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Analysis: The Wisdom Of The Crowds On Seven Top Titles

Analysis: The Wisdom Of The Crowds On Seven Top Titles Exclusive

March 3, 2009 | By Sanya Weathers

March 3, 2009 | By Sanya Weathers
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Do the seven most popular games possess traits in the eyes of players that others don't? New analysis made available to Gamasutra from social networking site GamerDNA looks at ways its member base rated different games over three separate snapshots of time.

In this article, analyst Sanya Weathers sees what traits separate seven of the most popular titles like Call of Duty: World At War and Rock Band from the rest.]

The concept of "wisdom of the crowds" is based on the idea that individuals can be wrong, but the herd is usually onto something. Considering that this has given rise to the Macarena, the widespread use of “u” for the equally easy to type “you,” and the inexplicable success of the Twilight books, I would like to reserve my judgment a little longer.

However, at GamerDNA, our members tag their games with traits. If we look at the most popular games, will we see a pattern? Can the crowd predict a hit?

Top Xbox 360 Titles

For this part of the column, I’m using our Xbox 360 data, which spans around 150,000 active accounts. If one of our players booted the title up at least once during the target week, the title got a “vote.”

We looked at three different snapshots in time – last week (Feb 8-14), the first full week in January 2009 (Jan 4-10), and the third week in November 2008:

As you can see, the top seven games were consistent over the last three months, with no changes but a little bouncing around the chart. As a matter of fact, the top fifteen titles are remarkably consistent as well.

I won’t throw another chart at you, but you might find it interesting that the only new title to break in was Skate 2, and the title it knocked out of the top fifteen was Saints Row 2.

Most titles are seeing less play time now that the holiday season is over, and everyone’s back in school, at work, or trying to improve the odds of getting work by going back to school.

Almost every title at the top of the charts saw a loss, the most notable (both in terms of percentages and raw numbers) was the Left 4 Dead dropoff. That title saw a decrease of 62 percent from January. That seems odd, given the initial popularity, the positive reviews, and the availability of multiplayer. We’ll have to come back to that.

Back on topic, there are exceptions to the decreasing numbers of active players trend. We saw a 12 percent increase in the number of players Halo 3 had from early January to now, and the number of people playing Call Of Duty 4 increased by a staggering 17 percent. Not bad for a fifteen month-old game!

What Are These Games' Traits?

Let’s take a look at the top traits that players manually assigned to these seven games on GamerDNA's site.

While our system uses categories to help our members focus their thinking (and to help people searching for new games to pinpoint exactly what they’re looking for), I just looked for the traits that the largest chunk of the players could agree on.

The results are reported in percentages of the people who played a given title and assigned the title a particular trait:

Obviously, the things everyone can agree on tend to be obvious things like the setting, the genre, and who you’re playing as. And the thing about crowd wisdom is that someone in the crowd has to have the idea in the first place so everyone can follow along.

That’s how you wind up with COD: World at War getting “awesome” as its third most popular trait. Someone chose the word, and everyone who came behind him on our trait system though, hey, yeah, this game is awesome.

That doesn’t mean none of the other games are considered awesome, it just means that no one called it that early enough in the process that the program suggested it as an option for the people who came later to the system.

Rock Band obviously doesn’t fit very well with the rest of the games, because the it's entirely different in style, gameplay, and context. It has the trait "fun" at #9 on its personal trait ranking list – a trait only shared by Halo, which has it at #33. It never ceases to amaze me how few games have “fun” as a trait assigned by gamers.

Once you sort out the weird outliers, and the setting/genre answers, you can definitely see a few key traits emerging in a pattern for our most popular games, like “intense” and “epic.” “Intense” appears in five out of our top seven, at #2 for COD4, #5 for Halo and L4D, and (not pictured) #19 and #41 for COD: World at War and Gears 2, respectively.

“Epic” appears for six of our top seven games, in Halo, Fallout 3, and Gears in the top five, at #8 for COD4, at #31 in COD:WAW, and even #44 for Rock Band 2.

(Genre and setting do matter, of course – I couldn’t say otherwise, with “post-apocalyptic” appearing for three of seven games. But with today’s column, I’m looking more at the intangibles that separate the best from the rest.)

How About All-Time Tag Leaders?

After seeing that pattern, I asked Steve the Data Man if he could produce a list where at least 10% of the players had marked a title as “intense,” and another list of titles granted the trait of “epic” by our members.

I also asked for a list of all games so tagged by our users, not just Xbox 360 titles. Listen, Steve can do that. Steve can make the data sit up and beg.

So what came back? In alphabetical order:

Army of Two
Battlefield 2
Company of Heroes
Dead Rising
Diablo II
God of War
Guitar Hero III
Rainbow Six: Vegas

Assassin's Creed
Chrono Trigger
Civilization IV
Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy X
Grand Theft Auto IV
Guild Wars
Lord of the Rings Online
Mass Effect
Neverwinter Nights (PC)
Sins of a Solar Empire
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
The Orange Box [Half-Life 2]
WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos
World of WarCraft

(The MMOs, and indeed RPGs where you’re very much the hero of the story, have a bit of an edge on the whole “epic” concept, given their sheer amounts of content and scope.)

The first thing I noticed when I saw these lists is that epic/intense tags do usually mean a successful game. A casual game is simply one that the player can put down in order to attend to other things – it does not imply a casual experience, as seen by the “intense” rating.

The second thing I noticed was the presence of Chrono Trigger – it’s the oldest game on the list, with a release date of 1995, although Square Enix recently released a DS update. Clearly, “epic” is a function of storytelling, not technology!

The third thing I saw was the presence of RTS games on both lists. The genre is no more limiting than technology in terms of what creates an intense and epic feel.

Now here’s a final thought -– Crysis, despite a good pedigree, a bushel of awards, and top reviews, was not a mass market success. Yet it has a dominant trait that most of the “winners” (in terms of popularity) have in common.

[Sanya Weathers is a Game Industry Analyst for gamerDNA. Previously Sanya put in six years as the Director of Community for Mythic Entertainment (now EA Mythic) where she championed "community management" as a professional specialty. Her expertise spans the creation of community tools, feedback system and partnering with key customers to create better products and user experiences.]

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