1. Videogame study suggests link between intelligence and skill at game

    November 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of York press release:

    Researchers at the University of York have discovered a link between young people’s ability to perform well at two popular video games and high levels of intelligence.

    Studies carried out at the Digital Creativity Labs (DC Labs) at York found that some action strategy video games can act like IQ tests. The researchers’ findings are published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

    The York researchers stress the studies have no bearing on questions such as whether playing computer games makes young people smarter or otherwise. They simply establish a correlation between skill at certain online games of strategy and intelligence.

    The researchers focused on ‘Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas’ (MOBAs) — action strategy games that typically involve two opposing teams of five individuals — as well as multiplayer ‘First Person Shooter’ games. These types of games are hugely popular with hundreds of millions of players worldwide.

    The team from York’s Departments of Psychology and Computer Science carried out two studies. The first examined a group of subjects who were highly experienced in the MOBA League of Legends — one of the most popular strategic video games in the world with millions of players each day.

    In this study, the researchers observed a correlation between performance in the strategic game League of Legends and performance in standard paper-and-pencil intelligence tests.

    The second study analysed big datasets from four games: Two MOBAs (League of Legends and Defence of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2)) and two ‘First Person Shooters’ (Destiny and Battlefield 3). First Person Shooters (FPSs) are games involving shooting enemies and other targets, with the player viewing the action as though through the eyes of the character they are controlling.

    In this second study, they found that for large groups consisting of thousands of players, performance in MOBAs and IQ behave in similar ways as players get older. But this effect was not found for First Person Shooters, where performance declined after the teens.

    The researchers say the correlation between ability at action strategy video games such as League of Legends and Defence of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) and a high IQ is similar to the correlation seen in other more traditional strategy games such as chess.

    Corresponding author Professor Alex Wade of the University of York’s Department of Psychology and Digital Creativity Labs said: “Games such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 are complex, socially-interactive and intellectually demanding. Our research would suggest that your performance in these games can be a measure of intelligence.

    “Research in the past has pointed to the fact that people who are good at strategy games such as chess tend to score highly at IQ tests. Our research has extended this to games that millions of people across the planet play every day.”

    The discovery of this correlation between skill and intelligence opens up a huge new data source. For example, as ‘proxy’ tests of IQ, games could be useful at a global population level in fields such as ‘cognitive epidemiology’ — research that examines the associations between intelligence and health across time — and as a way of monitoring cognitive health across populations.

    Athanasios Kokkinakis, a PhD student with the EPSRC Centre for Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) research programme at York, is the lead author on the study.

    He said: “Unlike First Person Shooter (FPS) games where speed and target accuracy are a priority, Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas rely more on memory and the ability to make strategic decisions taking into account multiple factors.

    “It is perhaps for these reasons that we found a strong correlation between skill and intelligence in MOBAs.”

    Co-author Professor Peter Cowling, Director of DC Labs and the IGGI programme at York, said: “This cutting-edge research has the potential for substantial impact on the future of the games and creative industries — and on games as a tool for research in health and psychology.

    “The IGGI programme has 48 excellent PhD students working with industry and across disciplines — there is plenty more to come!”


  2. Study suggests genre may impact cognitive training using video games

    October 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the IOS Press press release:

    Video games are quickly becoming a hot topic in cognitive training. Many see them as a potential tool to help patients improve their performance and memory, yet little is known about how different types of video games may affect white matter in the brain and cognition. In a new study in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience investigators analyzed learning on two different types of video games — action and strategy — to determine if they were functionally different. They found that cognitive performance and white matter connectivity in the brain predicted how best we can learn to play the two types of games.

    Researchers discovered unique results from each type of game. Specifically, they found that processing speed and white matter connectivity in a brain region related to memory were linked to learning to play the strategy game, while learning to play the action game was related to a brain region governing mood. Both genres of game lead to better performance on tasks having to do with working memory. They also found that improved performance on a speed task was unique to subjects playing the strategy game.

    “When researchers use video games as a tool for cognitive enhancement, they assume that game performance relies on specific cognitive/brain function, yet there is a little evidence that establishes such a connection,” explained lead investigator Chandramallika Basak, PhD, Assistant Professor at The Center for Vital Longevity, University of Texas at Dallas. “Moreover, different researchers use different genres of video games, which makes this game-cognition-brain relationship even more complicated. Therefore, the aim of our study was not only to evaluate the three-way game-cognition-brain relationship, but also to assess this relationship for two different types of games.”

