A novel method for measuring players’ gameplay preferences

Understanding why people play games and participate in different kinds of gameful and playful activities has been a major vein of research in the overlap of game studies, media psychology, computer science and information systems science. While many models have been developed for measuring motivations to play, only a few studies have focused on understanding why players choose a particular game instead of the other options, and what kind of tools could be developed for investigating and predicting players’ game choice.

In this study, we validated Gameplay Activity Inventory (GAIN), a short and psychometrically sound instrument for measuring players’ gameplay preferences and modeling player profiles. In Study 1, participants in Finland (N=879) responded to a 52-item version of GAIN. An exploratory factor analysis was used to identify five latent factors of gameplay activity appreciation: AggressionManagementExplorationCoordination, and Caretaking. In Study 2, respondents in Canada (N=1322) and Japan (N=1178) responded to GAIN, and the factor structure of a 15-item version was examined using a Confirmatory Factor Analysis. The results showed that the short version of GAIN has good construct validity, convergent validity, and discriminant validity in Japan and in Canada.

We demonstrated the usefulness of GAIN by conducting a cluster analysis to identify player types that differ in both demographics and game choice. As a result, we argued that GAIN can be used in research as a tool for investigating player profiles worldwide. The GAIN approach can inform player-centric game development by providing actionable data on what kinds of gameplay activities different player clusters prefer and what they dislike.  The model can also be used in targeted marketing and in generating personalized game recommendations for target player clusters.

Since GAIN can be used as a method for analyzing player segments, the model can inform us how to make games more inclusive and attractive to new and versatile player-audiences. It is important to note that the model is not as general as motivations to play models: the factors in players’ gameplay appreciation will change as game development takes new directions – much in the same way as new game genres emerge in gaming communities and discourses.

Our work continues next with a study on players’ challenge type preferences. We aim to understand better how challenge type preferences and gameplay activity type preferences are related to each other, and what new we can learn about the gameplay experience by considering these two dimensions of gameplay together.

Want to read more? Go see: Vahlo, J., Smed, J. & Koponen, A. User Model User-Adap Inter (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11257-018-9212-y

Bang! Evolving Cultures of Gaming in Korea

Veli-Matti Karhulahti has been doing fieldwork in Korea since September. He is a visiting researcher at Yonsei University.

Most of those who are interested in esports, global gaming, or just modern Asian culture in general are likely familiar with the PC bang that has been fundamental for the development of Korean ludic identity in particular. Roughly speaking, PC bangs remind one of internet cafés where customers (instead of buying coffee) rent a computer spot, typically for the purpose of playing online videogames. While the visit to a PC bang is usually measured by hours, the spaces tend to be open around the clock and overnight gaming marathons are not uncommon either.

By today, the PC bang is a relatively aged topic of study. Already over 15 years ago Kym Stewart and Hyewon Park Choi (2003) observed the emerging popularity of the phenomenon and speculated whether possible future trends such as increased home computer use would soon displace the PC bang. Now, a decade and a half later, it is easy to say that the PC bang is still alive and thriving. Nevertheless, the recent changes in the transnational gaming industries have had an effect on the PC bang culture too – perhaps reflecting not only the evolution of Korean gaming habits but also the emergence of more general ludic developments.

A PC Bang in Korea.Whereas the PC bang concept is somewhat well-known also outside Korea, few are aware of its lineages deriving from other commercial bangs (“rooms”, 방) that have provided Koreans with diverse non-computerized services for a long while. For example, since the beginning of the 1990s, jjimjilbangs (찜질방) have functioned as rentable spaces with modern spa features, whereas manhwabangs (만화방) have offered local comics (graphic novel) readers major book collections with private reading rooms for their consumption.Manhwabang (a place to read books/manga) in Korea.As jjimjilbangs, manhwabangs, and many of their adaptations (café bangs, multibangs, etc.) still maintain their respective identities, the effects of ludic mobile cultures are strongly visible in their use. While jjimjilbang visitors surely enter the rooms primarily for their unique services, the coziness of the public-private space design combined with stable Wi-Fi connections also invites individuals to add mobile gaming sessions to their “bang cocktails” (often enhanced with drinks, foods, and other hedonistic stimuli). Likewise, where the manhwabang remains first and foremost as a space for consuming physical (printed) literature, the most popular current titles are adaptations or derivatives of readable/playable webtoons that the individuals access also via their smartphones.

