for science

A Parent’s Guide to Video Games: Condensing ‘The Video Game Debate’

Remember The Video Game Debate? The game research book edited by Thorsten Quandt and Rachel Kowert, the latter of whom we’ve been covering here since Massively-that-was? Good. Dr. Kowert’s got a new book out called A Parent’s Guide to Video Games. I was sent an early draft of the new title for review purposes, along with some of the additions going in prior to printing. I originally thought it would be just an updated reworking of The Video Game Debate, but I was very wrong. Dr. Kowert’s new book is much shorter and easier to access for the non-academic than the last one, which might make it even more useful for gamers who aren’t in research fields.

As some readers may know, I spent the past several years in Japan, and while I was there, the only books I read were textbooks, research journals, and manga (language textbooks don’t teach often teach you the slang you need to know to understand high school kids!). For me, The Video Game Debate was typical reading. And when the book came out, I recommended it friends and colleagues, but the journal format was a turn-off for way too many of them. That’s what sparked the idea for me to dissect the findings over my series of articles here on MOP and apply them to topics MMO gamers (hopefully!) care about.

The same won’t need to be done for Dr. Kowert’s A Parent’s Guide to Video Games.

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The Daily Grind: Is Twitch chat just MMO general chat writ large?

Last week, an Indiana University Bloomington team released its analysis of over a billion comments made on Twitch over a two-month period in 2014 (not exactly gaming’s finest year), finding that at least in popular channels, a “streamer’s gender is significantly associated with the types of messages that they receive — male streamers receive more game-related messages while female streamers receive more objectifying messages.” In other words, male streamers are more likely to be barraged with comments about mechanics and combat, while female streamers are peppered with comments about their boobs and makeup, which is something you probably expected anyway and is now confirmed With Science. Sigh.

Here on Massively OP, our chief streamer is a woman (MJ), as is one of our podcasters (me), and while we’ve certainly taken more than our fair share of abuse over the years, I think I can say that in general, our community in specific and the MMORPG community are subject to much less garbage than the average e-sports or shooter channel. That’s probably because we’re one of the relatively small channels with tighter moderation referred to in the paper; the researchers found that in smaller channels, viewers are generally talking with the streamer, whereas on the crazy big channels with chat that flies by faster than you can read it, people are there to talk about the streamer.

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Academics assess Pokemon Go’s value to conservation and education

Let’s cap off the evening with some feel-good, sciency stories about Pokemon Go, shall we?

Zoologists at Oxford University are studying Pokemon Go to determine how the game might be harnessed for conservation efforts. While they’ve noted that obsession with shiny bright pretend Pokemon could negatively impact people’s willingness and desire to interact with the actual natural world, they point to innate similarities between naturalist activities and Pokemon play. With a few tweaks to the game — like more realistic ecology, real species, and a focus on remote settings — it could even become a “citizen science” project and reinvigorate people’s love for the outdoors and exploring the natural environment, especially since the game already encourages people to flock together for rare critters, not unlike birdwatchers. In fact, there’s already a hashtag (#Pokeblitz) for people trying to identify animals and plants they’ve found while out hunting Pokemon on their phones.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, Arizona State University professor Karen Guerrero already designed a 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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For Science: A third of our polled social media users quit Pokemon Go over trackers

Pokemon Go has received some large updates recently: the buddy system, medals, some big gym changes (twice), and now we’ve got dailies. We’ve been dazzled with two events granting bonus… well, everything, and yet, I’ve been noticing veteran players around me retiring anyway. Casual players are playing less often. During the Halloween event, I was surprised about the number of people that actually didn’t return to the game!

Rather than go on pure anecdotal evidence, I conducted an impromptu survey on social media to get a clearer picture of why people quit the game before the November 0.45.0 update. Here are the results.

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Flameseeker Chronicles: Gaming playstyles, science, and Guild Wars 2

I was curious recently about what specific personality traits or personal qualities lead to my enjoyment of MMOs in general and Guild Wars 2 in particular, especially after reading that Quantic Foundry has just conducted new research into any potential correlation between gender, age, and playstyle. The research referenced in the Daily Grind post was taken from a relatively small set of responses, but I was nevertheless prompted to consider my own playstyle and revisit my Quantic Foundry gaming profile again.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to examine my gaming profile and explain how it might relate to the type of GW2 content I choose to play, giving examples as I go to help other gamers with similar motivations consider whether GW2 might be the perfect MMO choice for them as well.

