. Gameplay innovation through novel weapons.

Results demonstrate that novel weapons can have a huge payout, but also a big downside if not executed well.

First, a definition: "Novel weapons" is a term we use for unique and powerful weapons beyond the standard pistol and machine gun. This includes high-powered sniper rifles, machine gun turrets, battle walkers, tanks, and other vehicles.

Introducing these differentiating gameplay elements has increasingly become a focus of innovation (and risk) to game developers and marketers.

What separates the engaging from the disengaging -- and why these weapons are such double-edged swords -- is a consequence of their power. When players are protected and not getting harmed, utilizing these weapons led to low engagement levels. When players were consistently damaged, unprotected, or challenged by equally powerful enemies, the payoff was huge: engagement rose often to off-the-charts levels.

We looked at two high-powered weapons, sniper rifles and machine gun turrets, two frequently implemented elements in most shooters. Machine gun turrets, on average, have long been superior engagement performers in our database of elements.

However, some games, including some in this test group, continued to fail to engage, leading to huge missed opportunities. For instance, engagement to Resistance's machine gun turrets was a full 19 percent below leader Halo 2. That's the difference between an exciting experience and one that, frankly, is a disappointment.

The failure lies in how protected the players are. In Resistance, one of the players' experiences with turrets in the first 90 minutes is from within a huge tank. In Halo 2, players utilize small, unprotected turrets that nearly ensure that they will be harmed, if not killed, if they remain on the turret for long.

The difference between engaging sniping and disengaging sniping also lies in the threats posed to the shooter. Halo 2, Battlefield 2142, and Ghost Recon all performed exceptionally here, scoring 12 percent, 18 percent, and 16 percent above benchmark averages, respectively. The level design ensures that players move forward as they snipe, frequently putting them in harm's way.

Call of Duty 3 was an exception. The game gives players an opportunity to distance themselves from the battlefield and locate themselves in a position where they can snipe unthreatened. The result is not only disengagement during sniping, but also during the period where players get into position, knowing full well that enemies are far away.

The pattern continues with the use of vehicles. Battlefield 2142's battle walkers failed to engage players until an equally powerful enemy approached, typically another battle walker. The majority of the time that players are in battle walkers, they are not strongly engaged in the game. Similarly, in Resistance, players emotionally disengage when driving the tank. Tank combat, without comparable threats, is not exciting or adrenaline-pumping.

What's interesting is that these threats don't always have to take the shape of enemies to engage players. Halo 2's Warthog is able to evoke sustained engagement and adrenaline, 17 percent above most vehicle benchmarks. The key difference we noticed is that Warthogs are never driven sensibly. Sure enough, high-speed driving, flying off jumps, and other generally reckless behavior consistently raised the level of engagement. In this case, players (and the vehicle physics) generated the threats, the challenge, and the entertainment of this novel gameplay.

Keys to Engagement

Clients (and family members) always ask us if there's a single formula to compelling, engaging media, whether it's a video game, advertisement, or a movie. The truth is, there isn't.

But there are definite trends in what makes engaging and successful gameplay. At the end of the day, each of these successful games relies on superior execution and creativity to craft a uniquely engaging experience. Our big surprise is just how important the little things, like throwing a grenade, can be -- even more engaging than that epic and highly-scripted plot events.

Little things add up to more enjoyable experiences, higher Metacritic scores, and higher sales. In short, more fun. As we've seen, there are definitely some "rules of fun" that hold across these titles, and in some cases, across games in general. More interestingly, though, we're looking forward to seeing how future titles innovate and break these rules. As players expect more and more from their game experience, smart risk-taking in game design may be the only way to truly stand out in the crowd.

Biometric Data Gathered

Games in study:

  • Battlefield 2142
  • Call of Duty 3
  • F.E.A.R.
  • Gears of War
  • Ghost Recon AW 2
  • Resistance: Fall of Man
  • Halo 2
  • Half-Life 2

Player responses measured:

  • Brainwaves (through dry EEG sensors)
  • Heart Activity
  • Breathing
  • Blinking
  • Temperature
  • Motion

Factors of analysis:

  • Engagement
  • Emotion
  • Adrenaline
  • Cognition


EmSense utilizes a next-generation, bio-sensory headset to measure consumers' responses to media. The headset measures brainwaves (through dry EEG sensors), heart activity, breathing, blinking, temperature, motion, and other physiological signals as gamers play.

Proprietary algorithms built on decades of research literature and empirically verified with EmSense's testing of thousands of test participants, process physiological signals to develop models of engagement, emotion, adrenaline, and cognition. Each represents a different dimension of the game experience.

EmSense also utilizes analytic and data mining methods designed to be completely blind and objective. "Event tags" identify when and where events, like player deaths, occur. This is correlated with physiological data, then aggregated and benchmarked against other titles. The result is an objective, detailed view into what does and doesn't work to engage players.

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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