Hybrid Gaming Platforms – Restructuring Game Control Schemes

Hybrid Gaming Platforms –
Restructuring Game Control Schemes
Ben Medler
Lily Li
Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts
209 Redwood Shores Pkwy
209 Redwood Shores Pkwy
Redwood City, CA 94065 USA
Redwood City, CA 94065 USA
Researchers from Electronic Arts (EA) share their
experience working on a hybrid platform, a system that
combines multiple platforms into one. Specifically, the
authors discuss project Blade, a gaming service that
combines console/PC games, touch-screen devices and
a streaming game technology. The authors share their
design process and the user research methods they are
using to studying their hybrid system and what insights
they have learned from gauging user expectations
regarding gaming platforms.
Author Keywords
Game; Controller; Second-screen; Touch-screen;
Streaming; Platforms
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.2. User Interfaces: Input devices and strategies.
Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).
CHI’13, April 27 – May 2, 2013, Paris, France.
Gaming platforms have begun to fracture as players
continue to play games on multiple digital devices [1,
2]. This has led to a number of console manufacturers,
game developers and service providers to build
systems that merge platforms together into hybrid
experiences. For example, digital distribution service
Steam created Big Picture a feature allowing players to
have a console experience on a PC platform. Console
platforms like PS3 and WiiU have created networked
systems allowing wireless handheld game devices to
act as game controllers, effectively merging handheld
platforms with consoles. Hybrid platforms combine
multiple platforms together and are making it easier for
players to transition from platform to platform.
Researchers at Electronic Arts (EA) have been working
on one type of hybrid platform, combining streaming
PC/console games played on a television screen with
touch-screen controllers. Project Blade explores how
touch-screen devices can be used as a method for
controlling a variety of digital games and relaying
information back to the player during gameplay. Acting
more than just a controller sending input to a game, a
touch-screen device can function as a second-screen
providing players with additional information and
means of interacting with external features related to a
game. In this extended abstract, we discuss how we
have approached designing the experience of the
platform and the second-screen style controllers. Our
designs are informed by the user research studies the
authors have conducted and we present the benefits,
drawbacks and opportunities we have found while
building our hybrid platform.
Project Blade
Project Blade brings together three different game
related services and devices: streaming game
networks, televisions and touch-screen tablets. Figure 1
relates the connection between the three parts. Players
connect their touch-screen tablets to EA’s streaming
game servers in a similar way a user connects to other
streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu on a tablet.
The streaming game server continuously sends a video
stream of a game to a player’s television while
accepting control inputs and relaying data back to the
controller. For example, when playing EA’s Tiger Woods
PGA Tour golf game the streaming server sends data
back to the controller including: club selection, wind
speed, mini-map orientation, etc. From the players
perspective they see the Blade platform as a secondscreen experience. A player interacts with the tablet
controller and their actions are reflected on the
television and tablet screen. The streaming game
server stays hidden. Therefore, as part of the project
Blade the authors are in charge of studying how players
experience the second-screen setup. These means
studying how to reconcile three different activities at
the same time: playing games, watching streaming
television and using touch-screen tablets.
User Testing and Design
Even though project Blade is a hybrid platform devoted
to playing games, our target audience is novice or lapse
gamers. The reasons we are targeting this audience are
actually due to the type of platforms we are combining
together. Streaming video, for example, is a common
service households purchase and a streaming game
service can mimic the same on-demand media
functionality as video streaming services. Streaming
games also solves the issue of maintaining expensive
hardware that can cause users to give up gaming as an
activity or to pursue other less intensive game
platforms (such as mobile gaming). Furthermore,
touch-screen devices continue to penetrate many
households and users have become comfortable using
those devices. Turning a touch-screen device into a
game controller is not a giant leap for users. Streaming
games and touch-screen devices offer a way to by-pass
barriers related to maintaining hardware and a user’s
ability to use that gaming hardware.
Difficulties novice players
have with gamepads
 Players have a hard time
remembering what buttons
perform which action (such
as the A or X buttons)
whether they had half the
buttons hidden or not.
 Players did not understand
“clicking-in” joysticks and
the symbols used to define
the action.
 Tutorial messages quickly
removed after a player
performs an action meant
players where left unsure
how to perform the action
 3D camera position and
simultaneous movement
are difficult to master.
With novice gamers in mind we have conducted various
user research studies looking at Project Blade as both a
unique platform and a combination of individual
platforms. Some aspects of our user research studies
are described below. We also cover our initial
exploration into our controller designs and how we have
progressed in designing the experience of our hybrid
gaming platform.
Guerilla Testing With Novice Gamers
During our initial controller design phase, we employed
a guerilla testing method to review how players who
had never, or rarely, used a Xbox 360 controller played
console games. We conducted our test in a tourist
heavy area in northern San Francisco, California where
we had the chance to grab ten participants who were
asked to play Mass Effect 3, a game that has an
opening tutorial that displays messages relating to
which buttons perform certain gameplay actions. In
order to test our assumption that gamepad controllers
(e.g. an Xbox 360 controller) are confusing for novice
gamers, half of the participants were given controllers
with some of the buttons hidden. For those
participants, only the buttons they absolutely needed
for the opening tutorial were left visible.
