The Game Engagement Landscape

February 1st, 2012 — 8:43pm

If you buy into my notion that engagement is primarily driven by two forces, content volume and personalization, then it’s worth taking a look at the game engagement landscape today:



I don’t want to quibble over the details of where each game really falls – there’s a lot of subjectivity built into this assessment, and it’s ultimately going to be different for each individual.  Here’s how I approached it:

  • Since content volume is mostly about the amount and variety of content one can consume (the possibility space), games like Heavy Rain and Half Life that appear to be content rich at first glance are actually very limited in the choices one can make.  On the other end of the spectrum, you can see how games with more distinct moving parts (including other people) absolutely explode the possibility space.
  • I took a fairly crude approach in assessing personalization.  I simply moved the games one third to the right for how strong they were in each of three domains:  persistence, playing with friends, and differentiation (such as how you can make a character match your own play preferences in an RPG).  I then knocked them back half that distance if it was necessary to spend a lot of time on mundane things in order to make any of these personalization attributes possible.  So products like Second Life and Little Big Planet, which are very strong in all three areas, have huge signal/noise problems that require the player to consume a lot of uninteresting content.

Whether or not each game is in the right spot, I do believe the overall pattern is correct.

There are three interesting holes in this chart:

  • The upper left corner is empty.  In theory it doesn’t have to be, but it’s hard to generate a lot of content without relying on user generated content or adding other players, both of which will push products more to the right.  One could speculate on a game that made heavy use of non-player emergent systems to generate a Second Life level of content variety, always played with/against anonymous opponents, and started fresh each play session.  There’s not much incentive to make such a game though, since it’s likely even more difficult to produce than the same product with more personalization.
  • Likewise, the lower right corner is empty.  A game here would have few choices but be hand authored for the individual player or group of players.  Perhaps a homemade version of a board game like Life, but never ending.  Or a perpetual slot machine that increased one of several progress bars based on the result.  The real problem with potential games here is that the unique content is exhausted so rapidly it’s not worth the time investment necessary to build them.
  • Lastly, while not a hole, things are certainly a bit sparse in the upper right, where content volume and personalization are at their peak.  The only game that really nails it is the well run paper RPG.  Electronic games have been trying to move in this direction for decades, but the technical hurdles are huge and we’re not even close to narrowing the gap.  I suspect true interactive storytelling lies in this direction as well.

Remember that this is just the engagement piece of creating value.  The popularity of some of these products is additionally dependent on their accessibility (e.g. Solitaire is highly accessible, whereas Second Life is not).  That’s not shown in this chart, although some of the factors that make games inaccessible pull them to the left.

That wraps up my series on value creation in games.  Here’s the entire list of posts on the subject:

Value Creation in Games

Engagement and Content Volume

Engagement and Personalization

The Game Engagement Landscape


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