for science

Gaming industry roundup: SWBG2’s poor sales, Gambling Commission, slot machines, and parody games

Don’t agree that lockboxes, lootboxes, and gambleboxes were the biggest story of the year? We’ve collected so many news tidbits just on that over the last few days that we’re resorting to rounding them up rather than spamming. To wit:

First, Merrill Lynch analysts have now lowered their expectations and profit estimates for EA thanks to the performance of Star Wars Battlefront 2, which the analysts believe will fall short of the 14M sales estimate by 2.5M. At least in big box stores, the game also performed relatively poorly on Black Friday.

On point: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling is under $1 on Steam. “Do you love opening loot crates, but hate the tedious gameplay sessions in between? Our marketing department has the game for you! Unbox random items! Get stuff, but not what you really want! Skate legal and ethical lines! Remember kids, it’s only a video game, so grab your parents’ credit card!”

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Exploring the psychology behind losses, gains, and grouping results in video games

Getting five batches of 100 gold feels better than one batch of 500 gold, and being forced to spend three separate 100 gold fees feels worse than one 300 gold fee. And that fee is likely to make all that 500 gold not feel like it mattered. You probably know all of that just from experience, but perhaps you’d like to see it in action with a new piece from the Psychology of Video Games blog discussing how grouping results (or intentionally not doing so) produces a different valuation of rewards.

To summarize quickly, we tend to prioritize losses as more important than gains, so losing 100 gold has a bigger impact than gaining 100 gold in our brains. However, both losses and gains have a certain point where we stop noticing them, so losing 1500 gold doesn’t feel much worse than losing 1300 gold. Thus, from a psychological standpoint, it makes sense to have losses come in big chunks and rewards come in several smaller chunks, so that each individual good thing gets evaluated separately while the bad stuff gets shuffled off faster. Read through the whole piece for a more thorough overview of why it works; it’s pretty interesting.

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EVE Online uses city urban planning in its design

Who would have ever thought that something so mundane and everyday as city urban planning would be of immense inspiration to a game like EVE Online?

Develop has a fascinating interview with CCP about how the studio uses strategies from urban planning when developing its space MMO. Citing “unproductive” development around 2004 following the game’s rise in popularity, CCP drew its community into talks about what it wanted to see for EVE Online, which in turn led to the formation of the Council of Interstellar Management. Through all of this, CCP started seeing the game’s growth through the lens of city planning.

EVE is more like a city than it is a game,” said CEO Hilmar Pétursson. “If you are doing urban planning in a city, getting feedback from the inhabitants is important. You might have to bulldoze away some houses to make a highway, or you might have a garbage collection problem, and it’s impossible to know all this. We have no way of knowing all the things in EVE Online that the hundreds and thousands of people who live there every day do. They have way more information about it. So factoring in all the information about the game, their input on where the game needs improvement, putting those two things together is what the EVE team does every year.”

Source: Develop

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Researchers document Pokemon Go’s vehicular casualties, Niantic raises $200M for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Pokemon Go developer Niantic just got enough money to build a second pool in which to put all that money to roll around in. Venture capitalists have poured another $200M into the company through a Series B funding campaign following the reveal of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, its upcoming wizarding world MMOARG. As Android Central points out, Niantic raised just $30M in 2015 following its Pokemon Go announcement, so this is a hefty increase that demonstrates continuing confidence in the power of Harry Potter, MMOARPGs, or both.

Meanwhile, researchers from Purdue University have produced a paper documenting the real cost of Pokemon Go in property damage and human life in a single county in Indiana, which won’t surprise anyone who recalls the parade of articles about crashes and deaths and vandalization last year when POGO first released.

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For Science! Researchers find link between fluid intelligence and elite MOBA play

In a new paper released last week, University of York researchers sought to examine whether research that strategy gaming (like chess and arcade games) correlates with intelligence holds true in the modern games like MOBAs. “In our current paper we extend their findings by asking whether we can establish a link between intelligence and performance in widely-played, commercial, team-based videogames with global reach,” the authors explain.

The researchers examined League of Legends and Dota 2 players, comparing their ranks to their results on a fluid intelligence test and attempting to disentangle all of that from teamwork ability, practice, and age by comparing the results to those from more twitch-oriented games like Destiny and Battlefield 3 – easier said than done, since apparently there aren’t a lot of “olds” playing some of these titles – and the general population’s performance on fluid intelligence tests by age. The result?

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This is why ‘playing alone together’ still makes you feel connected. But is it helping?

Whenever the topic of playing solo in MMORPGs comes up, invariably the expression “playing alone together” is worked into the conversation. This is the idea that, for some people at some times, it’s simply enough to be gaming around other people to get that social connection.

There may be another term for this: ambient sociability. By gaming in the same virtual space and pursuing similar goals, players can feel connected and have that social need filled to some extent without having to share physical proximity. But one question is whether this helps or hurts gamers’ real world socialization.

In a short essay on the subject, blogger Laura Smith argues the latter: “I see [Jane] McGonigal’s point that gaining confidence in video games can lead to gaining confidence in the real world, thus turning introverts into better extroverts. But if we continue to live in alternate realities and not our own, I don’t see communication between people getting any stronger.”

What do you think? Read the piece and let us know in the comments!

Source: Imedia Musings. Thanks Joe!

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MMO blogger dives into the theoretical math behind lockboxes

MMO blogger Serrenity, whom many of you will recognize from his clever comments here on MOP too, has a compelling blog post on his personal site today diving deep into the lockbox debate. But far from merely offering another exhortation to stop buying lockboxes, he’s doing some complicated napkin math (and by napkin math, I mean python scripting) to try to understand why publishers are so fixated on selling them.

