Measurement Techniques and Game Design

A great article on Gamasutra: Measurement Techniques for Game Designers by Ben Cousins.It deals with the topic of measures (e.g. time, distance, density of game events) and agreed systems of units. He connects this with the notion of balance.

It’s amazing given the importance of measurement in so many trades and other aspects of our life that game design is in such a prehistoric, pre-measurement state. For whatever reason, game designers - working in a technological and logical field, hardly ever use measurement in their work

Of course, I particularly appreciate the conclusion:

In an ideal future, measurement and analytical data-gathering techniques will give us a proper academic foundation (a formal, data-driven academia, not the horrible cultural-studies influenced rubbish currently pervading videogame studies). Designers will be able share data in repositories that are accessible to all, just like any other logical and analytical field. Field manuals, dictionaries, encyclopaedias and papers will be published on the subject. People will be employed full-time as academic game analysts and surveyors. Our craft and trade will move from a prehistoric, "feel" focused method, governed by the gut-feelings of disagreeing experts to a mature, modern state, where opinion and expertise are supported or disproved by something close to absolute truth.

The author seems to dislike video game studies influence by the cultural-studies theory. Maybe, as a game designer he finds them pointless. It's not my point here. I can echo the authors' felling about the facts he describes concerning measurement. Since I run experiments (quasi experiments since we do not control the maximum amount of factors) and ethnographic studies of video game players, I have to deal with those issues:

  • finding relevant indexes that describes players' behavior with regard to different dimensions: time, distance, division of labor among collaborative groups, spatial exploration/dispersion... This necessitates the definition of a proper metrics.
  • using those indexes to analyze what happened during the game. Relying on such measures allows to compute statistics about players' behavior towards the game.

It's a promising field and I am happy to see that more and more game developers I meet or read want to take this topic into account.