    Adults of varying ages were recruited for the study, but all had little to no previous game playing experience. Subjects underwent an MRI scan and then were asked to play two different games, one action game (Tank Attack 3D) and one strategy game (Sushi-Go-Round). To measure white matter integrity, researchers used fractional anisotropy (FA), obtained by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

    Working memory and inhibition predicted learning of both games, but better performance on the perceptual speed task was related only to the strategy game. The DTI results revealed key differences between the two genres of game: white matter FA in the right fornix/stria terminalis correlated with the action game learning and white matter FA in the left cingulum/hippocampus was related to the strategy game learning, even after controlling for age in both cases.

    “Although cognition, to a large extent, was a common predictor of both types of game learning, regional white matter FA could separately predict action and strategy game learning,” said Dr. Basak. “Given the neural and cognitive correlates of strategy game learning, strategy games may provide a more beneficial training tool for adults suffering from memory-related disorders or declines in processing speed.”

    While researchers found that playing strategy games better engaged memory and cognitive control brain regions, making them better suited for improving memory tasks, they hypothesize that action games that stimulate the limbic area and elicit more emotional arousal might be beneficial for other clinical populations like patients with mood disorders.

    Video games will continue to be the subject of scrutiny, both scientifically and societally, but investigators hope that this study opens the door to thinking about the nuances of different types of games. “Not all games are created equal, yet people generalize results from one video game to other video games,” concluded Dr. Basak. “Such oversimplification has serious consequences on research on video game training. I believe that we need to investigate the specific brain-cognition associations for different genres of video games before theorizing about the potential impact of a training on a particular genre of video game.”


  3. Do video game players make the best unmanned pilots?

    September 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research from the University of Liverpool highlights the usefulness of Video Game Players (VGPs) as unmanned aircraft operators.

    The move to significant automation has been a feature of aviation over the last 40 years. Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) operations, commonly known as a aircraft which are unmanned, have outpaced current training regimes resulting in a shortage of qualified UAS pilots.

    In an effort to address this problem researchers from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, led by Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, and the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering (Dr Mike Jump), explored the suitability of three potential UAS groups; VGPs, private pilots and professional pilots.

    The participants, 60 in total, all took part in a simulated civilian cargo flight to enable the researchers to assess their levels of accuracy, confidence and confidence-accuracy judgements (W-S C-A).

    The participants made 21 decision tasks, which varied across three levels of danger/ risk.

    As danger increased levels of confidence, accuracy and the relationship between how accurate the decision was and the level of confidence applied to those decisions decreased.

    The dangerousness of the decision also affected how confident participants were when choosing to intervene or rely on the automation; confidence was lower when the operator chose to intervene.

    Professional pilots and VGPs exhibited the highest level of decision confidence, with VGPs maintaining a constant and positive W-S C-A relationship across decision danger/risk.

    All groups showed higher levels of decision confidence in decisions controlled by the UAS in comparison to decisions where the operator manually intervened.

    Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, said: “Understanding which potential supervisory group has the best skills to make the best decisions can help to improve UAS supervision. Overall, video game players were less overconfident in their decision judgements.

    “The outcome supports the idea that this group could be a useful resource in UAS operation.”


  4. Study examines impact of some action video games

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the McGill University press release:

    Human-computer interactions, such as playing video games, can have a negative impact on the brain, says a new Canadian study published in Molecular Psychiatry. For over 10 years, scientists have told us that action video game players exhibit better visual attention, motor control abilities and short-term memory. But, could these benefits come at a cost?

    In a series of studies Dr. Véronique Bohbot (Douglas Mental Health University Institute; CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal) and Dr. Greg West (Université de Montréal) demonstrate that the way that action (first-person shooter) video game players use their brains to navigate changes the impact the games have on their nervous system.

