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A formula to absolute bliss in video games

Posted at 20:44 on January 29th, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Yesterday, while recovering from a really nasty cold, I spend some time watching television around and after midnight, which almost always leads to unique experiences. This particular one concerns an episode of a programme called "Pixelmacher" (which I never heard of before, but seems to be some kind of video-game-pop-culture-mingle-mangle-thingy) in which they hired a hand full of students from a game design course (on an actual technical university) to create a formula which tells everyone how much fun they will have with a game. Oh my... I don't know where to begin with. :D Well before you read my rant I want you to keep in mind, that they didn't take it totally serious, as you shouldn't take my opinion on it. ;)

What they come up with is the HE-factor (HE standing for Heureka!), something which tells almost nothing about fun and almost everything about game designers...

HE = H x G x M / S x PT

H... time [minutes] you need on average to finish the game
G... genre factor, weights different types of games against each other (shooter (the norm 1) take only 10 hours, RPGS 40+ (factor 0.4))
M... monetary expense, the less the better (60€ title meaning 1)
S... skill, measures how fast the gamer finishes the game (ranging from 1-10, 5 being average)
PT... player time... which I actually have no clue of what it means, something like what kind of game you prefer to play (also ranging from 1-10, 5 being average)

I am veeeery temped to get lost in scientific details... like the math (just look at those variable 'names'! and are you sure it is so perfectly (in)directly proportional?! and why take an average and then just recalculate...) and the 'science' (why minutes?! what meassure is skill and Heureka? why such random distribution between numerator and denominator *argh*) being absolutely questionable at best. To me it looks like someone saw some formulas on a chalk board in a B-movie and tried to imitate them. But alright, I have seen worse in psychology handbooks... Let's keep it at that.

What's a lot more interesting are the implications. The following thoughts came to my mind:

-) The formula is almost only about time and it's weighting factors. How long do I need to finish the game. Since they are game designers, they obviously think (or wish for) that I spend a lot of time on their creations. But aren't they drawing false conclusions? I want to play the game for hours on end because it's good and not the game is good because I play it for hours and hours.

-) The genre factor is one of my favourites: FPS are simply that good, that you can't make them longer than 10 hours... and a RPG with bellow 200 hours of grinding aren't that much fun.

-) Money makes the world go round, even for game designers. If you were to take this formula serious, you would get infinite joy out of a gifted or stolen game. Also why put this in the numerator since HE goes up with decreasing financial investment?

-) Hmmm... after taking a closer look at it, the following comes to my attention: Gamers diminish, with their skill and expertise, the work of the game designers. Just take a look at it! Everything player-specific divides the work of the game designers (like the hours of fun they prepared for you, the horrors of designing a shooter and the money they got paid).

-) And while I am the first one to admit that cognition can be a lot of fun, I dare to doubt if the name Heureka fits the fun-factor in video games.

If you speak some German you might try and give it a look yourself: 3sat Mediathek: Pixelmacher (just skip all the stuff at the beginning and jump to around minute 20, where the part with the formula kicks in)
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Posted at 22:43 on January 29th, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Downloading the show now, will check it out tomorrow. Thanks for the tip!
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Posted at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Well, well… first of all, you misquoted the formula:
Code:
HE = H x G x M / (S x PT)

Though admittedly, with PT not really being defined (I agree), this hardly matters. What I really wonder about is why they put so many indirections into their formula. If the 'typical time to finish a game of this genre' (G) is a relevant factor, why not put this time directly into the formula as a divisor? Why map it to an inverted non-linear scale first? Same with M – if what they want to say is that a higher price diminishes the overall quality, don't use it as a factor, but a divisor! So, yes, it does not look as if maths are part of the curriculum at that university.

Anyway, let's try discussing the implications they are trying to get across. H and G, as they try to use them, are actually a quotient of play time of this particular game and the 'typical' time one expects of a game of this type. So: Bonus if a game is longer than average. Not complete nonsense, but considering that the lead-in to the segment of the show was that game judging games by their length/size should be avoided, this is a strange thing to start with.

S and PT both depend on the player. So for one static player, i.e. in the practical case of somebody making decisions what to buy, this would be a constant. So it's negligible – should simply be removed from the equation.

So the intended formula could actually be simplified to this:
Code:
HE = H / (G * M)

Where H and G are just regular time units and M is the game's price.

Ignoring the impossibility to actually define G (What the fuck is the typical length of an adventure game, for example?), the only really major factor remaining is therefore the price tag. This actually shows in their own examples: Monkey Island wins against the current games simply because it's available for 10$ these days. So why not just reduce the formula to
Code:
HE = 1/M

and be done with it? Unless there is an extreme deviation in the length, the money will always be the only significant factor.

