Tag: content volume

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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Engagement and Personalization

January 24th, 2012 — 8:49pm

This is part three of the four part series on value creation in games. Part 1: Value Creation in Games; Part 2:Engagement and Content Volume; Part 3:Engagement and Personalization; Part 4: The Game Engagement Landscape.


So increasing the amount of content we can consume increases the possibility some of that content will be interesting to the player.  But that’s not much good if we can’t sort out the meaningful bits (in the Hitchcock sense), or make a higher portion of the content more interesting.

How do we do that?  Once again, three possible ways:

  • Tailor the content to individual interests
  • Share the experience with friends
  • Increase personal investment

At its extreme, hand-tailoring content to each individual would be far too expensive to be practical.  Some games do get close, like extremely well run pen-and-paper RPGs (i.e. where the GM is able to adapt the game on the fly to the group’s interest).  But even little things can bring a game closer to an individual’s personal interests:  specific themes (e.g. sci fi, fantasy, western) mechanics (e.g. strategy, action, puzzle), play style (e.g. exploration, competition, achievement), audiovisual style, and so forth.

You lose audience the deeper you go down this path since you’re adding something that will have no interest to (or possibly a negative impact on) a portion of your potential players, but you’ll likely increase the length of play from those you do capture.

Some games have attempted to introduce more asymmetric play to capture a broader range of interests, where the same game is being played differently by different players.  The best successful example of this lies with MMOs, where one can focus more on, say, exploration, or combat, or crafting, or trading.

Speaking of MMOs, simply sharing the experience with friends is another way to make it more personally meaningful.  Note that I’m not talking about telling others what you’re doing (in the Facebook viral sense), but sharing the play experience itself with others who are also playing.  Friends might be those you knew before you started playing or those you met through the course of play;  the important part is that they appreciate and validate your experience.

Lastly, increasing a user’s personal investment goes a long way toward making it more important to them.  Yes, that sounds a bit circular, but it’s more of a positive feedback loop:  the more I invest, the more meaning it has;  the more meaning it has, the more I’ll invest.

Persistence is the easiest form of this.  It captures the unique changes and additions the player has made, and reflects the unique history – the story – of the player’s personal involvement in the game so far.  That includes player relationships, assuming the game is structured to remember them over time.

Anything the player authors falls under the personal investment heading too:  I made it, so it has value to me (indeed, it likely has far more value to me than anyone else).  Not everyone wants to create, however, and the act of creation itself has numerous friction barriers to overcome.

It’s worth noting that what’s personally interesting to a player one day may not be what’s interesting the next.  Part of that’s the pattern matching problem, but it’s also a function of many external forces outside our control:  how distracted are they, how much time do they have today, are they in a good mood or bad mood, and so on.  Having the flexibility to adapt to a player’s personal situation over time would go a long way toward increasing their engagement.

Next time, a quick conclusion to this series.

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