for science

How Star Citizen uses science to build out its galaxy

This week’s episode of Star Citizen Around the Verse sees Cloud Imperium’s Chris Roberts and Eric Kieron Davis bookending Foundry 42, Ship Shape, and solar system segments. From the Foundry 42 Frankfurt office, Development Director Brian Chambers checks in to discuss new hires, level design work, landing zones, atmosphere mapping, buddy AI, enemy reactions, planet surfacing, outpost lighting, environment art, and multiplayer persistent universe gameplay testing (yay!), while Ship Shape is aimed at you motorcycle lovers.

“Being able to see your footsteps in the snow or have your vehicle kick up dust while speeding across the desert are those little details that’ll make you believe that you’re really in those environments and be much more immersive, and you know me – I love immersive,” Roberts chimes in.

The best bit is easily the solar system segment, but I’m biased – I married an astrophysicist. The devs explain how they use the Solar System Ed (SolEd) to build out the parts of their galaxy in the service of the Star Map, making use of volunteer astronomers and other scientists to vet their ideas for scientific plausibility. Fun!

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Another study finds Pokemon Go improves players’ physical activity

Yet another academic group has published research suggesting that Pokemon Go can be a useful tool for promoting exercise.

Duke University researchers funded by the American Heart Association studied 167 young adults and found that “Pokemon Go participation was associated with a significant increase in [physical activity].”

“We conducted a retrospective observational study among Pokémon GO players in September 2016 and analyzed their level of PA in terms of step count as reported on the iPhone Health app 3 weeks before and 3 weeks after initiation of Pokémon GO play. Specifically, we sought to compare changes in PA level before and after playing Pokémon GO and whether such changes differ by age, sex, baseline PA level, body mass index, and level of engagement in the game. The latter included a subjective measure of self‐reported playing time as well as an objective measure of game progression indicating players’ level of engagement.”

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Leaderboard: Almost half of e-sports viewers don’t even play the games they’re spectating

It may sound crazy, but a huge number of people who pour eyeball time and money into e-sports don’t even play the games they’re watching. That’s according to gaming analytics firm Newzoo, which last week broke down its stats on the major e-sports franchises and who exactly is watching them in the U.S., Canada, Germany, U.K., France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Sweden. Key takeaways?

  • 70% of viewers stick to one game.
  • 69% of gamers play only League of Legends, CS:GO, or DOTA 2 (the overlap of all three is 8%).
  • 42% of e-sports watchers of the big three games do not play any of them
  • 191 million people will tune in to e-sports “frequently” this year; an additional 194 million will do so “occasionally.”

Howsabout you? Do you watch, play, both, or neither?

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University researchers harness Pokemon Go for education

Researchers continue to find new ways to make Pokemon Go dance for science. In a new paper, Iowa State University’s Emily Howell suggests that secondary ed students benefit from replacing traditional classroom tools with more “authentic” tools and situations and communication outlets.

“Anytime teachers can find something that students are already doing, and comes in multimodal form, they can harness that interest and teach students about the tool’s potential,” she explains.

It’s not the first time researchers have used PoGo to serve the educational needs of students; last year, an Arizona State University professor designed a free multi-age-bracket lesson plan that uses the game as a tool to teach cartography, “how to use geospatial technologies and communicate geographic information,” and vocabulary skills for ESL students.

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Overwatch: Hero leaks, lockbox probabilities, and Korean political humor

As Asian countries are cracking down on online games with lockbox gambling, gaming companies are complying with transparency. To wit: Blizzard’s Chinese Overwatch website has published lockbox probability parameters. Here’s the paraphrase of the translation:

“Each lootbox will contain 4 items, including cosmetics or game currency for direct unlocking cosmetics. Each lootbox will contain at least one item of excellent or higher quality. An epic quality item will be availabe every 5.5 lootboxes on average. A legendary quality item will be availabe every 13.5 lootboxes on average.”

Since it’s leak week, here’s an Overwatch one for you, unconfirmed:

Click to reveal spoiler/leak
According to SegmentNext, a 4chan user who claims to be a Blizzard artist says that Doomfist will roll out much sooner than anticipated and that the studio is working on two other heroes: Bria (a tiny character who locks off map chunks, now in testing) and Ivon (an older gentleman, defense-based, but not coming soon). Still other gamers are digging into game files for evidence of an event on the way soon.

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Academics and addiction experts weigh in on ‘pay-to-loot’ gambleboxes and lockboxes:

“Pay-to-win” is old news now — game designers’ new plan for hoovering all the cash out of our wallets is “pay-to-loot.”

According to IGN’s Nathan Lawrence, who dives into the topic today, that’s the term game psychologists are using to describe what online gamers have been derisively referring to as gambleboxes and lockboxes for years: You’re essentially buying chances at a thing, paying to roll the dice and let the RNG gods determine your reward, padding the game’s coffers all the while.

The gambling references aren’t accidental; one expert calls lootboxes a “poker machine-like experience,” while another points to the phenomenon as an exploitation of human nature:

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Leaderboard: Are you part of SuperData’s cohort of ‘gaming video content viewers’?

SuperData released a report this week arguing that the video gaming video content business is booming, even “outpacing earnings from some traditional sports leagues.” The whole paper is a mere $2,499 if you want to read it all, but the summary includes everything from Twitch to YouTube and intriguingly suggests that the viewing audience is almost half female.

“Additionally, gaming live streams are replacing primetime TV viewing with 27% of live stream viewers watching most often during weekday evenings. The Gaming Video Content audience on YouTube and Amazon’s Twitch, 517 million and 185 million people in 2016 respectively, surpasses mainstream channels like ESPN and HBO, further shaking up the traditional media landscape.”