Additionally, what the formula seems to assume is that every game is basically fun to play until its very end. Otherwise, what they call H would really need to be cut short. What's ignored in the formula is the intensity of the fun which, in my view, should be a major factor.

Which leads to the question what should be measured (careful: entering subjective realm). In my view, to determine just the quality of a game, it should only be fun. Whether you derive that from strong challenges, aestetics or whatever else does not matter. You could also call it intensity. So:
Code:
Q = FUN

If we want to go the pseudo-mathematical route, it could be argued that size does play a major part. In this case, I would suggest using the integral over the function of fun over time (excuse the cryptic notation, but the forum has no support for mathematical symbols; imagine "S" as the integral sign and "8" as infinity):
Code:
Q = 0S8 FUN t

Additionally, it could be argued that the fun density should be considered. If Q by the above definition is identical for two games, the overall smaller game could be considered the superior one, because it offered the same amount of entertainment in a tighter space. So we'd get something like this:
Code:
Q = t0St1 FUN t  / (t1 - t0)

Where t0 is the point in time where one started playing and t1 is the point time when one stopped playing. That would already account for boring training sessions at the beginning and time spent with the game after it stopped being fun "just to see if it gets better again".

Money only comes into play if we step away from a pure quality assessment towards a 'value for money' approach. This is a related, but not identical question. If we trust pop psychology, it's not a linear influence, though. At the very least, we would have to consider the effect of retroactive justification: People who buy something basically overpriced will find a lot of reasons why it was still worth it – not just in front of others, but they will even try their best to convince themselves. See: business model of Apple.

(On a sidenote, I watched the whole show and I didn't even find it all that bad. Certainly much, much better than stupid past computer/video game shows like "Hey, hey, hey!" X-Base!)
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Edited by Mr Creosote at 19:17 on January 30th, 2013
Posted at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
So, yes, it does not look as if maths are part of the curriculum at that university.

Since they are designers they probably even won't need it. However the formula doesn't even look good.

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
S and PT both depend on the player. So for one static player, i.e. in the practical case of somebody making decisions what to buy, this would be a constant. So it's negligible – should simply be removed from the equation.

Ah, I think it's not that easy. 'Skill' seems to me like it could differ for the same person and different genres or games. Still all that personalization isn't all that handy for an 'absolute' formula like they claim it to be, because it does make comparisons to other gamers really hard (if not impossible).

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
So the intended formula could actually be simplified to this:
Code:
HE = H / (G * M)

Where H and G are just regular time units and M is the game's price.

Come to think of it this is just a very sad capitalistic formula: Time and money are all that count. 'I want it now and as cheap as humanly possible!'

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
What's ignored in the formula is the intensity of the fun which, in my view, should be a major factor.

Ah you are forgetting something: This formula tells you the intensity of fun you will be having, it's the ominous 'HE'. ;)


Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
Which leads to the question what should be measured (careful: entering subjective realm). In my view, to determine just the quality of a game, it should only be fun. Whether you derive that from strong challenges, aestetics or whatever else does not matter. You could also call it intensity.

Well I guess if you really want to meassure fun, you could try meassuring the brain activity with fMRI while playing (alltough this might have fun-diminishing side effects, like the scanner making a lot of noice and the magnets seriously damaging your hardware). You could also try to keep track of hormone levels.

Considering your formula (which actually makes a lot more sense and even looks a little bit scientific), there are some minor inaccuracies, my version would look something like:
Code:
Q_s = t0 S t1 I(t) dt / (delta)t 

Q_s .. quality factor we are aiming for, one session
I(t) .. gaming intensity (function of time), how involved are you in the game
t0 .. start the game
t1 .. stop the game
(delta)t = t1 - t0
Overall quality factor must be something like:
Code:
Q = sum(Q_s)


But of course this is a little silly. Especially because it only shifts the 'fun'-finding into the I(t), which still lacks any kind or rational scientific explanation. ;)


Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
Money only comes into play if we step away from a pure quality assessment towards a 'value for money' approach.

My guess would be that money only counts in the extremes: Like the Apple example you brought up ('I paid so much it must be good!') or when you get something terribly cheap ('Think of all the money this game has helped save me!').


Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
(On a sidenote, I watched the whole show and I didn't even find it all that bad. Certainly much, much better than stupid past computer/video game shows like "Hey, hey, hey!" X-Base!)

(Well it was OK. The short film was really nice (the one about 'Warum ich spiele' or something like that) and the Ron Gilbert interview actually interesting (if a little routined). But the gorilla made me turn of the TV. Can't stand a) sayings like 'My grandfather always used to say' and b) semifunny people in ape-costumes!
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Posted at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Originally posted by Herr M. at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013:
Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
Which leads to the question what should be measured (careful: entering subjective realm). In my view, to determine just the quality of a game, it should only be fun. Whether you derive that from strong challenges, aestetics or whatever else does not matter. You could also call it intensity.

