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Research Design and Analysis

December 9, 2011

How has the recent growth in online social gaming affected the multiplayer gameplay experience for first person shooters?

 

In our attempt to answer this research question, we designed and conducted an observation, in which we had players participate in a large Halo 3 LAN party at my house last Saturday afternoon. We had the players play a series of different types of games to observe how various aspects of the gameplay is affected when people are playing in the same room as opposed to online. We initially chose Halo 3 because it is a widely popular game that all our participants were already very familiar with. We felt that this was important in maintaining the competitiveness aspect of our research since the various players’ skill levels were all relatively the same. In addition, Halo 3 also offers Multi-Team gameplay which helped in setting up different control factors in the experiment, and it also has an after game stats menu that goes into depth. Having access to different stats like how many times a player killed another player on there own or with help, gave us raw data in which we could get a better idea of how much cooperation was taking place.

In order to do this we got together 16 participants and split them in half. The first 8 participants were a sort of control group that served as a comparison for the online portion of gameplay that the second half of the group participated in. The participants played in a Multi-Team Capture the Flag game, but they all played the same game in the same room. We chose Capture the Flag because we felt out of all the game variants offered this one promotes teamwork the best. The game is designed so that there are 4 different teams with each team consisting of a pair of players. Now I know I have a big TV but 8 people cannot fit on it, so we set up two TV’s side-by-side, and system linked the two Xbox’s, as opposed to setting it up online in order to lower the chances of any lag so that this portion of the observation most resembles the normal multiplayer gameplay you would typically get at home not playing online. We deliberately designed our research to use player v. player play mode cause it increases the need for specific aspects of gameplay. “PvP creates competitive situations in which game goals include thwarting of other players’goals” (Myers 58). In other words, player v. player mode pits individuals or teams against each other, most resembling online play.

The first group played first team to capture the flag 5 times wins, (which was about 30 to 40 minutes of gameplay) while we observed, and then it was time for the second half of the group to play. For this portion of the observation we divided the four teams into 4 separate rooms, but with no team playing on the same TV. In addition, we divided headsets up so that there were two teams with headphones, but like with the players, there wasn’t ever two headsets in a given room. We felt like this best reflects how online multiplayer in Halo 3 works, since usually when you play online not everyone in the game is playing with a headset, yet there are still some who do. By splitting it up the way we did we were also able to make sure that there wasn’t any interference with teams listening in on plans of attack. It also helped to show us what kind of role communication plays in how teams cooperate. Like in the first game, the teams played on the same map and played the first team to capture the flag 5 times wins.

This research, while not 100% online, in the sense that not all 16 people are sitting at home with more than just walls between their teammate and other opponents, and an entire TV to their disposal, however it has been designed in a way so that it’s the closest possible thing to online play one can get with this amount of people. By making this as close as possible to the real deal, right down to the use of Xbox Live over system link for the second group, we were able to receive more accurate results, and observe the various factors that affected each type of gameplay, online and regular, and ultimately how they affect the player’s overall experience. The results that we gathered help to shed a good amount of light on the fact that while online multiplayer is designed to as accurately as possible create this simulation of playing a game with a lot of people, but when it comes down to it online gameplay is very different from actually physically playing a game with a lot of people.

One interesting thing that we observed was that in the closed off, system link game there was significantly more overall competitiveness when all the players were playing together in the same room. This finding could easily be the result of one-on-one contact with all the players within the group and the progression of teasing within the gameplay. As McGonigal states in his article Stronger Social Connectivity, “Teasing each other…is one of the fastest and most effective ways to intensify our positive feelings for each other” (McGonigal 85). We also found that the game itself actually took longer, although not by much. We concluded that since there’s this increased competitiveness the game remained close and therefore was stretched out longer. With this increase in competitiveness, we also observed that there were more kills in the first game than the second, which then in return caused another increase in competitiveness in the first game. It is Capture the Flag, so kills for the most part don’t really affect the player’s score. They do, however, keep people from getting to the flag and capturing it, thus lengthening the game. The increased amount of kills directly correlates with the level of competitiveness, or so we thought. About half-way through the first game, we also observed some cheating going on in the form of screen-looking. One of the players was sneaking up behind another to assassinate him with a pistol whip, when out of nowhere the other guy just turns around and starts spraying bullets. With the TV’s sitting right next to each other and all the participants playing in the same place, the participants were capable of seeing where each of the other players are quite easily, and upon bringing it up I was informed by a participant “that it was hard not to, and why not do it if everyone else has the capability of looking?” For these players, “cheating was an action of justification”, a justification of their own selfish need and desire to obtain maximal fiero (Consalvo 410). Its this overall gratification that the gamer is seeking and not the fairness or honesty exhibited by the rest of the players.