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Exploring real-life PUGs, the Plus, and the antisocial nature of Pokemon Go

Although Pokemon Go isn’t advertised as an MMO, both experts and players have noted it does present some interesting similarities: Both have tons of players on servers where player locations are tracked. Both games task players with interacting with AI and (in simple ways) other players. And the game worlds in both are directly impacted by player action (remember, Pokemon Go is based on the Ingress map that was sourced out to the players).

Being an MMORPG site, we’ve talked about socialization and how it relates in particular to our genre. However, much like other modern MMOs, PoGo can lead to the sort of “alone together” situation that seems to eternally threaten our genre’s relevance — indeed, its existence.

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The Daily Grind: Does your MMO playstyle track with your age and gender?

Gaming research firm Quantic Foundry posted a new blog last week revealing the results of its surveys cross-referencing gender, age, and playstyle in video games. Among the 1266 gamers polled, the data are clear: The most popular playstyle is “cautious long-range.” Men and women responded more or less the same except on the “rushing in” playstyle category, which was embraced significantly more by men (as well as by younger players).

For me, which playstyle I follow depends a ton on the game. I prefer stealthy ranged pew-pew in The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, but I dislike casters so much in Guild Wars 2 that I’m a rusher-inner there for sure (give me a charge/leap in button and I’m good to go). I also think I’ve become slightly more impatient and more rushy as I’ve grown up — I was so much more timid when I first got into MMORPGs as a kid. Maybe I’m just now approaching equilibrium.

Do Quantic’s data match your own personal gaming experiences? Does your MMO playstyle track with your age and gender in line with these stats?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPGs do you play to reduce stress?

If you follow gaming research at all, you’ve probably heard of Dr Jane McGonigal, a professor, gamer designer, author, and pro-gaming think tank researcher. Her work on video games as self-help is the subject of a recent New York Public Radio broadcast; she argues that specific games can be harnessed to do everything from help you lose weight (play a pattern-matching game to “monopolize your visual imagination”) to help you boost energy (solve a tough puzzler to increase dopamine levels in your brain).

But the one that caught my attention was her recommendation to play a simple game that creates the meditative or “blissful state of mind known as ‘flow'” to reduce anxiety and stress. Flow, my friends, is my favorite part of playing a healer and making the bars go up in MMOs where that’s possible. I reduce all of your activities and wounds to simple squares and go into my happy zone. And now I understand why I find that so soothing.

Sure, some folks play MMORPGs and other online games for their unpredictability and dynamism, but others just as surely log in for peace and quiet away from their real lives. If you do that — if you use MMORPGs to reduce or avoid stress — which ones do you play specifically for that purpose?

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Superdata: WoW now charges a full monthly sub in China

Superdata’s digital games market report for August 2016 landed in our inbox today. Those of you who’ve been consistently frustrated and confused over the way Superdata bins games might be happy to know that the research firm is now reporting just three categories, but unfortunately, that means most core MMORPGs will be kept off the list entirely and the data are far less interesting to us (and more likely to be more or less static from month to month).

League of Legends, World of Warcraft, and Crossfire continue to dominate in terms of global revenue on the PC side, while Overwatch shows up in the top 10 for both PC and console. No one will be surprised by Pokemon Go’s place at the top of the mobile category. The researchers claim that Overwatch and World of Warcraft “show shifting Chinese spending habits” and note that Chinese players are now paying for WoW subs in monthly chunks.

“NetEase also recently changed their payment policy for World of Warcraft with the rollout of the title’s new Legion expansion. Rather than let Chinese gamers pay by the hour in tiny increments, players are now required to pay upfront for full monthly subscriptions. Despite this, the expansion was very well received in China with NetEase-processed revenue up to $37 million in August compared to $8 million in July. The success of both [WoW and Overwatch] goes against the assumption that Chinese gamers will never warm up to paying for games upfront, and provides evidence that it is possible to convince Chinese consumers to purchase high quality full-priced games. Whether this will fundamentally change the market remains to be seen, as local gaming behemoth and NetEase rival Tencent is still sticking to free-to-play.”

