for science

What made Fortnite so ridiculously popular? Anticipation is baked into both the loot and the gameplay, says one psychologist

Over the weekend, I was chatting with the mom of my son’s friend and let slip that I’m a video game blogger. Her reaction? “What do you think of Fortnite? Is it so big because it’s free-to-play?” Our kids aren’t even old enough to play this game, and she knew all about it and wondered about its runaway success.

The truth is, there are lots of reasons for Fortnite’s success, more than I had time to mumble out in small talk. Jamie Madigan on The Psychology of Video Games blog took a stab at answering the same question this week, and his answer is probably not what anybody is expecting.

“I think Fortnite Battle Royale’s secret sauce has to do with something that’s kind of obvious once you think about it: random chance. I don’t mean that Fortnite’s success is due to luck. Rather, I mean that Epic smartly leveraged the power of random rewards in their design for the game, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s so popular.”

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Three quarters of European gamers don’t even understand what the heck lootboxes are

A new report on GIbiz suggests that most gamers are pretty darn clueless about lootboxes, which probably won’t surprise anyone reading here. Researchers for the publication surveyed gamers in Western Europe and found that barely more than a quarter of gamers even know what they are. More than half (we assume of those who seem to have no opinion on whether lootboxes are a plus for the gaming experience (a quarter think they suck). But the reaction differs depending on the way the question is phrased.

“We also asked gamers if they thought loot boxes made them think more positively about game companies, 54% had no opinion, 10% agreed with the statement, whereas 37% disagreed. In fact 20% ‘strongly disagreed’ that loot boxes made them feel positively about the companies that used them, which suggests that loot boxes create some negative feeling among some consumers.”

That said, almost half of those familiar with lockboxes suggested that lootboxes make them less likely to buy games with them, so there’s that.

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Journalists and academics clash over the World Health Organization’s ‘gaming disorder’ classification

Ever since the World Health Organization decided it will include its “gaming disorder” classification in its upcoming disease classification manual revision, game journalists, mainstream journalists, and academics have been enjoying a field day fighting over whether it’s justified and what the ramifications will be. As we’ve previously noted, according to WHO,

“Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

Eurogamer, for example, ran a story from an editor who discussed how he personally was addicted to World of Warcraft. He calls the opposition to WHO’s classification “juvenile,” suggesting that it’s really about “the fear of facing up to uncomfortable truths about game design.”

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Fortnite: Pollsters and academics examine purchases, pay-to-win, and motivation vs. addiction

Remember the old adage that less than 10% of a free-to-play playerbase pay for the other 90%? A poll conducted by LendEDU and Pollfish attempts to cast some shadow on that assumption. The groups say they surveyed 1000 hardcore Fortnite players and determined that almost 70% of them had spent money on the game – an average of $84 apiece for those who did, the majority of that on outfits and characters. More than a third of them had apparently never spent money on a game before.

However, it seems to have been a self-reported survey of highly invested people who identified Fortnite as their primary game, so it’s not really a fully random cross-section of all Fortnite players; one might assume that the type of people who consider themselves Fortnite fanatics and would answer a survey like this would be exactly the type to pay into the game and thereby skew the results.

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Video game industry groups across the globe reject WHO’s ‘gaming disorder’ classification

As we noted yesterday, the World Health Organization has gone ahead with the inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the publication of its most recent edition of its disease classification manual, in spite of heavy criticism from independent academics as well as admittedly biased trade organizations. In fact, a group of those organizations – representing the video game publishing industry in the USA, South Africa, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and 10 countries in western and northern Europe – submitted their own statement on WHO’s decision, once again noting the potential for “moral panic” and “abuse of diagnosis” following the unjustified classification. The most compelling argument remains the scientific one:

“There is strong disagreement among experts on the inclusion of video gaming in the ICD-11 list, and the issue has been heavily debated since 2016 when 36 internationally renowned and respected mental health experts, leading social scientists and academics from research centers and universities – including Oxford University, Johns Hopkins University, Stockholm University and The University of Sydney – opposed the inclusion in an Open Debate paper,” the group writes, pointing out that in the intervening two years, WHO’s second proposal all but ignored those researchers, prompting a second paper from academics that “alerts on the weak evidence base, stressing that the ‘burden of evidence and the clinical utility should be extremely high, because there is a genuine risk of abuse of diagnoses.'”

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The World Health Organization advances its ‘gaming disorder’ classification in spite of heavy criticism

The World Health Organization has gone ahead with the inclusion of “gaming disorder” in the publication of its most recent edition of its disease classification manual. It’s expected to be adopted by member nations next year and won’t take effect until 2022. According to WHO,

“Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”

The organization announced its proposal for the new classification last year and was met with considerable pushback from a wide cross-section of both industry partisans and independent academics.

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG would you want to ‘live’ in if you had to live there forever?

MOP reader Oleg suggested today’s Daily Grind in the bowels of the mystified comments under our piece on Entropia Universe on Wednesday. In a nutshell, the Swedish studio MindArk is angling to use the game as a “potential reality where human consciousness can be inserted into virtual characters, making it possible to continue to live on as an Avatar well after their human body has passed” – in other words, to make us immortal, to let us live on in MMO Entropia.

The objection, as Oleg and other commenters noted, is that you might not actually want to live forever in Entropia. It’s a neo-capitalist technotopia where you cash in and out of the game to reality and back again. The game practically pioneered pay-to-win.