So cheating may or may not have been the reason for the larger number of kills in the first game, it may have contributed a lot or a little that’s hard to tell. However, its mere existence there is even more important, because in the second group we observed that there were very few, if any, instances of cheating or screen-looking. We concluded that this was due to the fact that there were only two people per screen and only one screen per room. So rather than looking at 6 other screens plus your own, players had to use their minds more as well as the cooperation of their teammate in order to get kills and advance in the game. However, in a more open online game, one could expect to encounter variations in cheating, opposed to screen-looking. Some of the most common forms of cheating that was not noticed in this study but are noticed through experience with gameplay would consist of: intentional lagging, use of glitches to obtain an advantage, and jumping off the map. Many find these acts as unfair gameplay, however others view it as a means to an end. Its this opposing viewpoint that leads researchers to refute the Magic Circle theory and establish one based on frames, where the individual is not fully engulfed by the simulation, but instead actively chooses to switch from a real world framework, to a rules based framework and so on (Consalvo 414). In other words, the immersion that the players underwent during gameplay was contained in a rules based framework where they were instruments of the game itself, however when cheating occurred, all regards for the rules were overturned, and a real world framework of self greed was established.

With regards to competition, we found that while there was still some level of competitiveness in the online game, however, there was a greater deal of individual competition, especially in the teams with no headset or ways of communicating. This sense of individual competitiveness arises because the player does not have the personable support that the players of group 1 encountered, instead they are relying on the positive feedback of statistical achievements and experience status quos to motivate their actions. This was another thing which we found intriguing. Although direct communication was not fully established within group 2, at first the teams without headsets didn’t really work together in their attempts to capture the flag. Then about ¾ of the way through the game, we began to hear yelling from across the house. It then became obvious that the players were doing all they possibly could do to communicate with each other in order to win the game. Even though these players had less physical contact with one another, than did group 1, they still managed to find ways around their restrictions and enjoyed the games. McGonigal states that the reason for this interactivity with strangers across barriers doesn’t stem from a social need to talk with people, but instead it’s a cooping mechanism we use to “combat our feelings of loneliness” (McGonigal 92). “Video games give you an opportunity to interact with other people, thus it is then clear how important communication is in order for most teams to cooperate and be successful, and we were able to see how cooperation and the ability and ease of communication can greatly affect the gameplay experience for the player (McGonigal 92). For example, we saw cooperation at its finest with everybody in the same room because it was easier for teammates to just look over at one another and communicate, whereas; verbal communication was weaker in the 2nd group. Additionally, with the use of communication, the gamers within group 1 effectively portrayed a sense of vicarious pride for themselves and their team by training their partner when experience was lacking, “enhancing group survival”(McGonigal 87). This aspect of gameplay may also be accountable for the increased cooperation and constant communication within the first group.

Through all this observation, one overarching theme continued to make its presence known. Encompassing all the aforementioned aspects of gameplay, flow (happiness) seems to be the underlying reason why people not only play games, but partake in the multifaceted design of digital media. Before video games, flow was considered a slow process in which the player or individual practiced for years in order to obtain fiero, however; since the advent of digital games, “immersion was almost instant, and flow was fast and virtually guaranteed” (McGonigal 45). McGonigal explains that people use games as an outreach from the doldrums of reality. “Games focus our energy, with relentless optimism, on something we’re good at an enjoy” (McGonigal 38.) Its this yearning for satisfaction that promotes competition, teasing, communication, and social play, just to say a few. Not enough flow in a game could lead to lack of interest in gameplay given that the gamer gets no true intrinsic reward for playing, conversely, if too much flow exists within gameplay, gamers’ regret emerges. Its this perfect balance, that game designers use today in order to not only grab the attention of gamers but create lifelong players.

From observing this sort of experiment, and reflecting over our results and observations we were able to find multiple answers to our proposed research question. We found that while the style of communication within the online realm is quite different from that of real life, the fact that communication is not only necessary, but key in order for the proper amount of cooperation necessary to be successful in a multiplayer first, person shooter like Halo 3. We also found that while people found means to communicate in order to build cooperation, competition isn’t as even across the boards. However, competitiveness is still a major factor in online games, it just takes a different form, a more individual kind of competitiveness. We observed how cheating redefines the theory of a Magic Circle, and how the culmination of these aspects are based around the individuals desire to receive intrinsic rewards in order to create flow. This research is important in that it will help others to further understand how cooperation, communication, and competitiveness each factor into the development of flow, which allows the gamer to immerge effortlessly into gameplay, while continuing to ratify the importance these aspects establish not only in the game play experience of social gaming, but more precisely in first person shooters.

 

 

 

References

Consalvo, Mia. “There Is No Magic Circle.” Games and Culture 4.4 (2009): 408-17. Print.

McGonigal, Jane. “Stronger Social Connectivity.” Reality Is Broken. 76-96. Print.

McGonigal, Jane. “The Rise of Happiness Engineers.” Reality Is Broken. 34-51. Print.

Myers, David. “The Video Game Aesthetic: Play as Form.” 44-63. Print.

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