for science

A Dota 2 pro was beaten by Elon Musk’s OpenAI bot during this year’s International

Dota 2’s The International 7 tournament is over, having concluded this weekend by crowning EU group Team Liquid — which arrived to the finals by way of the loser’s bracket — champions. Liquid walks off with over $10M in earnings.

But perhaps the most interesting bit for folks who don’t follow Dota 2 closely came on Friday when the ubiquitous Elon Musk revealed his company’s Dota 2 bot, which he says learned a lifetime’s worth of game skills in just two weeks. To prove it, he pitted the bot against pro player Danylo “Dendi” Ishutin in a demo match… and the bot won easily twice.

Lest you think Musk has aims to take over the world, recall that his company OpenAI was founded to stop the AI from taking over the world, meaning this demo was ostensibly another high-profile attempt to provoke regulation.

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Video games can grow or shrink your brain, study finds

Does your brain feel a little lighter or heavier this week? It could be because of your gaming habits.

A recent study on video games hosted by the University of Montreal took a group of people and subjected them to either first-person shooters or Super Mario Bros. It turns out that there was “statistically significant” less grey matter in the hippocampus after 10 weeks than those who indulged in FPS games than platformers, who actually gained more.

So what does this mean? The researchers speculated on why some video games cause growth while others incur shrinkage in the old noggin’. One theory is that action games’ navigation systems do the thinking for the players in favor of a reward system. Platformers may require more active thought to navigating obstacles while FPS are more about reflexes in linear fights.

Still, there’s not really any cause for concern. “I would never interpret this finding as a big warning against action video games,” a neural plasticity researcher Simone Kuhn says.

Source: NPR

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SuperData’s mid-2017 report reflects a wildly expanding gaming industry

Gaming analysis firm SuperData is touting a new report for marketers today, shedding some light on the shape of the industry so far in 2017 — for everyone. Yep, today’s report is free, as long as you’re willing to hand over a mailing address, so let’s run down the highlights:

  • 46% of US gamers are now women.
  • 665 million people glue their eyeballs to gaming videos and streams — more than HBO, Netflix, ESPN, and Hulu combined.
  • “The global market for games and interactive media will grow 12% this year,” for the first time crossing the $100B threshold.
  • A streadily increasing percentage of that dough is coming from digital console revenue.
  • By 2020, SuperData argues, “players will spend $4.5B on immersive gaming — more than 20 times what they do today.”
  • Rocket League shows that console gamers are willing to spend on optional cosmetic items in multiplayer games.” Stop buying lockboxes, people.

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MMO researcher Nick Yee is ‘dispeling myths about female gamers’

Quantic Foundry researcher and long-time MMO academic Nick Yee has an intriguing blog post out this week titled Dispelling Myths about Female Gamers in which he purports to do just that. Yee has been shuffling the data from over 300,000 submissions to the Gamer Motivation Model project to see what they reveal about female gamers. “Over and over again, we have noticed that cursory examinations of the data often support a gender-normative narrative,” he writes, “but diving deeper into the data reveals far more surprising (and interesting) relationships between gender and gameplay.”

For example, consider the lazy stereotype that women are innately averse to violence or competition in online games, a claim often used to dismiss female-dominated games as casual or not “real” games.

“At first glance, gaming motivations among men and women seem to align with gender stereotypes: Men are primarily motivated by competition and destruction, while women’s primary motivations are completion and fantasy. But this is only part of the story. For example, consider competition—the motivation that varies the most between male and female gamers – for which, it turns out, age accounts for twice the statistical variance than gender does. Or, to put it another way, the delta in the appeal of competition between younger men and older men is much bigger than the delta between men and women.”

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SuperData’s new report suggests multiplayer console gamers are more susceptible to DLC and RMT than ever

Gamers talk a big talk about horse armor DLC and pay-to-win and the evils of cash shops, but y’all keep buying anyway.

That’s according to gaming research analysis firm SuperData, which today released an excerpt from its pricey report on digital console revenue for 2017. More than half of all digital console revenue this year, the firm says, will come from “additional content” like DLC and cash-shop microtransactions. That number is half again as high for the top-earning console games from the last few years.

