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4. Close combat, close combat, close combat.
Close combat was the most reliable method of creating engagement, adrenaline, reward, and all the emotions that make shooters so much fun. Certainly, this is nothing new to the genre, but the next-gen games that excelled in this area were exceptionally strong at creating high-paced close combat frequently.
It was no surprise to us that the three games in this study widely considered "game of the year" (Gears of War, Halo 2, and Half-Life 2) all designed and executed exceptional melee weapons to encourage or force close combat.
The most successful FPS titles encourage close combat, dangling emotions of reward to compel players into high-risk, adrenaline-pumping scenarios that dramatically increased their level of engagement and feelings of reward.
For instance, in both Halo 2 and Gears of War, players were rewarded with an instant kill for using the energy sword and chainsaw. An energy sword kill in Halo 2, for instance, evoked 30 percent more recorded positive emotion and reward than the genre benchmark.
In addition, Gears of War players recorded high emotional reward for the spray of enemy blood after they succeeded. Of course, we can't forget the ubiquitous Half-Life 2 crowbar, the only weapon players initially have for fighting.
Other games don't only encourage close combat -- they force it. In Ghost Recon, we've already mentioned how players are instructed to destroy an armored vehicle in the only way possible: planting a charge in close proximity to the vehicle. In Call of Duty 3, players are thrown into a close-quarters mini-game struggle with a German soldier. Both events led to high measures of engagement, but these events occurred once or twice in a session, unlike the dozens and dozens of exhilarating moments found in the games that distinguished themselves.
It's not just the melee weapon itself that encourages close combat. Just listen to battles in Gears of War. Amidst the cacophony of bullets, players can hear their teammates tell them to flank the enemy. What the comrades forget to say is that narrow firefight areas and emergence holes can immediately make these flanking expeditions devolve into melee combat. Consistently, we measured increased engagement and intensity to these episodes.
The takeaway for developers is that creating next-gen experiences is about exhilaration. Nowhere did these shooters distinguish themselves more than in the ability to consistently throw gamers into close combat.
5. Little things make a big difference.
Games with proven multiplayer popularity were fast-paced with consistently engaging core elements. These elements, like melee weapons, vehicles, and grenades, easily translated from a single player experience to multiplayer.
A look at our pacing metrics -- measuring how frequently players respond to gameplay events physiologically -- reveals a familiar top two for fastest pacing: Gears of War (pacing was 51 percent above the average) and Halo 2 (35 percent above average).
Our system utilizes time-coded tags when a key event occurs (for example, when a Halo 2 player's shield drops) and correlates it with the corresponding emotional data. Many titles have a standout feature that always engages, but for games like Halo 2 and Gears of War, every little element of gameplay engages. In Halo 2, "shield down" correlates with an engagement response 18 percent above average, and grenades show engagement at 21 percent above average. These supposedly little elements add up simply because they occur so often in a play session.
The result is an inherently fun gameplay experience that doesn't rely on big scripted events to create engagement. However, there's also a huge cursory benefit. All these engagement systems translate easily and directly into multiplayer gameplay. All Gears of War and Halo 2 need to do to give players a fun time is throw them into a deathmatch and watch the mayhem.