Posts Tagged ‘zammitto’

GDC 12: Recap

Posted in Conferences - Events on April 24th, 2012 by Veronica Zammitto – 1 Comment

Another great year at GDC. It took me a week to recover from it and more to write about it 🙂 This post is about GDC 12 through my lens which is tinted with Games User Research and I’ll cover the top talks for this field.

There were several interesting highlights throughout the week. I’ll go in chronological order. The Game Developers Conference 2012 took placed on March 5-9 in San Francisco, USA.

Usability Boot Camp by Veronica Zammitto and Paul Newton

We were very pleased with the workshop! We delivered a full-day workshop on games user research (GUR). We divided the activities into 4 main sections: starting with an introduction to usability and games user research plus explaining different methods and how all these are part of the whole development process. Which set the foundations for the rest of the workshop into GUR for pre-production, production, and post-production. We had a balanced between theoretical content on how to employ the different techniques and why, and hands-on exercises were attendees tried out the techniques themselves.

The workshop had a maximum capacity of 100 people and there was pre-registration. The workshop was sold out a couple of weeks before GDC. People kept coming the day of but due to room capacity they couldn’t get a spot. We should deliver another workshop next year, there is a high level of interest and need for know-how on usability and user experience for games.

Hands-on exercises during the Usability Boot Camp at GDC2012

On Tuesday March 6th, I actually “sneaked out” from GDC to attend the Games User Research Summit on Tuesday. This was a full-day event by the IGDA GUR SIG; there were great presentations with a lot of presence from the industry, including Valve, Bungie, Microsoft Games Studios, Sony, Disney, and Electronic Arts. I truly believe that the level of camaraderie in this discipline is the highest in the whole game industry. I think that a big component of that spirit is the strong academic background where sharing of knowledge is common practice. If you look at the profile from Microsoft Games Studios‘ people, they have MSc, MA, and PhD next to their names, or the like Mike Ambinder from Valve, or like yours truly at EA:)   This had been the 3rd GUR Annual Summit and the community keeps growing. I’ll write a post on this event.

GUR Summit 2012

From left to right, Bill Fulton (Ronin UX), Mike Ambinder (Valve), and John Hopson (Bungie)


Intrinsic and Extrinsic Player Motivation: Implications for Design and Player Retention by Scott Rigby (Immersyve)

  • Rigby pointed out that intrinsic motivation is a stronger predictor of sustained engagement.
  • Intrinsic motivation is autotelic, which is self-driven; whereas extrinsic motivation is instrumental, which serves to get something. However, a motivation model has more nuances than a being good or bad, more exactly the model is a continuum:

Continuum of Motivation

  • This internalization of motivation is what gives strength to engagement.
  • Needs: Three basic human needs have been identified across cultures, fulfilling these needs will tap into the deeper layers of motivation.
    • Competence relates to mastery, which is how effective you are on your performance. Competence is developed through grow, and this links to game achievements and character development. But bear in mind that this growth has to be meaningful.
    • Relatedness taps into our gregarious self. It’s about connecting with others. In games it can be to both other players and NPCs.
    • Autonomy is about empowerment through new opportunities that make player wonder what to do next. The choices have to be meaningful to allow satisfaction.
  • Satisfying these three basic needs enables the internalization process of motivation.
  • External rewards can undermine intrinsic value, unless they support people’s goals.

Attention, Not Immersion: Making Your Games Better with Psychology and Playtesting, the Uncharted way by Richard Lemarchand