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Self-driving cars are learning to drive with Grand Theft Auto

So it turns out that people were right when they said that self-driving cars were a terrible idea. We were all in favor of them; it seemed like a nice chance to relax, stare at the scenery, and possibly game while three sheets to the wind and without asking someone to pick us up. But researchers from Intel Labs and Darmstadt University in Germany are teaching the vehicles to drive using Grand Theft Auto, which means that self-driving cars will collide with other vehicles, drive on the sidewalk, and attempt to hide from police investigations by parking in a paint shop.

Jokes aside, the system being used is pretty awesome, using the environments of the games as a way to place the vehicles in real-life situations without any risk to human life. It’s a complex process allowing the vehicles to “see” and analyze a large number of objects in quick succession, thus providing valuable data to be used in finished models. If you’ve got any interest in the technology, it’s well worth a read. And if the next time you play Grand Theft Auto Online you notice that someone in your group seems to be moving rather robotically, maybe you should cut that player some slack.

Source: MIT Technology Review; thanks to Stemline for the tip!

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Comparing American and Japanese Pokemon Go culture

My previous article on the culture of Japan’s Pokemon Go scene was written before I’d experienced much of the American one to keep my explanations as unbiased as possible. Although I was born and raised in America, I’ve lived in Japan for the past four years and mostly interacted with Japanese people, which has made my own meatspace culture a bit strange at times. From afar, I thought the PokeGo scene in America would be ideal for meeting new people, but oddly enough, I’m noticing there are far more similarities between the two cultures than I anticipated.

Before I go deep into my observations, do note that I’m describing my experiences in specific areas of Japan (Kanto and Kansai regions) and around the Los Angeles County area. I spent America’s launch period champing at the bit with my Japanese students and co-workers plus three weeks of release, while my time in America has played out amidst reports of the game becoming less popular, totaling over three weeks as of this writing. I also must admit I’m going through some reverse culture shock that I’ll try to address. Your own experience may vary depending on where you play, when you play, and with whom you play.

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Superdata’s July 2016 data show Guild Wars 2 surging, Pokemon Go on top

Superdata’s July report on online gaming revenues is in, and there are some predictable bits and some surprises. On the P2P MMO front, the lineup is exactly the same as last month, with World of Warcraft coming out on top, followed by the popular-in-China Fantasy Westward Journey II, Lineage I, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and TERA’s western version.

What’s new to the lists is Guild Wars 2: It showed up this month as #4 for “top-grossing premium PC games by revenue” behind Overwatch, CS:GO, and Minecraft. Whoa. Apparently the new seasonal content was a big draw.

Pokemon Go also debuted in the mobile lists this month as literally the most successful mobile launch in history. Sorry, other mobile games. And Overwatch dropped down to fifth place on consoles, what the firm calls “an expected result of pay-to-play games’ upfront monetization strategy.”

As always, we must point out that Superdata’s categorization will likely not align with most MMO players’ definitions; for example, it considers games like SWTOR and TERA pay-to-play rather than free-to-play like League of Legends, and it lists games like LoL and World of Tanks as MMOs.

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Exploring Japan’s Pokemon Go culture

As some readers may know, I’ve spent the last few years in Japan trying to tackle the local gaming scene, online and off. While Japan may be the birthplace of gaming, it doesn’t always feel that way, especially for a western gamer. The large amount of gaming swag, existence of Akihabara as a geek Mecca, and emphasis on large, difficult multi-player experiences masks underlying cultural norms that make nearly all hobbies as an adult something of a private matter. While MassivelyOP’s coverage of Pokemon Go makes the game seem like an international socialization sensation, there are specific practices that make international scenes somewhat different from how our readers in North America and Europe may experience them in their part of the world.

Japan’s PGO culture in particular may be somewhat different than expected, so before I really experience how things are in America, I want to describe what I’ve experienced in the series’ birthplace.

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