Gaming’s Crystal Ball

June 15, 2011

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Video games are more popular than ever. The online role-playing game World of Warcraft (WoW) alone has more than 11 million registered players. And generating new content to keep those players involved can be a challenge. But now NC State researchers have developed a way to predict what players will do next – and that can help video-game designers give the players exactly what they want.

A team of computer-science researchers developed the method to predict player behavior after analyzing the behavior of 14,000 WoW players. The method can predict what a player will do with up to 80 percent accuracy, and could be used by the game industry to develop new game content, or to help steer players to the parts of a game they will enjoy most.

“A good game stands on its own,” says Dr. David L. Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the research. “If you want to improve it, you have to make sure players will like any changes you make. This research can help gaming companies get it right.”

And getting it right is important, because video games are big business. An estimated 65 percent of U.S. households own a video game system, and a successful game can bring in tens of millions of dollars (or more). In 2009, the global gaming industry generated an estimated $10.5 billion.

The new prediction method may have additional applications as well. “This work could obviously be used for World of Warcraft or other massively multiplayer online role-playing games,” Roberts says. “But it also applies to any setting where users are making a series of decisions. That could be other gaming formats, or even online retailing.”

And the video game industry is important to North Carolina’s economy, as the Triangle is gaining recognition as an East Coast hub for video game developers. Check out UNC-TV’s profile of North Carolina’s video game sector from earlier this year (below).