    “Thanks to navigation tests and brain scans, our studies show that response learners, those players using their brain’s autopilot and reward system to navigate, experienced grey matter loss in their hippocampus after playing action video games for 90 hours. The hippocampus is the key structure involved in spatial memory (orientation) and episodic memory (autobiographical events) within the brain. On the contrary, spatial learners, those using their hippocampus to navigate, increased their grey matter after playing for the same amount of time,” says first author Dr. Greg West, researcher and associate professor at the Université de Montréal.

    “The same amount of screen time with 3D-platform games caused only increases within this system across all participants.”

    These new neuroimaging studies confirm the previous work published by Dr. West and Dr. Bohbot in 2015.

    “Actually, action video game players are nearly twice more prone to be categorized as response learners (83%) compared to non-video game players (43%). This matters a lot when you know how important the hippocampus is for a healthy cognition,” explains co-author Dr. Véronique Bohbot, researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and associate professor at McGill University.

    People with lower amounts of grey matter in the hippocampus are known to be at increased risks of developing neuropsychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, PTSD and Alzheimer’s disease. The causal link between human-computer interactions such as action games and actual illness is, however, not known at this time and needs to be determined through further long-term study.

    Different Games, Different Brains

    For these studies, 64 participants aged between 18 and 30, were recruited to play 90 hours of different types of video games: first-person shooters like Call of Duty, Killzone, Medal of Honor and Borderlands 2 or 3D-platform games such as Super Mario 64. All participants had never played before.

    But, not all video games are alike! Pay attention to the type of video games that you play. The studies’ results show that video games can be either detrimental or beneficial to the brain’s spatial memory system depending not only on the navigation strategy players use but also on the video game genre they choose. The scientists demonstrate that playing 3D-platform games for 90 hours increase grey matter in the hippocampal memory system for both types of players.

    “Remember that the same amount of screen time with first-person shooter video games leads to atrophy within the hippocampus. This suggests that 3D-platform games are safer for consumption and can be beneficial to the brains of all players,” says Dr. West.

    Even if the current results show that certain human-computer interactions can decrease grey matter in the brain, the long-term consequences of this loss need to be further studied. Further research is also needed to establish what aspects of video game design cause these changes in the brain.


  5. Study suggests video games can change your brain

    July 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Scientists have collected and summarized studies looking at how video games can shape our brains and behavior. Research to date suggests that playing video games can change the brain regions responsible for attention and visuospatial skills and make them more efficient. The researchers also looked at studies exploring brain regions associated with the reward system, and how these are related to video game addiction.

    Do you play video games? If so, you aren’t alone. Video games are becoming more common and are increasingly enjoyed by adults. The average age of gamers has been increasing, and was estimated to be 35 in 2016. Changing technology also means that more people are exposed to video games. Many committed gamers play on desktop computers or consoles, but a new breed of casual gamers has emerged, who play on smartphones and tablets at spare moments throughout the day, like their morning commute. So, we know that video games are an increasingly common form of entertainment, but do they have any effect on our brains and behavior?

    Over the years, the media have made various sensationalist claims about video games and their effect on our health and happiness. “Games have sometimes been praised or demonized, often without real data backing up those claims. Moreover, gaming is a popular activity, so everyone seems to have strong opinions on the topic,” says Marc Palaus, first author on the review, recently published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    Palaus and his colleagues wanted to see if any trends had emerged from the research to date concerning how video games affect the structure and activity of our brains. They collected the results from 116 scientific studies, 22 of which looked at structural changes in the brain and 100 of which looked at changes in brain functionality and/or behavior.

    The studies show that playing video games can change how our brains perform, and even their structure. For example, playing video games affects our attention, and some studies found that gamers show improvements in several types of attention, such as sustained attention or selective attention. The brain regions involved in attention are also more efficient in gamers and require less activation to sustain attention on demanding tasks.

    There is also evidence that video games can increase the size and efficiency of brain regions related to visuospatial skills. For example, the right hippocampus was enlarged in both long-term gamers and volunteers following a video game training program.

    Video games can also be addictive, and this kind of addiction is called “Internet gaming disorder.” Researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system in gaming addicts, in part by exposing them to gaming cues that cause cravings and monitoring their neural responses. These neural changes are basically the same as those seen in other addictive disorders.