The hype (and slow progress) of the latest generation virtual reality technology is real, and the Korean bang culture makes a fine mirror of that: next to PC bangs, the local streets are nowadays enriched also by VR bangs. As the high requirements of apparatus investment, computing power, and physical space keep home VR play as a luxury activity for the few, this also makes it a perfect bang machine even to a degree that many Western cities (that never had prominent internet cafés similar to Korea) are nowadays enriched by such enterprises.VR Bang in Korea

It is too early to make fruitful generalizations about the idiosyncratic development of the VR bang in Korea (contra other regional sectors), yet a couple of pointers hint at some future directions. Firstly, the Korean VR bang tends to be designed not only to give a test ride of what some already have at home, but goes beyond that by using enhanced technology. Full-body capsules, shooting rooms, and alike instances that demand (even) higher financial and spatial requirements provide visitors experiences that are hard to access elsewhere. Secondly, the Korean VR bang is often designed with various social elements in mind and many of the provided experiences are based on simultaneous multiplayer features. It is not uncommon for the bang staff to join the activity too – which further enhances the feeling of mutual presence and may also add to the sociality of the activity.

One of the ongoing trends in the gaming industry is the reinvention (and modification) of analog play. This can be seen in the substantial blooming of board/card games, role-playing, and toys, all of which are currently experimenting with analog-digital hybridization. Evidently, the bang space provides a natural environment for such ludic (re)developments as well.

In the aforementioned study by Steward and Choi (2003), the two argue that PC bangs came to replace analog play spaces like billiard rooms in the late 1990s. While billiard rooms still exist, new types of analog bangs have appeared over the years; a present popular example being the strike bang, which comes close to the classic arcade with the caveat that digital gaming machines have been replaced by various mechanical playthings and especially “claw cranes.” Here the claw crane has a special role as an interaction medium for couples: inviting players of all genders to enter bang spaces with winnable plush toys as advertisement both inside and outside the machine. The naivety, nostalgia, and the traditional aesthetic of this machine-toy coheres well with the soft representations of the Korean Wave – the growing international popularity of Korean TV dramas and music – that is yet to break through within mainstream gaming cultures, hence possibly foreseeing one future in the erratically shifting worldwide ludic trends.A strike bang in Korea.

Visiting lecture: Jaroslav Švelch

Jaroslav Švelch (picture)

Jaroslav Švelch, pictured in OASIS

A visiting CoE-GameCult scholar lecture took place in 14th November in OASIS at the University of Tampere. The talk was by Jaroslav Švelch, titled “Amateur adaptations of ‘professional’ games: Manic Miner and Flappy in 1980s Czechoslovakia”. Dr Švelch currently works in the University of Bergen, and he has a book coming our in The MIT Press: Gaming the Iron Curtain (see more here: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/gaming-iron-curtain).

Spending Money on Free Games

While being extremely successful, free-to-play games have received critique on being exploitative, unethical or simply poor game experiences. One of the key concerns has been how a small minority of high-spenders pay for majority of the game’s income. Still, not a lot of research has targeted these players. We considered this shortcoming when interviewing paying free-to-play game players, focusing on high-spenders.

For our interviewees, paying in F2P games had become a normal activity. Even larger sums were seen as reasonable when comparing how much the game offered in return for the money. Paying in free-to-play games was more spontaneous than purchasing other games, partly because of the easy purchase processes. In many occasions, the value of money was still evaluated beforehand. In this light, most high-spenders saw themselves as sensible consumers, while some mentioned being addicted to purchases, seeing them as an exciting vice.

In general, our interviewees saw the free-to-play model as positive and ethical, although the games inside the model often included characteristic problems: paywalls, pay-to-win mechanics, content gained only through paying, aggressive monetization, and the model generally making exploitation easier. Single games had a great impact in the attitudes of the interviewees, be it positive or negative. Even paying players considered being able to enjoy a game without money as a crucial feature for a good free-to-play game. When paying players feel they are getting their money’s worth and are not feeling forced to pay, paying becomes more of a positive activity.

Want to read more? Go see:

Alha, K., Kinnunen, J., Koskinen, E., & Paavilainen, J. (2018). Free-to-Play Games: Paying Players’ Perspective. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Academic Mindtrek Conference (Mindtrek ’18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 49-58. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3275116.3275133

Call for Papers: Urban Play

The 15th annual University of Tampere Game Research Lab Spring Seminar focuses on Urban Play.