  • To me, this was the best talk of GDC 2012
  • Lemarchand’s message was that immersion and engagement are concepts defined with difficulty, and therefore vague as a framework for discussing video game experience.
    • I agree that such concepts posses multiple definitions according to different authors, which stirs muddy waters. For instance, immersion has defined as a factor of presence, the ‘being there’ which is closer to how Lemarchand referred to it during the talk. But also immersion has been identified as Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, closer to an effortless interaction with reduced sense of time and concern for self.
  • Lemarchand proposed using the concept of attention instead of immersion. He argued that it is more concrete, it can be measured during playtesting sessions, and therefore more useful to game designers to action on.
  • In video games, the trick resides in getting attention first, and then holding attention.
    • Attention is also a game component, for instance micromanagement harassment in RTS games to make the opponent loose attention, or presenting information to the player in a way that it tracks attention.
  • Maintaining attention requires pacing. Periods of vigilance should be followed by a restoration period. Such restoration can be achieved, for instance, by looking at nature landscapes or switching to another activity.
  • Lemarchand pointed out to three aspects of games for grabbing and holding attention:
    • Beauty: which refers mostly to aesthetics from an art perspective, such as astonishing images, , but also layout, harmony, and composition.  Beauty is great for grabbing attention but weak at holding it.
    • Story: narratives have a social aspect that taps our attention. We are touched by recounting shared experiences or witnessing someone’s else fears, such us in games with rich characters. Story does a decent job at both getting and holding attention.
    • Gameplay: as through the lens of the MDA framework, which understands games having Mechanics (rules), dynamics (interactions), and aesthetics (emotional responses). In more general terms, what happens with the system during the act of playing. Gameplay falls short at getting attention, but does an outstanding job at holding attention.

Lemarchand’s game component for getting and holding attention

  • Lemarchand explained how at Naughty Dog they deal with attention. When playing Uncharted players tend to look mainly around the center of the screen, secondarily to the bottom, and lastly to the top of the screen. Their knowledge on players’ visual attention comes from observing participants, however Lemarchand would like to use eye tracking. During playtesting, their participants focus on playing, they don’t talk, telemetry data is recorded. At the end of the session, they fill out surveys or have an exit interview.

The 5 Domains of Play: Applying Psychology’s Big 5 Motivation Domains to Games by Jason VandenBerghe

This great talk covered a topic the same topic that my master thesis: personality traits according to the Big 5 theory and how it informs us about what gamers enjoy playing. My approach was more focused on game mechanics whereas Jason’s is more on ‘domains of play’.

The Big 5 is a widely known personality framework defined by the following 5 traits, each of them is treated as a continuum:

  1. Openness to new experiences: an imaginative person who embraces new ideas, as opposed to a more conventional person who prefers known situations.
  2. Consciousness: relates to self-control, ranging from being well-organized and strong will to difficulty achieving goals.
  3. Extraversion: social style, an extroverted  person enjoys large groups, being talkative. A more introverted person is not unfriendly but reserved and independent.
  4. Agreeableness: an altruist trail, ranging from empathy and being helpful to a more suspicious and competitive angle.
  5. Neuroticism: emotional stability, a person with higher neuroticism is prone to experience negative states, such as fear, stress, guilt, anger.

Now that you have a sense of them, check out the VandenBerghe’s slide which powerfully summaries each trait with a character (btw, I strongly believe this slide should be included in psychology books from now on):

Big 5 traits and representative characters

VandenBerghe elaborated 5 domains of play which mapped onto the personality traits:

  1. Novelty (related to Openness): such as Madden NFL on the one hand, and Minecraft on the other.
  2. Challenge (related to Consciousness): for instance, Lego Star Wars versus Splinter Cell.
  3. Stimulation (related to Extraversion): like Flower against Just Dance.
  4. Harmony (related to Agreeableness): from Street Fighter to Little Big Planet.
  5. Threat (related to Neuroticism): starting inPeggle and finishing on Call of Duty.

As you noticed, each game taps on particular personality traits. The lesson is that depending on who or how many people you want to satisfy with your game you will have to enable gameplay components that taps on those traits.

VandenBerghe and colleagues continue researching to better understand how personality profiles shape what games we prefer to play. They employ a qualitative approach by conducting interviews.

What You Don’t Know IS Hurting You: How Aggressive User-Research Improved Resistance 3 by Drew Murray

Murray did an awesome job presenting a case study on Resistance 3 which covers how Insomniac Games is dealing on the Games User Research field.

It started by identifying 4 key questions when you’re going to do GUR:

  1. Who are you testing? (differentiate between internal and external testing)
  2. What aspect of the experience are you measuring? (Affect, behavior, or cognition)
  3. What type of data are you dealing with? (quantitative or qualitative)
  4. How are you collecting the data? (observation, metrics, self-report)

Murray also made a distinction between usability and playtesting sessions. Where the former were done to collect behavioral and cognitive data, and the latter to collect behavioral and affective data.

One of the dev team’s goals during for usability sessions of Resistance 3 was improving the shooting controls. They collected quantitative data on impact location of the shooting target, then visualized it to steer adjustments.