    So, what do all these brain changes mean? “We focused on how the brain reacts to video game exposure, but these effects do not always translate to real-life changes,” says Palaus. As video games are still quite new, the research into their effects is still in its infancy. For example, we are still working out what aspects of games affect which brain regions and how. “It’s likely that video games have both positive (on attention, visual and motor skills) and negative aspects (risk of addiction), and it is essential we embrace this complexity,” explains Palaus.


  6. Study examines skills transferable from World of Warcraft

    April 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Missouri University of Science and Technology press release:

    “Stop playing that stupid video game and get a job.”

    It’s a sentiment expressed by generations of parents since Pong began invading unsuspecting households in 1975. But what if that “stupid game” could help you get a job, and what if that same game could make you a valuable team member once you had the job?

    A new study by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology found that World of Warcraft (WoW) gamers who were successful working as a team in “raids” had qualities that psychological studies have shown to translate to success on virtual workplace teams.

    These qualities include what psychologists call the Big Five personality traitsextraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism, as well as computer-mediated communication skills and technology readiness.

    The research team came to its conclusion by surveying 288 WoW gamers from across the massive multiplayer online role-playing game’s (MMORPG) many servers. Those surveyed were diverse in age, race, sex, class, occupation and location.

    The average survey taker played WoW eight hours a week and worked 38 hours a week — important because the research team wanted survey takers that had full-time jobs that potentially involved teamwork. The survey consisted of 140 questions asking about motivation, communication skills, preferences for teamwork, and personality, with most questions relating to the Big Five personality traits.

    WoW is the world’s most-subscribed-to MMORPG, with over 10 million subscribers. After creating a character, players explore an almost limitless virtual landscape. They complete quests and fight monsters, all while interacting and working with characters controlled by other players — a key aspect to the S&T research study.

    The team surveyed 288 players of the game’s fifth expansion set, Warlords of Draenor. They compared players survey answers to their character’s statistics. A player’s group achievement points indicate how much group gameplay they’ve participated in, and how successful it has been, says Elizabeth Short, a graduate student in industrial-organizational psychology who compiled data for the study. Short’s research team is led by Dr. Nathan Weidner, assistant professor of psychological science at Missouri S&T.

    “What we wanted to look at was virtual teamwork and what kind of characteristics a person had in-game that would translate to real life and the workplace,” she says.

    Short called the correlations the research team found between a gamer’s WoW group achievements and player traits small but “statistically significant.” One of the strongest correlations the team found was in terms of technology readiness.

    The more technologically ready you are, the more resilient around technology you are, the more adaptable you are, the more achievement points you have (in WoW). You could flip that,” she says. “The more achievements you have in game, the more technology savvy you are in real life. And that’s a good thing, especially in virtual communication teams and workplaces.”

    Short says that growing up, she was naturally shy and introverted, but WoW built confidence and helped her “shed her armor.” Short’s social confidence grew, and by the time she started college, she was able to communicate better, all because of what she learned playing WoW.

    “I loved WoW and I played it constantly,” she says. “Then I started college, and being able to use some of the things I learned in WoW, like talking and communicating with people during raids, helped me socially in school.”

    Short hopes that through the study, more gamers will find that their WoW confidence can be converted into the real world and a career.

    “I like the idea that there are aspects of gaming that help and strengthen a person with skills, knowledge and abilities to be able to transfer those skills into the workplace,” she says. “If it helps students like me, I want to see if it helps people in the workplace.

    “This research shows us that those skills, while not exactly the same, they transfer,” she adds.

    Short will be presenting the research team’s findings at the 32ndannual Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference in Orlando at the end of April.


  7. Study suggests Pokemon Go players are happier, friendlier

    April 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release:

    Pokemon Go people are happy people.

    That’s the finding of media researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who leapt to study the wildly popular mobile game shortly after its release in July 2016. Their work, newly published in the journal Media Psychology, shows that Pokemon Go users were more likely to be positive, friendly and physically active.

    James Alex Bonus, a UW-Madison graduate student studying educational media, says he joined the throng playing the game when it was new, but was surprised by the mix of reactions in news coverage.

    “There was plenty of negative press about distracted people trespassing and running into trees or walking into the street,” says Bonus. “But you also saw people really enjoying it, having a good time together outside.”