Well I guess if you really want to meassure fun, you could try meassuring the brain activity with fMRI while playing (alltough this might have fun-diminishing side effects, like the scanner making a lot of noice and the magnets seriously damaging your hardware). You could also try to keep track of hormone levels.

We are entering the realms of Heisenberg here: observation changes the result ;)

Originally posted by Herr M. at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013:
Considering your formula (which actually makes a lot more sense and even looks a little bit scientific), there are some minor inaccuracies, my version would look something like:
Code:
Q_s = t0 S t1 I(t) dt / (delta)t 

Q_s .. quality factor we are aiming for, one session
I(t) .. gaming intensity (function of time), how involved are you in the game
t0 .. start the game
t1 .. stop the game
(delta)t = t1 - t0
Overall quality factor must be something like:
Code:
Q = sum(Q_s)

So what would be Q_s? Quality per session? Other than that mystery, your formula seems to be exactly what I had in mind; what I called FUN obviously would need to be a function of t, otherwise, doing the integral would not make sense.

Originally posted by Herr M. at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013:
But of course this is a little silly. Especially because it only shifts the 'fun'-finding into the I(t), which still lacks any kind or rational scientific explanation. ;)

It does, because it's subjective. Any attempt to rationalise the amount of fun someone can get from something has always failed. For some reason, it is being attempted again and again in the area of computer games… I shudder at the thought of the 'rating breakdowns' of certain print magazines!

Originally posted by Herr M. at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013:
Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
Money only comes into play if we step away from a pure quality assessment towards a 'value for money' approach.

My guess would be that money only counts in the extremes: Like the Apple example you brought up ('I paid so much it must be good!') or when you get something terribly cheap ('Think of all the money this game has helped save me!').

A valid hypothesis, I would assume. If 60$ is the 'default', 10$ for Monkey Island would already fall into one extreme, though, I would say, making it not a good candidate for their formula.


Originally posted by Herr M. at 22:27 on February 1st, 2013:
Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 18:49 on January 30th, 2013:
(On a sidenote, I watched the whole show and I didn't even find it all that bad. Certainly much, much better than stupid past computer/video game shows like "Hey, hey, hey!" X-Base!)

(Well it was OK. The short film was really nice (the one about 'Warum ich spiele' or something like that) and the Ron Gilbert interview actually interesting (if a little routined). But the gorilla made me turn of the TV. Can't stand a) sayings like 'My grandfather always used to say' and b) semifunny people in ape-costumes!

OK, granted, the gorilla was incredibly lame. I also found the "why I'm playing video games" segment fairly annoying, because it only repeated the usual pseudo-original clichés ("Would you be prepared for the zombie apocalypse?"). Thinking about it, most individual segments were not really great by themselves. There were also many inaccuracies, like embarassing mispronounciations of words and, in the case of the older games, strange version picks (e.g. showing the fan remake of Maniac Mansion and the official remake of Monkey Island 2 instead of the originals). What I liked about the show was the overall impression of appreciation of gaming as a serious cultural aspect without becoming too stuffy. They didn't just show preview videos coming directly from publishers and listed official release dates, but they tried to have a running theme through the whole show, illuminating it from different angles, showing examples from "all" ages etc. The attempt to create something like a "game culture magazine" on TV is certainly appreciated.
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Edited by Mr Creosote at 11:35 on February 2nd, 2013
Posted at 17:43 on February 2nd, 2013 | Quote | Edit | Delete
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Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013:
So what would be Q_s? Quality per session?

Yep and one probably should divide the sum(Q_s) by the times of sessions, in order to get a nice absolute Funfactor.

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013:
Other than that mystery, your formula seems to be exactly what I had in mind; what I called FUN obviously would need to be a function of t, otherwise, doing the integral would not make sense.

Ah, never deem something obvious in maths! You never can be precise enough. ;)

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013:
I shudder at the thought of the 'rating breakdowns' of certain print magazines!

Oh yes! And how about those curves where they show motivation as a function of time? Actually that would be exactly what we are looking for. I always loved how they could be so precise (almost to the minute) and how they put a lot of spoilers in graph (like 'Meeting the super-secret-boss is sure fun!' or 'Losing all your equipment again isn't that much fun!').

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013:
I also found the "why I'm playing video games" segment fairly annoying, because it only repeated the usual pseudo-original clichés ("Would you be prepared for the zombie apocalypse?").

Normally I would think similar and on youtube I wouldn't have given it 20 seconds, but under the circumstances I watched it, I kind of liked it.

Originally posted by Mr Creosote at 11:33 on February 2nd, 2013:
The attempt to create something like a "game culture magazine" on TV is certainly appreciated.

That's for sure, though I doubt I would watch the programme again. It was a little bit too 'flashy' for me.
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