Lot of data from playtesting sessions was analyzed as metrics. For example, to review how popular the different weapons were or how difficult the missions were. Comparing results of sessions through time also provided with great insight about how successful (or not) the fine-tuning efforts were coming.

Murray underlined the invaluable information coming from usability and playtesting sessions and therefore how GUR activities have been done more often at Insomniac. One of his pieces of advice was to automate as much as possible the collection and analysis of data, but without forgetting to double-check results manually.

Finally, I really enjoyed his visualization on the progression of GUR work at his studio:

Visualization of GUR activity at Insomniac Games


MIGS 2010

Posted in Conferences - Events on December 21st, 2010 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

In November 2010 it took place another edition of the Montreal International Game Summit, and it was a great event.

There was a good variation of talks covering different aspects of gaming:

  • The first keynote was Ed Fries who gave a very inspiring, motivating talk on the beauty achieved through constrains. He started with a metaphor between the evolution of ancient base crafting and the game industry, he pointed out how the limitations in the crafting were setting the foundation of styles in the production of such beautiful pieces. The key point is that for creating beauty it is necessary to understand the limitations of the medium. In order to exemplify how comprehending limitations are critical for producing games, he showed his own work “Halo 2600”(click on the link to play it). It’s a version of Halo that he wrote for running on an Atari 2600.
  • Greg Boyd is an attorney who specializes in the digital media field. He gave a presentation on intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights; neat content about how to protect your content, when to use and not to use others’ material. He even condensed the info into a chart, and he would smack anyone who would yawn during the lecture. Even after such announcement, someone yawn :-O
  • I’m an avid RTS player, and there is an upcoming game that promises to challenge how RTSs are played: Achron. The new aspect that this game brings is time travelling, yes, time travel in an RTS game. That’s twisted!  Chris Hazard gave a talk on mathematical aspects on balancing games while keeping in mind that the game still have to be fun.
  • Andrée-Anne Boisvert from Ubisoft Quebec on gave a talk on playtesting. She explained the importance of in-house playtesting, and quick turn-around to the development team. They employed the concept of persona to define a fictional end user, and rapid playtest with only 1 or 2 objectives; this approach helps to keep the focus on the most urgent matters, and refresh updates with the new data. Playtesting is done by the usability people themselves or others (developers, tester, end users), the number of ‘testers’ is kept low for fast data processing, and because for usability purposes 5 participants are enough  for identifying usability problems (see Nielsen). The problems identified are hypothesis that are confirmed or rejected.
  • With all the buzz around Kinect, Ryan Challinor from Harmonix presented the UI adventure they went through for the game “Dance Central”. It was really interesting to hear how UI designers working on Kinect products need to change the way they assumed people interact with devices. The gestural input changes a lot of the assumed rules. “Pushing air doesn’t feel good”. The UI work at Harmonix dealt with menu navigation, list of song, and selections. They also have the challenge of working with a new device that was still under development, thus glichty.  Ryan showed different prototypes of the UI, pointing out to strength and weaknesses of each iteration.

Ryan Challinor

  • Todd Northcutt from Gamespy talked about leaderboards and (pretty much) how you feel about you position on the leaderboards ;)  He covered how ‘high scores’ were actually a local competition, for instance at the arcades or your family early consoles. At home you would know and recognize whose those three letters were, and that was an incentive to beat your brother, your cousin or the neighbour. With the pass of time and the millions of gamers, some leaderboards became absurd: you’re # 3,526,489! :-/  So, the point is how leaderboards are changing to be meaningful again, which is going back to its origins. For instance, in StarCraft your rank is segmented into small clusters with people or similar skills, you can make your way through the ladder. Other strategies involve to track multiple aspect of the player, for instance areas explored, guns own, skills levels, pets collected, etc, the idea is that then you can have multiple leaderboards on multiple aspects, and users have more chances of being first at something. It sounds a little bit cruel but it’s the true. We want to be number one, at something, at anything! So, it’s a way of giving recognition to players on diverse aspects of the game.  Another leaderboard trend is to provide context, such as a leaderboard of only your friends, or of those in your same physical location (this is again going back to the origins), those who you know, which increases your interest on the leaderboard, and your desire to beat them! Lastly, Todd mentioned that leaderboards shouldn’t be kept forever, they need to be flushed out to keep the competition fresh.
  • I presented the work done at Electronic Arts on user experience using psychophysiological techniques. Using sensors that measure facial muscle activity and galvanic skin response, it is possible to translate the data into emotions. Plus, by employing eye tracking, you can see where players look at on the screen.

