Despite the successful employment of biometric testing in the highest strata of the video game industry, a review of recent publications on psychophysiology and video games reveals that it has not yet been adopted by the casual sector. It might be assumed that the costs involved in running biometric experiments make it affordable to the developers of high-end games only, but Gua-Le-Ni is proof that this is not the case.
We needed very little work and money to transform a simple air-conditioned research room in a viably neutral testing environment. Additionally, as witnessed by the release of Nintendo's Wii Fit balance board and its planned but unreleased vitality sensor hardware, biometric equipment is quickly becoming consumer technology -- that is to say, trivially inexpensive and more portable.
If biometric testing is really not economically prohibitive, then why have the developers of casual not embraced its technologies and methodologies games yet?
One possible answer lies in the focus of triple-A titles on action-oriented genres such as shooting, racing, and sports simulations. Whereas the qualities of such games give rise to easily detectable physiological patterns, the same is not always true of casual games such as puzzle games, hidden object games, point and click adventures, etcetera.
What I am arguing here is that the notable absence of biometry in the quality assurance methodologies of the casual sector of our industry can be accounted for by practical reasons as opposed to limitations in development budgets. Accordingly, there are no real obstacles that would prevent casual game developers from employing biometrics in testing action-oriented casual games or in investing in pursuing more research.
Biometric methodologies might, in the near future, also offer the capability of tracking internal states that are more relevant to the growing casual market, such as the level of concentration of the task at hand, the bafflement induced by a cognitive task beyond one's capabilities or the feeling of accomplishment.
The diffusion of expertise and the availability of the interpretative frameworks are also growing, and not only in obscure academic circles: several of our game design undergraduate students are developing graduation projects which involve the design their own biometric experiments, running their tests and the independent analysis of data.
As already hinted in my opening quote, I do not consider psychophysiology to be the ultimate video game analysis tool, nor I ever hoped or believed it could replace traditional game design and quality assurance approaches wholesale. An understanding of biometry as the "holy grail" of casual game development would be naively optimistic and blind to the partial, albeit deep, quality of the insights it provides.
Aside from the objective benefits explained above, and the large quantity of data that are possible to be harvested, working with the added lens of psychophysiology allowed me to talk to my testers about their feelings and intuitions with a more solid ground both when referencing a particular game event and when comparing results with those of other testers in the same target audience. Biometry made my process richer, more accurate, and also more interesting from an anthropological point of view, further fuelling my passion and my curiosity for game design. Personally, it was a refreshing and enriching experience that I am looking forward to repeating with my next, bizarre experiments in combinatorial game design.
From the outlined perspectives, the future of biometric and biofeedback applications in casual game development seems to me to be very promising. Applied research in biometrics is able to continue to attract funds and, even at the current level of economical affordability, the video-ludic employment of biometric technologies has proved capable of delivering both deep insights and objective advantages. Our benchmark case study Gua-Le-Ni, for instance, has received excellent reviews, attaining a current Metacritic score of 83 percent.
Once again, psychophysiology does not universally offer normative answers, but it does grant the possibility to understand players more thoroughly and to better 'draft' the games that we make -- and on these grounds, I believe that it will play an increasingly important role in the future of game development across all sectors of the games industry.
One of our test subjects wearing the complete set of sensors that were used during the second set of biometric tests.
Where whales can slow down their physiological processes when diving in the ocean depths, slowing down the development process of our benchmark title Gua-Le-Ni allowed the researchers to observe physiological processes in players to gain a far deeper understanding of game play experience.
With the more efficient methodologies now in place at NHTV Breda University of Applied Science, the development process would not even have to slow down, thus making the methodology even more viable to be integrated in casual game development iterations. With our efforts both in terms of research and game design we hoped to have opened a fresh, blue ocean for casual and independent developers: biometric game design.
In addition to the valuable information and inspiration that was gleaned from this method of testing, both researchers and test subjects had a whale of a time.
Gualeni, S., Janssen, D., Calvi, L., 2012. How psychophysiology can aid the design process of casual games: A tale of stress, facial muscles, and paper beasts. Full paper on biometry-aided casual game design presented at the 2012 Foundation of Digital Games Conference in Raileigh, NC, United States, May the 30th, 2012.
Gualeni, S., Janssen, D., Calvi, L., 2012. Psychophysiology and casual games: always a good match? Full paper on biometry-aided casual game design presented at the 2012 ECREA Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, October the 24th, 2012.