So let’s say MindArk actually pulls off the kind of sci-fi AI it’s saying it’s working on. Would you actually want to do it, and more importantly, which MMORPG would you want to live in – forever?

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Entropia Universe studio wants to let us live on forever inside an MMO – literally

If you’re a fan of Altered Carbon or Westworld, you’re going to love what MindArk says it’s working on: The Entropia Universe studio aims to use the game as a “potential reality where human consciousness can be inserted into virtual characters, making it possible to continue to live on as an Avatar well after their human body has passed.” I am not making this up.

“Although full realization of transplanted artificial intelligence is still some time away, MindArk is preparing to use advanced artificial intelligence data to create virtual avatars based on the consciousness of real people. MindArk is closely following the work of pioneering scientists within the field of ‘Mind Uploading’ which includes research from Princeton University, Oxford University and other institutions. The company is already testing new technology to create more realistic gaming experiences, and is establishing itself as a leader in the virtual space where digital consciousness can be paired with artificial intelligence. This will open new possibilities for what it means to live on after life is over.”

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG features the most ‘hostile design’?

Last week, the Extra Credits crew did a feature on hostile architecture aka unpleasant design – a way of papering over a problem in design instead of actually fixing it. In urban planning, the tactic is used to (for example) oust homeless people from an area in such a way that the general population doesn’t even realize it’s being done. The lead example in the video is Seattle’s move to erect bike racks under a bridge destined for demolition, not because the city wanted to help cyclists but because it wanted to get rid of the homeless folks camping there. Similarly, Heathrow Airport is designed with too few public seats for all the people moving through the terminal; instead of solving the problem by building enough seats, the city just built high-priced restaurants with plenty of tables, basically to make some extra money off its own (intentionally) bad design.

The video apologizes for not being expressly about gaming, but I bet you folks can immediately summon some examples in MMORPGs of this very trick. Designing excessive grinds and then “solving” the problem by putting grind-speeder-uppers in the cash shop is one.

Can you ante up more? Which MMORPG features the most “hostile design,” and what is it?

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The Daily Grind: How much MMO game info should be hidden from the players?

A blog post on The Psychology of Video Games blog a few weeks ago seems relevant to our interests: It explores the “pleasure paradox,” which basically suggests that humans crave certainty, but once we get it, we’re bored. Experiments showed that subjects “said they would prefer to be less uncertain, but the results show that their happiness would have been diminished” if they actually were. We like a good mystery!

Consequently, author Jamie Madigan argues, games should take advantage of this human quirk – say, by rewarding us based on some hidden modifier but not telling us what we did to earn it.

In a weird way, that’s something ancient MMORPGs did by accident: Information was so obfuscated that playing was as much trial and error as anything, and game mechanics were an unintentional mystery. And something like, oh, websites publishing every single mage spell combo in Asheron’s Call? It killed the magic. So does every elitist in your group spamming DPS meters in chat in the modern era.

How much MMO game info should be hidden from the players? And is the “pleasure paradox” the reason?

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Noted statistician blasts 2013 paper that links aggression and video games

Last month, as part of our ongoing dialogue about video games and violence, we covered a brand-new paper that found that playing video games didn’t make adults more violent. The important takeaway was that the study was a longitudinal study that spanned two months of testing, one of the first – probably the very first – to cover that expanded length of time. Down in our comments, our readers argued over whether or not even two months deserved to be called long-term; a lot of gamers really want to see much longer-term studies to more definitely counter the politically tinged anti-video game rhetoric currently festering in the US.

And we’re not the only ones debating that very question. MOP tipster Eliot pointed us to the blog of Columbia University statistician Dr Andrew Gelman, who takes issue with a totally different paper, this one from 2013; its title also claims to represent a “long-term” study and in so doing made it into a peer-reviewed journal (with over 100 citations, not to mention news articles, since), in spite of the fact that it’s not actually long-term at all: Subjects played 20 minutes a day for three whole days.

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GDC 2018: Games can help humanity, be profitable, and get support from gamers

Games alone won’t make the world better. They won’t even make gamers better. We publish some articles that certainly seem pretty pro-games, but we’re very upfront about the catches. One big one is on us, the players, and how we game. However, game designers can do a lot to help us.

“But that’s hard, expensive, and/or boring!” some of you may be thinking. And yeah, sometimes that’s true. But for both indies and AAA companies, not only are there organizations able to help, but there’s the potential for government aid in unlikely places. Games for good isn’t just a pipe dream, either. Some of the most (deservedly) vilified gaming communities have not only helped with their time but their wallets as well. Even before going to GDC this year we knew this, but a few panels I watched really helped it click.

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GDC 2018: Ready Player One Now, billion person gaming, and mitigating abuse

It’s no surprise that Ready Player One was constantly being referenced at GDC 2018, especially in VR, AR, and MMO panels. It’s not just because of the movie’s release but because the tech involved is seeing a surge of interest. That doesn’t mean we’re on the cusp, in my opinion, but it may be a thing we should start talking about.

And talking about it we did. As Bill Roper of Improbable and SpatialOS recently told me, “The next generation of online games isn’t going to behave like current-generation MMOs. […] We don’t know what a billion-person game might look like, but it’s likely to include a wide variety of playstyles, to reflect the diversity of its playerbase.” Even if you’re a cynic and don’t think SpatialOS will play any part of this future, Roper’s very much on the mark: Billion-person gaming isn’t going to be like our current MMOs.

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