Urban spaces offer a rich environment for a diversity of play practices, from location-based games to parkour and from hopscotch to chess in parks. Historically, cities have offered rich affordances for games and play, but in recent years the spread of ubiquitous and pervasive technology has transformed and diversified public play. The extension of ‘smart’ devices and technologies into the urban environment – smartphones, sensors, and automated systems – open up new possibilities for networked play. At the same time, these platforms also control and constrain human movement and behaviour, sometimes unconsciously through opaque algorithms imposed by city authorities or technology vendors.

Play in public spaces became especially visible after Pokémon Go was launched, after which location-based games arose from margin to mainstream. Public play has also become something municipalities encourage, through games festivals and city-funded game projects. But there are also less visible, secret and norm-defying, forms of play constantly taking place. Spontaneous street activities, urban sports, and small-scale games produce micro-level but nonetheless important impacts on the everyday urban environment.

We are seeking submissions from scholars studying different aspects of urban play. In addition to game studies-oriented research, we particularly invite papers that focus on less visible groups and activities which challenge the way we think about public/urban play and which are not necessarily game-related. Prominent work is done in many fields ranging from player studies to design research and from digital humanities to architecture, urbanism, social sciences and beyond. The seminar encourages contributions relating to all types of urban games and play, be they digital, non-digital, or hybrid.

The possible list of topics includes but is not limited to:

  • Playful architecture and urban design
  • Smart city, ludic city
  • Location-based and augmented reality games
  • Histories of play in cities
  • Street sports
  • Playgrounds, amusement parks, stadiums, and other playful spaces
  • Locative educational, tourism, and heritage applications
  • Pervasive larp
  • Representation and discourses around urban play
  • Norm-defying urban play
  • Peri-urban and rural play
  • Representations of the urban in games
  • Playful algorithms of power in cities
  • Digital, hybrid, and non-digital urban games

Urban Play is the 15th annual spring seminar organized by Tampere University Game Research Lab. The seminar emphasises work-in-progress submissions, and we strongly encourage submitting late breaking results, working papers, as well as submissions from graduate and PhD students. The purpose of the seminar is to have peer-to-peer discussions and thereby provide support in refining and improving research work in this area. The seminar is organized in collaboration with the Center of Excellence in Game Culture Studies.

The papers to be presented will be chosen based on extended abstract review. Full papers are distributed prior the event to all participants, in order to facilitate discussion. The seminar will be chaired by Professor Frans Mäyrä, and there will be two invited expert commentators, Dr Dale Leorke (University of Tampere) and another commentator to be announced later. The seminar will be held in Vapriikki, the museum center that hosts The Finnish Museum of Games.

The seminar is looking into partnering with a journal so that the best papers would be invited to be further developed for publication in a special journal issue. In the past we have collaborated with Games and CultureSimulation & GamingInternational Journal of Role-Playing and ToDiGRA journals.

Submission guidelines

The papers will be selected for presentation based on extended abstracts of 500-1000 words (plus references). Abstracts should be delivered in PDF format. Please use 12 pt Times New Roman, double-spaced, for your text. Full paper guidelines will be provided with the notification of acceptance.

Our aim is that all participants can familiarise themselves with the papers in advance. Therefore, the maximum length for a full paper is 5000 words (plus references). The seminar presentations should encourage discussion, instead of repeating the information presented in the papers. Every paper will be presented for 10 minutes and discussed for 20 minutes.

Submissions should be sent to: gamestudiesseminar@gmail.com.

Important dates:

  • Abstract deadline: January 18, 2019
  • Notification of acceptance: February 4, 2019
  • Full Paper deadline: March 25, 2019
  • Seminar dates: April 15-16, 2019

See more on https://urbanplayseminar.wordpress.com/.

Misusing Emotes

What do players do when they can’t talk to each other directly? Argue on the forums, it seems to be. We studied the forum users of the popular card game Hearthstone, looking at how they negotiated the use of emotes.

Players argued, negotiated, ranted and preached about the proper use of the emotes, frequently disagreeing on what they actually meant in different contexts. Some players seemed to long for a set meaning for the different emotes, but there didn’t seem to be any way to reach a consensus on what that meaning would be, since different people used them differently.