As you’ve read the summit had different interesting talks, there was also an expo floor.

MIGS 2010 Expo Floor

Montreal is an outstanding city. It’s amazing from multiple points of view: culturally alive, great public transport, friendly locals, excellent food, and a motivated game industry.  You can’t go wrong with Montreal!



Personality and Games

Posted in Research on August 14th, 2010 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

Can personality give information about the games you like?

Is your personality playing a role when it comes to choose what games you prefer?

Would people with different personalities prefer different games? If so, which games?

These are the questions that the work “Gamers’ Personality and Their Gaming Preferences” answers.

This work explores that people with certain personality traits would prefer certain video game genres. The motivation is to contribute to demographic game design by identifying gamers’ personality profiles in order to better satisfy their needs and enjoyment. A Gaming Preferences Questionnaire was developed and validated to identify gamers’ preferences. The NEO-FFI questionnaire based on the Five Factor model was selected for measuring gamers’ personality traits.

Data from 545 participants was analyzed by multiple linear regression. Eight game genre models were found statistically significant, and accounted for 2.6% to 7.5% of gamers’ preferences for game genres based on personality factors. The relevant personality traits of the models matched game elements of the genre. This work shows that a refined itemization helps to begin to understand the psychological human complexity that drives players’ preferences.

Keywords: personality; game elements; game preference; genre; demographic game design.

Download the file here


Pure Game

Posted in Game Session on October 17th, 2009 by Veronica Zammitto – 1 Comment

We tried Pure on the Xbox 360, produced by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney Interactive Studios. Pure is an off-road racing ATV video game where you do a lot of tricks.

The tutorial is pretty short and straight forward. You have to proof that you can do four things:

  • Complete a lap
  • Preload, prepare yourself to make a jump.
  • Trick
  • Boost, get speed for getting more room for longer tricks.

The voice-off tells you what to press, waits for you, and if you fail it’ll repeat the instructions again. If you suck, it’ll start annoying you by pausing the pausing the game. In fact this will happen a lot during the game as well, you know what you have to do, you’re working on that but that voice is going to drill your head.

A really nice detail is the aesthetic for depicting the controller when showing the buttons, it is covered with dirt, as if you’d been riding on it.

You can build your own ATV, selecting the parts that you want, getting one for speeding or other for tricks. The customization is pretty good. The in-game advertising is in full here, you have a lot of brands to choose from, for instance Elka, Fox, Ohlins, Maxxis, DG, ITP, just to name a few. You can put decals of them when stylising your vehicle. After all those decisions, the tougher one is to name your ATV.

Although you have a lot of choices for your ATV, it doesn’t happen the same when choosing your avatar. You can’t be you, you have to choose from a predefine selection that points to generic populations, a California boy and girl, a latino/a, UK, Japanese. I believe that the stronger connection that you can get is through the ATV rather than the avatar but, only Lord knows why, your avatar is quite intrusive will riding. S/he will turn back to yell something to you, I’ve found that pretty disruptive, breaking my immersion. I prefer when it just cheers or says something when facing forward, and ideally less often.

The sweet part of this game is doing tricks. That’s the game element that makes it different from just a racing game. You’re going fast on those versatile vehicles, you hit slopes to jump and while in the air you show up your awesome skills by doing trick, such as from stretching a leg to the side to a sequence of contortions in a dance with your ATV. This is the challenge. When you do tricks, you get “Thrill”, more thrill you get, cooler trick you can do. As you fill up the thrill bar, it enables from basic jumps (A button) to intermediate (B) and expert (Y). Expert tricks require more time hence your jump has to leave enough space for kicking around.

Time is another element that takes place, your ‘thrill bar’ will start going down if you don’t keep doing tricks. Another way of consuming ‘thrill’ is by boosting to get more speed and consequently higher jumps, so it makes a balance of boost-jumps.

Performing different tricks is better but is not clear which tricks you’ve done so far, the system could offer a way of remembering what’s been done or prompting for certain tricks to do. Since the tricks are related to the left stick position, I try to do the mental note of going clockwise.