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Doing It First: Testing Hyper-Casual Games with Biometrics

When the market of hyper-casual games becomes more and more saturated, what can we do to keep tickling our players’ brains in all the right places? To answer that and test a couple of games along the way, we did something no other HC publisher did before: we recorded the activity of a brain enjoying a hyper-casual gaming session. To lend us a helping hand, we invited Brainamics, a Munich-based deep-tech start-up that uses electroencephalography (EEG) to decipher gamers’ brain signals into emotions. Sounds quite sciencey — and it is — but bear with us and learn why we did it, and what were the findings.

Why Are We Turning to Emotions?

If you think about it, considering the emotional state when testing hyper-casual games makes complete sense. In a way, playing hyper-casual is a self-sustained experience since it doesn’t necessarily provide a player with a tangible goal. The experience itself — a satisfying one — is why people keep turning to hyper-casual gaming. Therefore, when evaluating their playtime, users will rely on the emotional state that they were in before, during, and after engaging with a game to decide whether they liked it or not.

This personal outcome, whether a positive or a negative one, can be broken down into many smaller occurrences of emotional response to the gameplay events. Each of them can become a tipping point in deciding to either stop playing or continue indulging — the result depends on nothing but personal perception. That’s why it’s crucial to consider a player’s mind and emotions while designing and testing hyper-casual games. And this is where Brainamics could offer us a helping hand (and a pretty damn cool EEG set).

Meet Brainamics

Made up of rocket scientists (as we dearly named them here) and fellow gamers, Brainamics works with EEG sensors and their own algorithm to run playtests for game developers of different scales. All of them hope to improve their KPIs by learning — down to the second — what in-game events make users feel bored or excited, anxious or happy.

Just like we always do, Sunday has jumped on the opportunity to test some games with Brainamics and be the first hyper-casual studio ever to test games with this exciting start-up. Until this collaboration, we’ve been collecting enormous amounts of data ourselves, but we’ve never measured or tested physiological indicators. 

“Companies like Sunday have a lot of quantitative data on their hands, and we offer to actually get behind the data and bring the issues to the surface. With quantitative data only it’s kind of like digging in the dark.”


To the Testing

We’ve recruited 10 people to test some of our hyper-casual games. The only requirements were that the testees had never played the examined games before and that they are generally interested in mobile gaming. Luckily, working with the hyper-casual genre, we have the widest range of target audience to test on.

The test room remained quiet and dim during the whole experiment — the only thing that kept lighting up was the brain engaged in a game. Each participant spent 15 minutes playing, during which:

  • a camera was recording their faces;
  • a screen recording software was capturing the gameplay; 
  • EEG was collecting raw data about the brain’s function to feed it to the algorithm later. 

A research review published on argues that EEG in the game dev context is “useful for: monitoring attention/boredom, could be useful for identifying common patterns and behaviors, identifying in-game events which may trigger significant changes in focus.” However, the gaming-specific algorithm developed by Brainamics takes the “could be useful” and turns it into results that can be immediately implemented with a high chance of a successful outcome. 

The First Results Are in

At the time of publishing this article, we’ve got qualitative data from the experiment on our hands, while the quantitative results are still in the works. However, that small portion of new information that we’ve gathered is already quite fascinating. 

The interface of Brainamics’ software opens a window to the emotional state of a player, which can be traced back to the second. The moving graphs show the codependency of periods of activity and positivity in brain signals, which make the overall emotional state wander through 4 quadrants: excited, satisfied, bored, and anxious.

Armed with their experience in playtesting and a variety of brain activity patterns that they’ve already proved accurate, Brainamics quickly found things that could improve our KPIs:

  • When there’s a core game loop that rewards you at the beginning of the game, you build the habit and create the motivation to repeat the core game loop by playing again. Therefore, stick to the simple game loop of a small challenge-solution-reward right off the bat to make players return. 
  • Levels shouldn’t be too challenging. However, when new mechanics are introduced with tutorials, the brain isn’t challenged enough and it doesn’t experience the feeling of reward even when the level is finished. Therefore, the loop won’t be fully completed, and this might interfere with forming the habit.
  • Too many new mechanics that require a tutorial bring satisfaction levels down, because players don’t have enough time to actually play and enjoy. 
  • It’s possible to introduce unexpected ways for players to enjoy the game. In one of the tested games, the testees showed increased happiness levels when simply knocking down objects in the game world.

Drawing Conclusions

From the findings that we already have, it seems like it always comes down to motivation: players need to feel motivated to complete the core game loop time after time. And for that, they need to have a habit formed. It’s a quest of making a player feel accomplished each and every time they play our game. By engaging with a positive feedback loop, they’ll form a habit that will make them come back to the game again while raising our retention levels and opportunities for monetization.

An average session duration for hyper-casual games is never too long: a couple of minutes at best. That’s why it’s crucial to balance the experience out, especially during the habit-forming early levels. Nothing should interfere with the flow and the positive reinforcement of the habit. And if something does, it should be counteracted by a positive experience right away. 

It was fascinating to learn how too many tutorial levels — something that we implemented with the intent to help our player out — actually interfere with the flow and turn against us. Indeed, within every short playing session, there should be enough opportunities for users to actually play, explore, be challenged, and feel rewarded.

The effect of ads on the experience should also be further investigated. If ads make up a significant portion of the gameplay, they should be incorporated into the loop during designing and testing. The findings have shown that ads introduce some anxiety and put players into the anxious quadrant. When you combine an ad with a challenging level, it might cause too much anxiety and push the player into quitting the game.

What’s Next?

Whatever it takes to keep creating hyper-casual hits! If you thought this idea was off the wall, wait for the rest that we have in the works. If implementing a scientific approach to collecting data about our products leads to increasingly more effective results, there’s only one question left to ask: why not?

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