Bio-study reports fractures between developer and player tastes

Bio-study reports fractures between developer and player tastes

By Rob Crossley

June 11th 2009 at 5:14PM

Analyst group says developers and players are naturally divided on the value of narrative and cut-scenes

Consumers are less interested in game narrative and cut-scenes than developers themselves.

This account of a natural division between players and creators comes from business consultant group Absolute Quality, who have for the past few months been commissioning bio-sensory feedback tests on both developers and target consumers.

At the recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this year, Absolute Quality asked various game developers to play a “popular first-person shooter” on the Xbox 360 while fitted up with a wireless headset device that measures brain waves, heart rate and sweat responses.

Outside of GDC, a number of core consumers were set up with the same equipment and asked to play the same game.

Results of these tests suggest that developers have a higher level of engagement during moments like cut-scenes, narrative discourse and “highly-scripted” set-pieces. Gamers were, however, were more enthused when play was simple and direct, showing more levels of engagement when “running and gunning” through the game.

The comprehensive study saw a number of different companies involved. Absolute Quality commissioned the tests and used brainwave technology from research group EmSense. The data from the study, however, was interpreted by market research and consulting firm Techaisle.

Techaisle’s interpretation of the data is that the ‘production elements’ of games – from FMVs to cut-scenes to narrative exposition – “tend to reflect the preferences of the developers themselves and not the preferences of the target consumer.” And since those production elements tend to make up a sizable chunk of a project’s funding, the research calls into question the value, and indeed necessity, of using them.

However the research does not account for the effect elements like cut-scenes have on sales, specifically how high production values are effective in game previews, reviews and PR campaigns. 

The study’s methodology shows that the target consumer group was comprised of gamers who owned or had access to an Xbox 360 and were qualified as people who play FPSes on a regular basis. However, it is unclear whether the developers involved in the experiments were just as familiar with first-person shooters.

Missing from the study is the effect many years of play experience – certainly an asset of the game developer – has on play responses.

Also absent was the key issue of the developer’s occupational habit of analyzing individual elements of a game; something which perhaps happens more frequently when a developer is watching rather than playing.