Since studios are generally not in the business of handing out detailed sales figures and drop rates, Serrenity is forced to calculate potential revenue based on publicly gathered data, which he admits upfront result in rough estimates. “This information is purely extrapolated and used for demonstrative purposes,” he warns.

Using Guild Wars 2’s wiki data on drop rates for the bank access token, he finds that the revenue from selling lockboxes vs. selling that item directly increases 14-fold – almost 1500% higher. And that’s just a minor, relatively undesirable item with a relatively high drop rate; admittedly, nobody’s going to go ham buying lockboxes just for that (we hope, anyway). Plugging rarer, desirable drops that would cost much more upfront (like weapon skins) into his formula sees the estimated revenue soar as high as 12500%. That is not a typo.

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Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?

For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.

Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!

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Frontier Expo 2017: Science, history, and gaming make for a great first con

This past weekend was not the first time I have attended a developer’s convention, but Frontier Expo 2017 was one of only a very few times when I have been able to attend the first one of its kind. Last weekend, I got to witness the birth of Frontier Developments’ fan convention, held in London, UK. At 1500 attendees, it may have been a relatively small gathering compared to conventions like PAX or other more established cons, but it was still great. In fact, it offered fans a few firsts of their own! Besides your classic meeting-and-greeting, game announcements with reveals, and after parties (including live entertainment by Jim Guthrie, the musician who created the Planet Coaster music), folks got to try their hand at the studio’s really old games on their original equipment in the Frontier Developments museum.

Even more than that, attendees got to meet and listen to world-renowned experts in the fields of paleontology and astrobiology. Not because these would sell the game, but just because they are subjects of interest to fans. How many studios have offered that?

Now there were understandably a few bumps and learning experiences in this first endeavor, but in all, I say the inaugural FX2017 was a resounding success! It was easily the most chill convention experience I have ever had, and I look forward to next year’s show (and hanging out with the space loach more!). Let’s dig in!

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The Daily Grind: Are you a fan of ‘automatic helping behaviors’ in MMORPGs?

We’ve been complaining about lockboxes a lot lately as an unwelcome psychological trick in gaming, so this morning, I wanted to talk about a welcome one. To do so, let me invoke the wisdom of blog The Psychology of Video Games. Author Jamie Madigan discusses “automatic helping behaviors” that studios can take advantage of to combat toxicity; he notes that researchers have found your attitude doesn’t always control your actions – you can often be tricked into an attitude based on your actions.

So if a game like Guild Wars 2 finds a way to incentivize you into resurrecting other players and helping them in combat, you begin to perceive yourself as the kind of person who helps – and you might just begin reflexively helping elsewhere, even when you don’t have to. That leads to situations, at least in GW2, where people will actually stop fighting to rush over to res a stranger, perpetuating that warm fuzzy feeling.

In a game like Overwatch, it’s even more automatic, as your character fires off compliments when characters nearby perform well. See and hear “yourself” do that enough and suddenly, that’s the kind of player you are.

Are you a fan of MMOs that employ this “trick” to encourage cooperation and community building? Where else have you seen it used to good effect?

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Smart Social Gaming: Why people play social games and other topics non-gamers don’t get

While those of us who write for MassivelyOP do try give you all the scientific resources we can to help you fight back against your family, friends, and co-workers who may still not get your hobby or why you may let your child participate in gaming culture, it’s not our primary function – that’d be covering and analyzing the MMO genre.

Enter SmartSocialGamers.org, an “online resource that provides guidance, tips and expert advice for everyone to have a positive social games experience.” While I’d normally smirk and wonder who really thinks he or she has the clout to do something like that, in digging through it I found that Dr. Rachel Kowert, of The Video Game Debate fame, penned several of the top tips, including one that starts off using Quantic Foundry’s Gamer Motivation Model. That’s some clout. Let’s take a look!

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This is how MMO lockboxes manipulate your mind

It is not going to shock you to hear that lockboxes are kind of evil. We here at Massively OP have been beating on that drum for years now. But studios keep selling them and players keep buying them, so on the drum beat goes.

If you’ve brushed off the insidious nature of lockboxes so far, it might behoove you to read this piece from PC Gamer that takes an unflinching look at how game designers use specific, targeted elements to prey upon players’ psychology and brain chemistry — and that many of these techniques are the same ones employed by gambling establishments.

Why do lockboxes work so well? Something called “variable rate reinforcement” factors into it, says Dr. Luke Clark of the Center for Gambling Research: “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably. We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Source: PC Gamer. Thanks Agemyth and Pierre!

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Are MMOs and video games fulfilling our need for productivity?

Here is a question for you to ponder: Do MMOs make you feel more productive than your main job or school? If so, it might not be an accident.

In an essay over at the Talk Amongst Yourselves Kinja, author @CleonWrites notes how video games have started to fill people’s needs for productivity and world fulfillment when they can’t get it in the real world. And you might be getting a hit of this emotional high when you jump into your favorite MMO.

“Using MMORPG’s as an example, [game designer Jane] McGonigal notes that games can offer a certain satisfaction in doing work,” the essay says. “‘Work’ in games commonly take the form of quests, or objectives, which the player is asked to complete. On completion of these tasks, players can be rewarded through experience points, better armour, and in particular, more quests. This constant repetition of easily completable tasks, and increasingly common rewards, drives home a feeling of productivity in the player.”

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