As a result of the test we found a number of issues
related to how novice gamers experience a gamepad
controller (see list to the left). For instance, participants
had a hard time remembering the actions each button
corresponded to (whether they had hidden buttons or
not) and some aspects of the game (e.g. 3D
movement) were hard to learn. Taking these results we
entered into a phase of initial controller design for our
touch-screen tablet controllers with the goal to mitigate
the problems we found in our guerilla testing.
Initial Controller Designs
We began designing our controllers to prioritized fixing
the issues we found during our guerilla test, such as
making it easier to remember the gameplay actions
buttons performed and how we can build controllers to
help with features like 3D movement. Below are three
features of our tablet controller design that attempt to
solve the issues novice gamers had with a gamepad
On-Screen Manual: Each game controller plainly
states the actions each interaction area, which are
designated areas on the tablet’s screen that act as
buttons or areas to perform gestures, can perform. This
helps users recognize how to perform actions instead of
having to recall an action. Figure 2 shows an example
of the controller made for Dead Space 2 where
interaction areas are labeled to show which gestures
players use to perform actions like shoot or move.
Overloaded Controls: Interaction areas can be
overloaded on a touch-screen controller, allowing for
multiple gestures to be used in the same area to
perform actions that relate to one another. For
example, in one area on the controller built for Mirror’s
Edge the player can hold down their thumb in the right
interaction area to move the camera up or down and
tap in the same area to attack. Moving the camera up
and down to aim is often used in conjunction with
attack, such as firing a weapon at an enemy, so
mapping those actions together in the same area
makes it easier for players to combine those actions
during gameplay.
Contextual Controls: Since the game streaming
server and the tablet controller stay in constant
communication with each other the controller can
modify itself based on the context of the game. The
controller built for Tiger Woods PGA Tour, for instance,
changes as a player moves from hole to hole along a
course (see Figure 2).
Playtesting Our Initial Tablet Controllers
After building our initial controllers we began running
playtests to determine how players would fair while
using tablets as their main controller. Thus far we have
testing over 15 internal EA employees and over 15
external player participants of mixed gaming
experience. Playtests are typically run as one-on-one
think out-louds and sometimes includes asking
participants to perform certain tasks such as using
specific game features that appear on a tablet
Testing a variety of participants has brought up a
number of design issues related to building a hybrid
platform. For example, some participants expected our
games to act like the mobile game versions instead of
console or PC versions. As a result, we have found that
we can layer features from the mobile version of a
game on top of controls meant to support the console
or PC version of a game, allowing players to choose
which controlling format they wished to use. We have
also found that the affordances a tablet and television
combination allows makes it possible to change how a
game is presented (such as game UI being moved to
the controller leaving the television less cluttered) and
controlled (e.g. using tilting to steer a car instead of a
joystick). Playtesting has allowed us to gauge what
affordances each single platform adds to the player’s
experience while also understanding what expectations
players bring to our hybrid platform.
While this extended abstract does not allow us to go
into great detail about our entire design and evaluation
process, the areas covered do provide an initial glimpse
at how hybrid platforms can be tested with current user
research methods. Understanding each piece of a
hybrid platform while also understanding what a target
audience expects from individual platforms is crucial for
learning how a new hybrid platform will be experienced
by players. For project Blade we have found we needed
to evaluate how players perceive different versions of
our games and how they interact with their televisions
and tablet devices. It is imperative for user researchers
who are evaluating hybrid platforms to view their
platform as both a novel experience for players, one
that may not be immediately understood but
immensely exciting, and as a system that tries to
reconcile a number of ingrained player expectations
about platforms that do not necessarily mesh with one
[1] Neilson. State of the Media: Cross-Platform Report
Q2 2012. http://www.nielsen.com/
[2] ESA. 2012 Essential Facts About the Computer and
Video Game Industry.
[3] Solane, A., Rusu, C., Collazos, C., Roncagliolo, S.,
Arciniegas, J.L., Rusu, V. Usability Heuristics for
Interactive Digital Television. In Proc. IAFIN 2011, 6063.
[4] Korhonen, H., Koivisto, E.M.I. Playability heuristics
for mobile multi-player games. In Proc. DIMEA 2007,
ACM Press (2007), 28-35.
Ben Medler Bio:
As a technical visual analyst at EA's Chief Creative
Office, Ben Medler is tasked with understanding how
players behave and how to visualize their behavior.
With a Ph.D. in Digital Media from Georgia Tech, he has
studied game visualization and analytics for many
years, working on both industry and academic projects.
In the past, Ben has worked on Dead Space 2 and Star
Wars: The Old Republic, where he helped to build visual
analytic systems for analyzing player behavior. His
most recent work revolves around producing game
visualization systems that players can use, and
speaking with player developers who build their own
tools for visualizing game data.
Lily Li Bio:
Lily Li is an Assistant UI Designer at the Office of the
Chief Creative Officer (OCCO) in Electronic Arts. She
has been working with the OCCO team since May 2012,
designing UX and UI for a hybrid gaming platform –
Project Blade – and conducting usability tests for the
project. She holds a Master Degree in Entertainment
Technology from Carnegie Mellon University and was
also a graduate of the HCI undergraduate program at
Carnegie Mellon University.
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