User-Centered Needs in Pervasive Gaming

Player-Centred Game Design: Experiences in Using Scenario Study to Inform Mobile Game Designby Laura Ermi and Frans Mäyrä is an interesting paper I found in the Game Studies the (I would say 'an') international journal of computer game research, volume 5, issue 1, october 2005. The paper acknowledges the "need for systematic, research-based and tested game design methodologies that take the needs and preferences of different players into better consideration than the current industry practices"; It also take this approach in the context of pervasive game playing on mobile devices, which is actually our field of research. This is part of a research project called Wireless Gaming Solutions for the Future (MOGAME) carried out by the University of Tampere Hypermedia Laboratory’s (see also the iPerg project, the European Union project connected to it).

The paper is fully of relevant ideas. I like the following statement because it goes beyond the simple mobile gaming approach (i.e. developing old games for new phones, even though some are interesting):

we focused on developing mobile game concepts that are most suitable for contemporary kinds of wireless and mobile terminals. This involves taking advantage of these devices’ unique characteristics such as communication possibilities, mobility and positioning. n a previous research project on interactive television we have observed that communication with other players, especially those unfamiliar to each other in real life, may help in making the play experience feel more adventurous and interesting. Persistent communicative contacts are also important when developing persistent social networks, i.e. communities. Communication is thus an important component of social playability. Using a mobile phone as a communication device in the game also offers possibilities for telecom operators to take advantage of other sources of revenue than just the download price of the game.

The last part is very clever and close to what I've read (and blogged) last week in the IBM podcast about how the mobile devices complement online playing.

The article also presents 2 types of research: basic research on games, players and playability and applied research on the design of location-sensitive services and applications (basically a game called The Songs of North). Their aim was to evaluate the experiences gathered while using a scenario-based player study to inform pervasive mobile game design. The approach appeared to be good and the article described some flaws. Actually, since our research is less oriented towards designing games than studying how people use them, I was more interested by all the remarks about how the application/device impacted the study. for instance:

using player movement as a central game element may easily become too much of a burden for the players. Especially in a persistent game, designers have to take the daily lives of their players into consideration and try to intertwine the game movement to the daily routines or routes of the players to a certain degree. Otherwise the players will probably not have enough energy to keep on playing, possibly for several months in the persistent, mixed reality game world. One solution we came up with, besides taking advantage of the naturally occurring movement of the players, was providing support for team play. When playing in teams, players can easily reduce the amount of their movement if they jointly communicate and coordinate their gameplay. This was also in harmony with the aim of enticing players to communicate with each other – and informants’ wish to be able to form teams in games. (...) Contemporary mobile devices did not appear as very promising gameplay devices from the point of view of the player study informants. They felt mobile games often required too much concentration on the small device when trying to control the game using cramped buttons, and thus might take the attention away from the actual playing. Therefore we are emphasising the role of the auditory world of the game. (...) We are also aiming towards seamless integration of all of the game elements, including the mobile device and the real-world environment, so that the mobile device, for example, would not feel separate from the game

Why do I blog this? Judging from those results, I'd love to know more about it (user experience research methods + results), especially with regards to players' collective behavior and their movements in space!