Interactive affordances and player experience in massively multiplayer online role playing games : exploration of world of Warcraft players' experiences
Date of Issue2016-02-11
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
Contemporary video games such as massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) have gained increasing popularity in recent years. For instance, World of Warcraft (WoW) boasts the largest current share of online game subscribers at more than 10 million around the world. The expanding popularity of online games has driven research to discuss various aspects of such games. The game industry has shown particular interest in understanding factors that make playing online games a compelling experience in order to find ways to preserve existing subscribers and attract more people. Academics also have been exploring factors that influence people's gaming experiences. However, the effects of players’ actual engagement with specific game characteristics on their experiences and the process that players go through to reach certain experiential states have not drawn enough attention in the literature. Two main approaches to conceptualizing contextual factors that influence player experience focus on either players’ psychological properties or on structural game characteristics. Earlier game research mainly focus on individual factors that influence player experience, such as players’ motivations, needs, and individual characteristics. For example, self-determination theory (SDT) and uses and gratifications theory (U&G) suggest that people play online games to meet certain needs and motivations. Motivation-based theories, including SDT and U&G, assume that people have certain basic needs prior to media use, and that those needs motivate people to use a specific medium. However, it is possible that the gratifications users obtain from media are not always driven by their innate, prior needs before using a medium. In recent years, a growing number of game scholars have discussed how structural game characteristics can be more influential as contextual factors than players’ psychological properties. This second approach has identified a list of game features that can influence players’ in-game experiences and subsequent behaviors. There are just few studies looking into the effects of structural game characteristics on player experience. The current literature also does not provide insights into how players’ actual engagement with game features influences their gaming experiences. There are numerous features in MMORPGs, but players may or may not always use them. In order to focus on contextual factors related to games that influence player experience, this project identifies prominent action possibilities (affordances) of World of Warcraft with which players actually engage. This research therefore contributes to the literature on structural game characteristics. Another problem in the literature is that current models and theoretical constructs of player experience do not elaborate on the processes that players go through to reach certain experiential states while gaming. Popular models of player experience have described psychological compartments or intensity of the optimal experiences. Theoretical constructs of player experience have also elaborated on players’ experiences such as immersion, sense of presence, engagement, involvement, and flow state. However, in order to truly understand what experiential states such as immersion and flow are like, it is essential to explore players’ affective states in such experiential states as well (Ravaja et al., 2006; Riva et al., 2007). This project explores players’ affective states and experiential states during actual engagement with interactive game affordances. To address the above two limitations, this research conceptualizes player experience as a dynamic process consisting of contextual factors, processes, and consequences. Such a conceptualization of player experience is inspired by the tri-partite models of user experience (Chen, 2000; Hoffman & Novak, 1996; Finneran & Zhang, 2005). In this research, contextual factors are defined based on interactive affordances of online games, processes are explored based on players’ affective states, and consequences refer to players’ various experiential states. Twenty-five WoW players were recruited to complete a think-aloud protocol and semi-structured in-depth interview. The study found five categories of interactive affordances that players mainly engaged with: achievement, exploration, social connectedness, control, and customizability of difficulty level. Various affective states arising as a result of engagement with interactive affordances are categorized into stimulated feelings, relaxed feelings, and disturbed feelings. Players’ experiential states include flow experience, partial engagement, and disengagement. Finally, a model of player experience based on associations among interactive affordances, affective states, and experiential states is presented. Theoretical contributions and practical implications of the findings are provided at the end of this research.
Nanyang Technological University