Current Projects

Affective Evaluation of Games & Interactive Media

Evaluating user experience with affective measures is a field of growing importance in the human factors domain, because the emotional effects of engaging technology, such as movies, mobile networked devices, games and new media, are not well understood. Within this research theme, we are developing and validating robust new methods for physiological evaluation of user engagement components in digital games and new media. In the past, Dr. Nacke has worked in-depth on psychophysiological methods for evaluating player experience, such as brain waves, muscular and skin responses, cardiovascular measures, respiration, eye gaze paths, and pupil dilation. In addition to measuring physiological responses, we are also using full body motion tracking, facial tracking and recognition, behavioral logging techniques, video observation, and subjective responses.

Applied Game Design for Non-Entertainment Systems

In the last couple of years, we have seen a rapid explosion of mass-market consumer software that takes deep inspiration from video games, especially from game design. This phenomenon has been called “gamification” and this game design trend connects existing concepts and research in human-computer interaction, psychology, and game studies, especially serious games, pervasive games, alternate reality games, and playful design. Using game design elements, such as reward or punishment systems, in non-game contexts to motivate user activity has rapidly gained traction in interaction design. This has spawned an intense debate within the professional game development community as well as the development of numerous “gamified” applications – ranging from productivity to finance, health, sustainability, news, user-generated content (UGC), and tutorials. Our goal in this research is to identify what game design elements are especially suitable to motivate behaviour in what areas of non-entertainment products.

Games User Research

The Canadian computer game industry is the third largest in the world, behind the USA and Japan. The sector contributes $2.3 billion annually to Canada's GDP, it employs 16,500 people, and the demand for skilled talent in creative and technical roles is increasing. An essential area of the games industry is games user research (GUR). GUR focuses on understanding, measuring, analyzing, and designing the user experience in games. GUR draws from theoretical foundations to inform design principles that affect player enjoyment and immersion, and applies evaluation methods, data analytics, statistical analysis, predictive modeling, and visualization to assess player engagement. GUR aims to improve the gameplay experience by conducting usability and user experience (UX) evaluation often referred to as playtesting. Playtesting can be conducted by third parties or by an internal team as part of the same development studio. The HCI Games Group includes the leading researchers in this promising new field in the recent years, having helped define and advance the field. Not all independent developers could afford to hire a full-time internal user research team for their project or pay for third party consultancy fees. The challenge for small studios is to utilize the benefits of GUR while maintaining a strict budget, avoiding unneeded costs, resources, and tools. For this, an effective testing method at the lowest possible cost will need to be investigated. With this goal in mind, an effective user testing approach for indie studios should be delivered in a timely, accessible and, economical fashion. Thus the collaboration with XL to explore effective playtesting methods and tools specifically targeted at improving independent sized games.

SWaGUR: Saskatchewan-Waterloo Games User Research

The Saskatchewan-Waterloo Games User Research (SWaGUR) program brings together 11 researchers from 7 departments at the Universities of Waterloo and Saskatchewan with the long-term goal of training 85 HQP in GUR in an interdisciplinary environment in collaboration with our industrial partners to serve the needs of an important part of Canada's information technology sector. The team of world-leading games researchers draws upon their interdisciplinary perspectives across science, engineering, social science, and humanities to apply academic learning (courses) and experiential learning (projects) in an industrially-relevant context to train HQP in both research and professional skills. The SWaGUR CREATE initiative addresses the Human Interaction with Digital Information research topic within the Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) target area. With many computing applications (advancing game technology), the proposed program will generate technologies and provide training in the deployment of technologies that change how people interact with digital information, both for entertainment games and for the rapidly growing serious games sector.

WellPlayed Project, Movember Social Innovators challenge

The WellPlayed Project is building a community of gamers whose main goals are to have fun and connect with other like-minded gamers. As we research the best ways to connect people, we’re hosting a series of online events where you can form a squad yourself or be matched to play with others by our playstyle matching system. If you would like to find out about upcoming events and opportunities to contribute ideas to the project, join our mailing list below.

Personalized Gameful Design

Gameful design, the process of creating a system with affordances for gameful experiences, can be used to increase user engagement and enjoyment of digital interactive systems. It can also be used to create applications for behaviour change in areas such as health, wellness, education, customer loyalty, and employee management. However, existing research suggests that the qualities of users, such as their personality traits, preferences, or identification with the task, can influence gamification outcomes. Given how user qualities shape the gameful experience, it is important to understand how to personalize gameful systems. Current evidence suggests that personalized gameful systems can lead to increased user engagement and be more effective in helping users achieve their goals than generic ones. However, to create this kind of systems, designers need a specific method to guide them in personalizing the gameful experience to their target audience. This research project includes the development of user models, design methods, and evaluation methods to personalize gameful systems. Our personalized gameful design method provides practical tools and clear guidelines to help designers effectively build personalized gameful systems.

Ended Projects