    Pokemon Go creator Niantic now claims 65 million regular users and more than 650 million app downloads. Even in the first few weeks following release of the game — in which players “catch” wild, virtual Pokemon creatures lurking in places like parks and public buildings, and train them to do battle against one another — players were easy to pick out on sidewalks.

    To Bonus and grad student collaborator Alanna Peebles, the immediately large pool of players presented an opportunity to capture the effects of augmented reality games — apps like Pokemon Go that make use of mobile technology to lay the playing field and rules over the real world.

    “There’s this idea that playing games and being on your phone is a negative social experience that detracts from things, but there haven’t been many chances to ask large groups of players about their experiences,” Bonus says.

    The researchers, including grad student Irene Sarmiento and communication arts Professor Marie-Louise Mares, surveyed about 400 people three weeks after the game was launched, asking questions about their emotional and social lives and levels of physical activity before segueing into Pokemon.

    More than 40 percent of their respondents turned out to be Pokemon Go players, and those people were more likely to be exercising — walking briskly, at least — and more likely to be experiencing positive emotions and nostalgia.

    “People told us about a variety of experiences with differential relationships to well-being,” Bonus says. “But, for the most part, the Pokemon Go players said more about positive things that were making them feel their life was more worthwhile, more satisfactory, and making them more resilient.”

    They were also more social. Players were more likely than nonplayers to be making new friends and deepening old friendships.

    “The more people were playing, the more they were engaging in behaviors that reflected making new connections — making Facebook friends, introducing themselves to someone new, exchanging phone numbers with someone, or spending more time with old friends and learning new things about them,” Bonus says.

    Surprisingly, the survey respondents who showed more social anxiety were not less likely to be Pokemon Go players, even though aspects of the game encourage chance interactions with people (including strangers).

    Results like that, that run counter to prevailing descriptions of gaming and researchers’ expectations, make Bonus all the more interested in studying new ways to interact with media.

    “We don’t look at media this way that often, but maybe we should,” he says. “We often focus on media violence and aggression and hostility, but there are opportunities where media is contributing to good life experiences.”


  8. Psychological interventions to cut traumatic memories: Tetris or Candy Crush?

    March 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    The popular building-block computer game Tetris might be more than just an idle pastime that keeps you glued to a screen. Playing it shortly after experiencing a traumatic event seems to block some of the recurrent intrusive memories that people are often left with. The proof-of-concept of the role, which Tetris could play within psychological interventions after trauma, is described in Springer Nature’s journal Molecular Psychiatry, in a study jointly led by Lalitha Iyadurai of the University of Oxford in the UK with Emily Holmes of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

    Intrusive memories often spring to mind without warning after someone has experienced some form of trauma and they can bring back specific sights, sounds and emotions attached to the original incident. In some cases, intrusive memories go hand in hand with the development of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as with conditions such as depression and severe grief.

    Iyadurai and her colleagues used their insights into neuroscience and findings from previous experimental research to test whether one dose of a brief psychological intervention including playing a highly visual-spatial computer game such as Tetris could prevent intrusive symptoms building up. The participants were 71 patients waiting in the emergency department at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford who all experienced a traumatic motor vehicle accident. Participants in the intervention group were asked to bring the memory to mind, given specific instructions of how to play the game, and then asked to play the game for approximately 20 minutes. Participants took part within six hours of their accident. Over the next week, all participants noted any intrusive memories in a daily diary.

    Having taken part in the psychological intervention including playing Tetris was found to reduce the number of intrusive memories participants experienced by 62 percent in the subsequent week compared to those in the control group. Participants in the “Gamer” group also reported less distress from intrusion symptoms.

    As one participant put it when she reflected on whether the intervention including playing Tetris helped her at all: “It certainly took my mind off it at a time when I probably would have sat brooding and feeling very sorry for myself.”

    Patients in the UK often wait up to four hours or more to receive care in an emergency department. The researchers therefore believe that introducing science-driven psychological treatment methods such as behavioural protocols including Tetris that could be delivered by staff during this waiting period could be a straightforward way by which to reduce the later impact of patients’ psychological trauma.

    “A brief psychological intervention including Tetris offers a cognitive ‘therapeutic vaccine’ that could be administered soon after a traumatic event to prevent the recurrence of intrusive memories of trauma in the subsequent week,” says Iyadurai.

