By Daniel Kaimann, Nadja Stroh-Maraun and Joe Cox

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Consumers value variety, also in videogames. We find greater video game engagement when both skills and variety preference are considered to match gamers in teams. We also find that too much variety can lead to disengagement.  

Towards the end of 2017, the research group NewZoo estimated that the global video game market was worth around $116bn annually, having experienced a growth rate of more than 10% compared with the previous year. Further, Guinness World Records holds the 2013 video game ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ as achieving the highest revenue of any entertainment product generated within the first 24 hours of release. However, despite these huge commercial successes, relatively little academic research has been undertaken on the market for video games. To contribute towards addressing this deficiency, our team of researchers has recently undertaken a number of studies looking at the behaviour of video game consumers, with a particular focus on the variety of experience and its effect upon player retention.

It is generally accepted that consumers prefer variety and consumers of video games are likely to be no different in this respect. Previous studies have shown that the most successful video game hardware platforms are those that offer a wider variety of software titles. Along the same lines, we believe it is reasonable to suggest that gamers would prefer software titles that offer a wider variety of experience, which should therefore in turn motivate gamers to play for longer periods.

Our research used a very large dataset of approximately 860,000 observations on player behavior in a popular first-person shooter style game available on the PS3, XBox 360 and PC platforms. The game is set in a war zone in which players are matched into teams and engage in combat with other players while also seeking to achieve certain team-based objectives. Within the game, players can adopt a number of roles or character classes that each offer specialised range of weapons and skills. It is also possible for players to make use of different land, air and sea vehicles, further adding to the variety of experience offered in each game round. We indeed find evidence that players generally engage with the game for longer when they experience greater variety in these factors within a given round of gameplay.

However, while variety is generally valued as part of the game play experience, we considered that it might be possible for there to be an optimal level of variety. This expectation is consistent with a theory known as the Wundt curve, named after psychologist Wilhelm Wundt. The theory suggests that variety of experience should increase satisfaction up to a point, after which any further increase in variety serves to diminish the experience. We find evidence to support this theory in the context of our first-person shooter video game, whereby very high levels of variety actually decrease the amount of time players spend participating in game rounds. Our findings suggest that there can be too much of a good thing and that video game developers can potentially reach an ‘optimal’ level of variety within their gameplay experience. Wundt curves shown in Figure 1 reveal that the fit between theoretical and predicted Wundt curve is nearly perfect.

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Figure 1: The Wundt curve represents the relation between variety and utility

 

In addition to the findings on variety, our research finds strong evidence that a consumer’s skill level, measured in terms of the difference between deaths and kills averaged over the duration of play, is associated positively with the length of time that they spend playing in a given round. Predictably, gamers are more likely to continue playing in game rounds when they kill others with greater frequency than they are killed themselves. Conversely, players who are killed with higher frequency tend to drop out of rounds after shorter periods, presumably because they are discouraged by losing.

Our analysis of variety shows that both skills and attributes are important determinants of engagement and might therefore represent important considerations when matching players into teams. Until now, most game designers use algorithms that heavily rely on the player’s skill and neglect preferences based on the variety offered in the game. Given our findings, we argue that instead of developing more and more complex skill-based ratings, it might be advisable for game designers to investigate a wider range of factors. In our work, we propose a new matching technique that incorporates skill-based and preference-based objectives to improve the formation of teams. We call this procedure nested matching, which involves a three-step approach to match players into teams. More precisely, nested matching assigns players to teams with an optimal mixture of skills and preferences (inherent and complementary), or attributes.

Figure 2 illustrates the nested matching procedure and outlines the three matching steps, namely round-characteristic matching; skill matching; and attribute matching. The round-characteristic matching step reduces the number of potential teams by identifying those with spare capacity and grouping by gaming hardware platforms. The second step of skill matching identifies a further reduced subset of teams to which the new incoming player could be efficiently matched. In the final step of attribute matching, the incoming player is matched to a team within the group that maximizes the ‘fitting quality’, making sure that the chosen team meets the player’s abilities and preferences.

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Figure 2: The nested matching procedure

 

Overall, our research provides valuable insights into consumer preferences and behaviours in the context of video gaming, offering new and more effective methods by which to match players to form teams. Our results also have implications for the design of video games. For example, publishers are increasingly adopting new approaches to generating profits specifically through the introduction of ‘in-app’ purchases and the offering of additional content and expansion packs. All of these innovations are designed to increase the variety of the gameplay experience offered to players. While these measures might enhance the consumer experience up to a point, developers need to be mindful of the ‘tipping point’ at which additional variety diminishes enjoyment.

This article is based on:

Kaimann, Daniel; Stroh-Maraun, Nadja and Cox, Joe 2018: Variety in the video game industry: An empirical study of the Wundt curve. Managerial and Decision Economics, 39(3):354-362.

Stroh-Maraun, Nadja; Kaimann, Daniel and Cox, Joe 2018: More than skills: A novel matching proposal for multiplayer video games. Entertainment Computing, 25:26-36.

Kaimann, Daniel; Stroh-Maraun, Nadja and Cox, Joe 2018: A duration model analysis of consumer preferences and determinants of video game consumption. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, forthcoming.

About the authors:

Daniel Kaimann, Paderborn University, Department of Management.

Nadja Stroh-Maraun, Paderborn University, Department of Economics.

Joe Cox, University of Portsmouth, Faculty of Business and Law.

About the image:

Consoles Computer game museum, by Hanno Böck (cropped). CC0 1.0.

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