Monday, 22 November 2010

Review - GameFlow: A Model for Evaluating Player Enjoyment in Games

Authors: Penelope Sweetser and Peta Wyeth, DOI: 10.1145/1077246.1077253. PDF downloaded from

This paper examines the concept of flow as described by Csikszentmihalyi, and looks at how the areas that are supposed to make experiences enjoyable and induce flow could be translated into the experience of a game. They use this translation as a basis for evaluating two real-time strategy games that had wildly differing commercial reviews, and attempt to draw a link between their findings and the different reviews.

There is a very interesting table on page 4 mapping the game elements to the elements of flow, reproduced below:

Games LiteratureFlow
The GameA task that can be completed
ConcentrationAbility to concentrate on the task
Challenge Player SkillsPerceived skills should match challenges and both must exceed a certain threshold
ControlAllowed to exercise a sense of control over actions
Clear goalsThe task has clear goals
FeedbackThe task provides immediate feedback
ImmersionDeep but effortless involvement, reduced concern for self and sense of time
Social Interactionn/a

The paper goes on to define these a little more closely, particularly going into a great deal more detail on what each element in the games literature side would be composed of. For me it was interesting to see that 'Social Interaction' does appear on the games side, but not in flow conditions:

- "Social interaction is not an element of flow, and often can even interrupt immersion in games, as real people provide a link to the real world that can knock players out of their fantasy game worlds."
- "Therefore, social interaction is not a property of the task as are the other elements of flow, but the task is a means to allow social interaction."

This suggests to me that the elements of flow are all innate properties of the task that you are embarked on, while social interaction is more of a by-product. 

The reviews of the two games then go through each of the eight categories and describe how the game meets (or fails to meet) the criteria. They are assigned a numerical value (which must be subjective to some extent) and that is used to compare them. They found that the more popular game out-performed the less popular game in almost every area. 

The conclusions reached were that some of the GameFlow criteria were genre specific, and some were difficult to judge without performing user studies (they used expert review to evaluate). It was concluded that the criteria did provide a good way to identify which areas of the game were less successful, with the overall scores achieved similar to the aggregated review scores of the two games. I couldn't find any reference to whether the expert reviewers were aware of the professional reviews, and I do wonder if that coloured their decisions at all (e.g. this game was less popular, what flaws can I find? vs. this game should be brilliant, where are the good points?).

I found this to be a much more dictatorial paper than many we've been reading, with lots of 'to be x the game must have y' statements - with appropriate citations! And interesting read, and might be worth following up as guidelines for expert review of our game? 

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