    The intervention’s brevity, low cost and the fact that it can be administered by non-specialists also make it a viable and scalable option that could reach many. The researchers add that within the same intervention protocol other video games and activities that combine visual and spatial tasks, such as playing Candy Crush and drawing, could also hold similar benefits, ahead of distracting activities such as reading or filling in crosswords that predominantly focus on verbal tasks.

    Iyadurai and Holmes believe that the results from this proof-of-concept study warrant a larger trial to detect whether there is also a more long-term benefit to playing Tetris as part of a psychological intervention shortly after a traumatic event.


  9. An algorithm that knows when you’ll get bored with your favorite mobile game

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology press release:

    The video game industry has been shaken up by the emergence of smartphone games, aimed at users who are constantly connected to the Internet and change games very frequently.

    África Periáñez -Head of Game Data Science at the video game company Silicon Studio, in Tokyo- and her team have developed a mathematical model that predicts when a user will leave a specific mobile game. The results of their work were presented at the International Conference on Data Science and Advanced Analytics, held last October in Montreal (Canada).

    As Periáñez said, the algorithm they developed uses the so-called ‘ensemble’ method, “a model that is based on many learning algorithms instead of a single one, thereby improving the prediction accuracy by examining many more correlations and alternative models.”

    “Every time we run the model, we are actually using 1,000 distinct submodels,” she adds, “each of which focuses on different variables and has different initial conditions.”

    The team also used a survival analysis algorithm within each submodel. These models “are used in medical research, for example, to predict when a patient will experience an event of interest, and in biology, to know how particular cells are going to behave in the body,” she explains.

    Combination of mathematical models

    The Silicon Studio researchers have now, for the first time, combined the power of survival algorithms and ‘ensemble’ models in the field of video games. “This,” says Periáñez, “has enabled us to achieve a high level of prediction accuracy, as the algorithm automatically adapts to the data of the game we want to analyse.”

    Applied to videogames, the model (called a survival ensemble) can predict what day and at what stage of the game a user will stop playing, and why they will do so.

    “Already from their first days playing the game, we know with a good degree of certainty what level a user will reach and how many days it will take them. The main and most pressing priority is to try to extend the player’s ‘life’ and get them to buy as much as possible. Also important is to understand users’ needs and design a more entertaining and stimulating game,” says the researcher.

    The industry has undergone a paradigm shift since the appearance of games for smartphones. According to África Periáñez, “companies store a lot of information on users: their actions, connections, purchases, etc. And they are beginning to realise that they need to move towards a data-based development model, which allows them to know who their players are and what they like, and also to predict their reactions.”

    “Bigger companies are already taking steps in this direction, albeit slowly,” she explains, “but small and medium studios do not have as many resources. This is why we are offering our platform as a service, so that they can use it as a prediction tool.” The product was called 4Front as a code name and will be marketed under the trade name Yokozuna Data, inspired by the highest achievable rank in sumo wrestling.

    Automatic adaptation to different games and data

    The Silicon Studio platform adapts automatically to different games and data. “We are already working with Japanese and European firms, and have tested the product with several of our company’s games, such as Age of Ishtaria and GrandSphere,” notes Periáñez.

    According to the researcher, the system can predict who will leave the game very accurately. “Focusing on the players that spend the most money, known as ‘whales,’ we have managed to reduce churn by 5% using personalised push notifications. This alone has led to an increase of about 15% in sales,” she points out, concluding that “our goal is to become leaders in the international market and to democratise data science in the field of video games, an area where we are pioneers.”


  10. New studies illustrate how gamers get good

    March 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    We all know that practice makes us better at things, but scientists are still trying to understand what kinds of practice work best. A research team led by a Brown University computer scientist has found insights about how people improve their skills in a rather unlikely place: online video games.

    In a pair of studies reported in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science, researchers looked at data generated from thousands of online matches of two video games, the first-person shooter game Halo: Reach and the strategy game StarCraft 2. The Halo study revealed how different patterns of play resulted in different rates of skill development in players. The StarCraft study showed how elite players have unique and consistent rituals that appear to contribute to their success.