Our research focused on BM or Bad Manners, which is a word used to mean anything the players find offensive in the game. The developers of Hearthstone try to remove offensive and negative behaviour from the game by limiting how players can interact with each other. It only seems to work partially: players use the few means possible to creatively be offensive to each other. The right emote just at the right time can be as annoying as anything you could write in a chat.

Some players had the opposite problem: because there is no way to make sure whether the intention behind an emote is polite or not, they interpret all emotes in the most negative way possible, seeing everything in the game as trolling. It seems that anything can BM if you have the worst expectations.

Want to read more? Go see:

Arjoranta, J., & Siitonen, M. (2018). Why Do Players Misuse Emotes in Hearthstone? Negotiating the Use of Communicative Affordances in an Online Multiplayer Game. Game Studies, 18(2). Retrieved from http://gamestudies.org/1802/articles/arjoranta_siitonen

Pelaajabarometri 2018

Pelaajabarometri 2018: Monimuotoistuva mobiilipelaaminen

– Uutta tietoa pelaamisesta, eSports-harrastuksesta ja suomalaisten asenteista pelaamista kohtaan.
– [In Finnish: the Finnish Player Barometer 2018 has been published, and is available from the link below; the report is in Finnish language, but includes an extended abstract in English.]

Pelaajabarometrin tutkimusraportti on kokonaisuudessaan ladattavissa verkosta: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-0870-4

Syyskuussa 2018 valmistunut uusi Pelaajabarometri-tutkimus vahvistaa kuvaa Suomesta aktiivisten pelaajien maana. Samalla uudessa tutkimuksessa nousee esiin pelaamisen sisältöjen ja muotojen monipuolisuus sekä pelikulttuurin jatkuva muutos.

Uuden tutkimuksen mukaan 97,8 % suomalaisista pelaa ainakin jotakin, kun niin digitaaliset kuin perinteiset, ei-digitaaliset pelimuodot ja kaikkein satunnaisinkin pelaaminen otetaan huomioon. Aktiivisia, eli vähintään kerran kuukaudessa pelaavia on kaikki, myös ei-digitaalinen pelaaminen huomioiden noin 88 % suomalaisista. Aktiivisia digitaalisia pelejä pelaavia on suomalaisista 60,5 %. Nämä määrät ovat pysyneet käytännössä samana kuin edellisenä tutkimusvuonna 2015. Digitaalisten pelien pelaajien keski-ikä on nyt noin 38 vuotta ja niiden, jotka eivät pelaa lainkaan digipelejä, noin 58 vuotta. Pelaaminen tapahtuu yhä useammin mobiililaitteilla, ja tietokonepelaamisen ja konsolivideopelaamisen suosio on jäämässä nopeasti kehittyneiden ja yleistyneiden mobiilipelien jalkoihin. Suomalaisista jo 56,6 % pelaa pelejä mobiililaitteilla ainakin joskus.

Pitkään Suomen suosituimpana digipelinä Pelaajabarometreissa esiintyneen tietokonepasianssin on nyt ensimmäistä kertaa suosituimpien digitaalisen pelien kärkipaikalta syrjäyttäneet Veikkauksen pelit. Rahapelaamisen laajeneminen monimuotoiseksi digipelaamiseksi on tutkimussarjan valossa selvästi näkyvissä. Vastaajista noin 20 % oli aktiivisia verkkorahapelaajia. Ainakin joskus suomalaisella tai ulkomaisilla rahapelisivustoilla on pelannut 31 % suomalaisista. Ensimmäisessä Pelaajabarometrissa vuonna 2009 aktiivisten verkkoraha¬pelaajien osuus oli vain 12,8 %.

Edellisessä tutkimuksessa pulmapelit oli suosituin pelilajityyppi kaikissa tutkituissa ikäryhmissä. Tämän tutkimuksen mukaan pulmapelit ovat säilyttäneet väestötasolla johtoasemansa, mutta niiden ohi ovat niin lasten ja nuorten kuin parikymppisten nuorten aikuisten ryhmässä nousseet erilaiset ammuskelupelit ja seikkailupelit. Uusia, seikkailua, rakentelua ja monen pelaajan selviytymiskamppailua yhdisteleviä ”Battle Royale”-pelejä on noussut myös suomalaisten suosituimpien digitaalisten pelien listalle. Selviytymispeli Fortnite onkin suosikkipelien listalla kolmannella jaetulla sijalla Candy Crush -pulmapelin kanssa.

eSports-kilpapelaamisen harrastusta selvitettiin nyt ensimmäistä kertaa Pelaajabarometrissa. eSports-pelien seuraaminen on vahvasti painottunut nuorten miesten ja poikien harrastukseksi. Pelaamiseen liittyviä verkkolähetyksiä tai -tallenteita seuraa miehistä ainakin joskus 30,8 %. Koko väestön tasolla kilpapelaamista koskevia stream-lähetyksiä seuraa aktiivisesti 8,5 % suuruinen osuus suomalaisista. Aktiivisia kilpapelaajia on noin 1,8 % suomalaisista.