Fully “39% of first-year additional content revenue for all titles is made in the first 3-to-6 months, leaving game publishers with a tight time frame to release new content,” argues SuperData. “Digital console consumers are hungry for more content as soon as they are done with the core gameplay. Most single player games have a gameplay timeframe between 10-to-40 hours within their single-player mode. It is not hard to see why over a third of console players believe that publishers should release content every 3-to-6 months. Over a fourth of them believe additional content should be released at least once a month. Publishers are warned to be wary of releasing content too close to the release date, since consumers see that tactic as profiting off content that should otherwise have been released with the full game.”

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Monetization expert: MMOs are dying because of clueless design, not insufficient demand

MMORPG players just love it when somebody declares the MMORPG dead, right? All those games you’re playing, all the games we’re writing about and sustaining us? Zombie games! You’re imagining it all! Thanks, mainstreamers!

Today’s somebody, admittedly, is Ramin Shokrizade, an economist and author well-known for his career and expertise in gaming monetization specifically, and he doesn’t mean literally dead in today’s piece on Gamasutra, in spite of its title. “What Killed the MMOG?” is an excerpt of an unpublished paper he penned in 2009 on RMT: real-money trading/transfer and gold farming, a problem developers told him “had no solution.”

Shokrizade describes the “industrialization” of RMT in factories run by massive organizations in China dedicated to making black market botter cash off the burgeoning MMO market in the 2000s. “Since the accounts are optimized for profitability, they tend to bring in perhaps ten times as much coin per hour as a maximum level account played for entertainment purposes, and hundreds of times as much as an account at half the level cap or less,” he wrote. Consequently, paying for in-game cash from RMT companies was just a logical move for buyers.

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EVE Online’s July release furthers exoplanet research, revamps T3 strategic cruisers

Happy July patch day, capsuleers! Yep, EVE Online’s July release is now live. The patch includes “one of the most extensive and largest rebalances EVE Online has ever seen,” according to CCP, and includes the promised revamp of tech-3 strategic cruisers. Yesterday’s dev blog explains that the goal to balance, simplify, and diversify the T3s in the ship roster, positioning them between HACs and Battlecruisers.

The highlight for everybody else is the next phase of Project Discovery, CCP’s latest pro-science initiative, in which players will basically play EVE to help real-world scientists in the search for actual exoplanets. (Thank you, CCP and EVE players.)

The studio is also touting new Firewall Breach skins, improved NPC battlestation visuals, and updated designs for the Rupture, Muninn, and Broadsword.

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EVE Online puts players to work sorting through new exoplanet data

The space explored by players in EVE Online is far beyond our own solar system, but here in the real world we’re still struggling to find out what’s out there beyond our own home. That’s why it seems like such a natural fit for the game to roll out the next phase of Project Discovery, putting players to work analyzing real-world telescope data in exchange for in-game rewards. In the game, it’s framed as part of the relentless march of science, and here in the real world it’s actually part of science.

In essence, players are tasked with sifting through the data and noting when a star’s luminosity dims (because a planet just passed in front of it), which means sifting through data and providing important analysis. Analyzing these light curves awards players with ship skins, character outfits, and even some new ships along the way. So you’ll be doing science in the real world and looking scientific in-game. What more could you ask for?

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MMORPG founding father Richard Bartle establishes new unplayer matrix

Dr Richard Bartle, best known to MMORPG players for establishing the research that ultimately led to the admittedly flawed but widely quoted “Bartle test,” spoke at Gamelab Barcelona 2017 last week with research of continuing interest to gamers: a new model for non-player types, floated by him publicly for the first time.

His original model was “insular,” he argues. “It tells you why people do play, but not why they don’t, which is often more useful.” The new matrix covers what is essentially the developer’s quest for accessibility, the “sweet spot where the game’s depth matches the player’s insight,” on a quadrant of easy vs. hard mapped over shallow vs. deep. Like Bartle, I’m not sure “rock babies and opera zombies” will catch on, but he manages to apply it convincingly to explain who buys what and why in free-to-play MMOs.

The whole slideshow is worth a look (doesn’t load in Chrome, note), though I suggest you choose to read that font ironically! With luck we’ll get a video of the whole talk at some point.

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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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