    “The great thing about game data is that it’s naturalistic, there’s a ton of it, and it’s really well measured,” said Jeff Huang, a computer science professor at Brown and the study’s lead author. “It gives us the opportunity to measure patterns for a long period of time over a lot of people in a way that you can’t really do in a lab.”

    Halo: Reach is a science fiction war game in which players battle with rifles, grenades and other weapons (part of a wildly popular series of Halo games). One of the most popular ways to play is known as Team Slayer, where online players from are placed together on teams for 10- to 15-minute matches to see which team can score the most kills against an opposing team. In order to arrange matches in which players have roughly similar skill levels, the game rates players using a metric called TrueSkill. TrueSkill ratings are constantly updated as players play more matches and their skill level changes, so they offered Huang and his colleagues the opportunity to see what kinds of playing habits influence a player’s skill acquisition.

    Huang and his colleagues looked at data generated by seven months of Halo matches — every online match played by the 3.2 million people who started playing the week the game was released in 2010.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research showed that people who played the most matches per week (more than 64) had the largest increase in skill over time. But playing lots of games wasn’t the most efficient way to improve skill. Looking at the data another way — in terms of which groups showed the most improvement per match rather an over time — showed markedly different results. That analysis showed that, over their first 200 matches, those who played four to eight matches week gained the most skill per match, followed by those who played eight to 16 matches.

    “What this suggests is that if you want to improve the most efficiently, it’s not about playing the most matches per week,” Huang said. “You actually want to space out your activity a little bit and not play so intensively.”

    But breaks in activity shouldn’t be too long. The researchers also looked specifically at how breaks in play affect a player’s skill. Short breaks — one or two days — were no big deal, the study found. Players gained back lost skill over the course of the next match they played. But longer breaks were shown to have longer-term effects. After a 30-day break, for example, players took around 10 matches to get back the skill level they had before the break.

    The lesson from the study, Huang says, seems to be that moderation is a good thing in terms of learning efficiency, as long as breaks in play aren’t too long.

    The second study focused on the strategy game StarCraft 2. Like other strategy games, StarCraft requires players to actively manage hundreds of game units at the same time. Players must build bases and other infrastructure, manage economies, train soldiers and direct them in combat. Looking at data from hundreds of StarCraft matches, the study compared the habits of elite players with those of lesser skill.

    The study showed that one major difference between more skilled and less skilled players was the effective use of “hotkeys” — customized keyboard shortcuts that enable commands to be given quickly to unit groups. Less skilled players used hotkeys less, opting instead to point and click commands to individual units with a mouse. But all elite players made copious use of hotkeys, using them to issue up to 200 actions per minute during a typical match.

    But the important thing wasn’t just the fact that elite players use the hotkeys more, it’s that they form unique and consistent habits in how they use them. Those habits were so unique and consistent, in fact, that the researchers were able to identify specific players with more than 90 percent accuracy just by looking at their hotkey patterns. It’s likely, the researchers say, that those habits become almost second nature, enabling players to keep cool and issue commands when the pressure of the game ratchets up.

    The study also showed that elite players seem to “warm up” their hotkey use. Even in the very early stages of a match, when there are fewer units in play and fewer things happening in the game, elite players still scrolled rapidly through their hotkeys, often issuing meaningless dummy commands to various units.

    “They’re getting their minds and bodies into the routines that they’ll need when they’re at peak performance later in the game,” Huang said. “They’re getting themselves warmed up.”

    Beyond simply learning about what makes gamers good, Huang hopes the work will shed light more generally on the ways in which people can optimize their performance in other domains. For instance, perhaps warming up like StarCraft players do would be helpful for people who have jobs that require paying attention to lots of different things at once.

    “Air traffic controllers come to mind,” Huang said. “Maybe when someone first gets in the seat, they should take a few moments and re-enact what they do until they can get warmed up and in the zone.”

    The results of the Halo study echo the findings of other cognitive science work, Huang says, in suggesting that moderate activity with short breaks could be a good thing.

    “People have seen this for other things, like studying,” Huang said. “Cramming is generally regarded as less efficient than doing smaller bits of studying throughout the semester. I think we’re seeing something similar here in our study.”

    Taken together, the researchers write, the message from these studies seems to be, “practice consistently, stay warm.”