Pelaamiseen kohdistuvat asenteet Suomessa ovat nykyään voittopuoleisesti myönteisiä. 50,5 % eli lievä enemmistö suomalaisista on sitä mieltä, että pelaaminen on hyödyllistä. Pelaamisen haitallisuutta koskevan väitteen kanssa tutkimuksessa oli samaa mieltä 40,8 % vastaajista. Osa (17,5 %) vastaajista katsoi pelien pelaamisen olevan yhtä aikaa sekä hyödyllistä että haitallista.

Peliongelmien määrä on tutkimuksen mukaan pysynyt aiemmassa tutkimuksessa havaitulla tasolla. Toistuvia pelaamisen ajankäyttöongelmia kertoi kokeneensa 1,2 % vastaajista, ja peleihin liittyviä rahankäyttöongelmia 0,3 % vastaajista.

Nyt tutkimukseen saatu 946 vastaajan aineisto perustuu Väestörekisterikeskuksen toteuttamaan satunnaisotannastaan 10–75–vuotiaista Manner-Suomen asukkaista. Tutkimuksen virhemarginaali eli luottamusväli on koko väestöä koskevien prosenttiosuuksien osalta 95 % todennäköisyydelle laskettuna noin ±3 %.

Pelaajabarometritutkimus on osa Suomen Akatemian rahoittamaa, Tampereen, Jyväskylän ja Turun yliopistojen yhdessä toteuttamaa Leikillistyminen ja pelillisen kulttuurin synty -tutkimushanketta (LUDIC) ja Pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen huippuyksikön (CoE-GameCult) toimintaa.

Lisätietoja:
Tutkija Jani Kinnunen, jani.kinnunen@uta.fi, 050 428 0895
Professori Frans Mäyrä, frans.mayra@uta.fi, 050 336 7650
Osoite: Viestintätieteiden tiedekunta (COMS), Game Research Lab, 33014 Tampereen yliopisto

Group photo from the get-together 20.8.2018

Centre of Excellence starts the fall with a get-together in Tampere

The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies has started its operation in the beginning of the year, and after hiring several new researchers, the big consortium is now up to full speed.

In 20th August an important event took place, when almost 40 games researchers gathered at Tampere to discuss the goals of the Centre of Excellence and the plans for reaching those goals.

A few more researchers will still join us during the coming months, but its not a common sight to see tens of games researchers, all either employed or affiliated with one research initiative. International reinforcements have been hired to Jyväskylä, Tampere and Turku to strengthen their already strong focus on games research.

There are already plans going ahead, focusing on several specific topics within the CoE GameCult research temes, like studying Overwatch, eSports, live-action role-playing games, and fandoms around games, to name just a few examples of the research underway in the Centre of Excellence.

If you’re interested in what the Centre of Excellence is up to, you can follow us on Twitter, subscribe to this blog’s feed or come see us e.g. in Jyväskylä, in the Seminar on eSports, Exergaming, and Fantasy Leagues (in November 22nd–23rd, 2018).

DiGRA 2018

photo of DiGRA 2018 venue: Campus Luigi Einaudi – CLE; Università di Torino, Turin, Italy

DiGRA 2018 venue: Campus Luigi Einaudi – CLE; Università di Torino, Turin, Italy

The CoE-GameCult was strongly present in the Digital Games Research Association’s (DiGRA) 2018 conference, which took place in Turin, Italy, in 25-28 August, 2018.

There were over ten CoE-GameCult researchers talking and presenting their work in the conference, including Frans Mäyrä, Olli Sotamaa, Jaakko Suominen, Aleena Chia, Jan Svelch, Katriina Heljakka, Heikki Tyni, Niklas Nylund, Maria Ruotsalainen, Maria B. Garda, Jonne Arjoranta, and Jaakko Stenros.

Here is link to the conference program: https://easychair.org/smart-program/DIGRA2018/.