E-sports and stream viewers, the analysts claim, “watch more than four hours of content per week,” while almost half of US gaming video content viewers are hooked to “walkthroughs, trailers and humor videos,” meaning that both the casual and hardcore audiences are being served.

Are you among them? That’s what today’s Leaderboard means to find out.

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What virtual reality immersion researchers are up to will ‘shock’ you – literally

OK, virtual reality fans and frenemies, here’s a fun thought process: How do you simulate haptic feedback when your arms are waving around in the air? When you pretend to grab a mug of coffee, pick up a ball, or clock someone in the jaw, how does the game world sell immersion to you?

One answer might be electric muscle stimulation — yep, they’re gonna shock you. Researchers at the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Germany are apparently trying to mimic the muscle response and feel of touching, pushing, or lifting items in virtual reality with micro-shocks in actual reality.

It’s not really as “shocking” as it sounds, as anyone’s who’s ever experienced this sort of thing in its existing form as muscle therapy can attest (I can, and it actually worked, I’m still surprised to say). At its worst, it sort of feels like weird tingling or zingy pressure, not pain. It’s a cheap process, but it’s also goofy as heck, and if you were annoyed at having to plop on a giant headset for virtual reality, just wait until you have to tape a bunch of electrical nodes up and down your arms.

Source: Plopes via Motherboard via Slashdot. Thanks, Sally! No regrets on the headline.

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Study claims playing Pokemon Go is associated with happiness attributes

A research team from the University of Wisconsin–Madison has a paper out this month purporting to show that Pokemon Go play essentially makes people happier, or more specifically, is associated with being happy. Having surveyed 399 US adults last summer, the team concludes that playing the game “was associated with various positive responses (increased positive affect, nostalgic reverie, friendship formation, friendship intensification, and walking), most of which predicted enhanced well-being” and that “two indirect effects of gameplay were moderated by social anxiety.”

According to the University, the researchers asked

“questions about [subjects’] emotional and social lives and levels of physical activity before segueing into Pokemon. More than 40 percent of their respondents turned out to be Pokemon Go players, and those people were more likely to be exercising — walking briskly, at least — and more likely to be experiencing positive emotions and nostalgia. […] They were also more social. Players were more likely than nonplayers to be making new friends and deepening old friendships.”

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SuperData predicts huge gains for virtual reality over the next four years

SuperData was rather famously quoted all throughout the industry at the end of 2016 following its research-backed proclamation that virtual reality was the “biggest loser” of the holiday gaming sales season. But this week, the company has issued an infographic suggesting that VR is now “on the rise” and its best days are ahead of it.

Last November, the research firm adjusted its original estimates for VR sales after both Sony and Google saw significantly fewer than anticipated VR headsets sold to consumers. However, SuperData explained at the time that headsets were suffering from “supply inconsistencies,” poor sales tactics during the holidays, and the absence of high-demand games and apps to drive sales — none of which was irreversible.

The new infographic anticipates a “steep rise” in VR adoption over the next few years, though it’ll be one still vastly overshadowed by the use of TV, phones, and PCs. While SuperData suggests most of the profits are in the devices themselves right now, it predicts that by 2020, revenue from VR will near $40B US and eventually be more evenly distributed over hardware and software.

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SuperData examines gambling practices across the online gaming industry

Gambling in video games has been a huge topic for devoted MMORPG players over the last year or so, as core MMOs like Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Elder Scrolls Online have added or tweaked lockboxes, Path of Exile has raised the bar on lockbox transparency, Valve has been hassled by regulatory bodies for enabling underage gambling, and countries have considered classifying certain MMO practices as gambling for the purposes of regulation.

But it’s probably worth remembering that there is a very real and legitimized online gambling gaming industry out there competing for your dollars (in fact, some of them occasionally pop up in our remnant ads, depending on where you live, and we have to get out the mallet).

It’s all explained in a new report the analysts at SuperData prepared for the Dutch government as an overview of gambling practices in digital games, from the “social casinos” of Zynga and trading card games to e-sports bets and in-game item wagering.

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Introducing the Massively Overpowered Objectivity Guide and App

Friends, enemies, ladies, gentlemen, morphean blobs, and colours out of space, we know that the most pressing question on your mind when you read this site is how you know everything is objective. Objectivity is one of the highest goals of Massively Overpowered, specifically because we set up a tall shelf and put a piece of paper that says “objectivity” on the top of it. It is very high off of the ground. Bree and Justin rely on the rest of us to assure them that yes, it is in fact there.

But how do you, the reader, know that this is the case? How can you be certain that no trace of subjectivity is tainting your article and that everything you read here is entirely verifiable by objective reality? It’s a problem that we sat up long nights considering.

So we’re happy to announce the introduction of the new Massively Overpowered Objectivity Guide and App. Read on to find out how this new feature of the site will ensure that everything you read on the site is safe and entirely objective, whether you’re on mobile or on your desktop.

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Massively Overthinking: Competition vs. community in MMOs

Quantic Foundry, the games research group we’ve been tracking ever since it posted its original Gamer Motivation Model, has a new piece out this month on competition and community.

Dr Nick Yee (yes that Nick Yee) explains that one of the things his team’s survey and resulting model have demonstrated is that commonly held assumptions about the “spectrum” of MMO players — that is, “warm, fuzzy, social care bears on one end” and “cold, anti-social, competitive griefers” on the other — are wrong. In fact, he argues, the model shows that competition is not the opposite of community; on the contrary, “there is a strong positive correlation between competition and community,” disassociated from the gender and age of the respondents. This is the kind of stuff a lot of our readers are going to love, especially since the researchers are smashing related assumptions (like that ganking is PvP or that competition necessitates conflict).

So for this week’s Overthinking, I sent the summary of the research to our writers and asked them to discuss whether Yee’s results match their experiences when it comes to community and competition.

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