WiG 2007 The Big Game - Shaun Lawson & Thomas Chesney

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Information about WiG 2007 The Big Game - Shaun Lawson & Thomas Chesney

Published on May 25, 2007

Author: shenerd

Source: slideshare.net

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Shaun Lawson &
Thomas Chesney
Virtual pets: great for the games industry
but what’s really in it for the owners?
University of Lincoln & Nottingham University Business School

Shaun Lawson Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre, Dept of Computing and Informatics, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, UK. LN6 7TS. [email_address] Thomas Chesney Nottingham University Business School Jubilee Campus, Nottingham, NG8 1BB. [email_address] Virtual pets: great for the games industry but what’s really in it for the owners? Newport, Wales, April 2007

Virtual Pets … The virtual pet and electronic companion genres of computer games and computing devices respectively are examples of very successful commercial technological products. As examples of virtual (screen-based) pets we include software games such as Catz, Dogz, MoPets and Nintendogs, whilst as examples of electronic (embodied) companions we include devices such as Tamagotchis, Furbys and Sony Aibos. For shortness, unless otherwise stated, throughout the rest of this presentation we will refer to both genres collectively as virtual pets .

The virtual pet and electronic companion genres of computer games and computing devices respectively are examples of very successful commercial technological products.

As examples of virtual (screen-based) pets we include software games such as Catz, Dogz, MoPets and Nintendogs, whilst as examples of electronic (embodied) companions we include devices such as Tamagotchis, Furbys and Sony Aibos.

For shortness, unless otherwise stated, throughout the rest of this presentation we will refer to both genres collectively as virtual pets .

A commercial success Millions of consumers worldwide have purchased these products, played with them, interacted with them, invested time in looking after them, and perhaps even become emotionally attached to them. Despite this huge financial and emotional investment by consumers, and an ongoing development and marketing investment by industry (new titles are appearing almost daily), academic interest in such products is virtually nil. Why is this? And should we really be interested anyway? <200,000 Sony (Japan) Aibo 2,000,000 various Petz series 7,000,000 Nintendo (Japan) Nintendogs > 30,000,000 Hasbro (USA) Furby >50,000,000 Bandai (Japan) Tamagotchi Estimated Global Sales Manufacturer Virtual Pet or Companion

Millions of consumers worldwide have purchased these products, played with them, interacted with them, invested time in looking after them, and perhaps even become emotionally attached to them.

Despite this huge financial and emotional investment by consumers, and an ongoing development and marketing investment by industry (new titles are appearing almost daily), academic interest in such products is virtually nil.

Why is this? And should we really be interested anyway?

Who plays these games? There is ample evidence to suggest that, whether industry targets younger people or not, very many adults play virtual pet games. Casual observance of web-based user-forums discussing all virtual pets indicates that there are a significant number of adult owners in existence. For instance, since its creation in 1999, the Adult Lovers of Furby (ALOF) user-forum has had over 85,000 posts, with each week seeing over 100 new posts by its current members. But do adults buy, interact with or play with virtual pets for the same reasons younger people do? Cartoon is from Foxtrot.com by Bill Amend (2005)

There is ample evidence to suggest that, whether industry targets younger people or not, very many adults play virtual pet games.

Casual observance of web-based user-forums discussing all virtual pets indicates that there are a significant number of adult owners in existence. For instance, since its creation in 1999, the Adult Lovers of Furby (ALOF) user-forum has had over 85,000 posts, with each week seeing over 100 new posts by its current members.

But do adults buy, interact with or play with virtual pets for the same reasons younger people do?

Who plays these games? The virtual pet genre of computer game is often held up as a success in terms of appeal for women gamers – Nintendo recently claimed that 22% of Nintendogs owners are female compared to only 5% of players of their other early success for the DS, Mario Kart (a driving game). A related concern in the games industry is the notion of casual gaming i.e. the idea that there is an untapped bunch of consumers who want games they can play for short periods whilst (e.g.) waiting for a bus. Are virtual pets used by casual gamers? Probably not, as these excerpts from a thread entitled “soft punishments” in the forum on the Game+Girl=Advance website illustrate:- “ I ultimately rid myself of … Nintendogs for this very reason. My maintenance -- things I had to do every time I started playing that took upwards of 15 minutes to complete -- started to drain my desire to do anything else. After a while I was *JUST* doing the maintenance” “ the (nearly) mandatory maintenance of a Nintendogs session ultimately drove me to quit playing, esp after I got Mario Kart DS. Mario Kart can be played for a few minutes and put down.” http://www.gamegirladvance.com/archives/2006/05/25/soft_punishments.html

The virtual pet genre of computer game is often held up as a success in terms of appeal for women gamers – Nintendo recently claimed that 22% of Nintendogs owners are female compared to only 5% of players of their other early success for the DS, Mario Kart (a driving game).

A related concern in the games industry is the notion of casual gaming i.e. the idea that there is an untapped bunch of consumers who want games they can play for short periods whilst (e.g.) waiting for a bus.

Are virtual pets used by casual gamers? Probably not, as these excerpts from a thread entitled “soft punishments” in the forum on the Game+Girl=Advance website illustrate:-

And what is their impact? The psychological impact, good or bad, of playing virtual games or interacting with virtual pet products, is not known. This does not stop one or two large games companies from making some frankly jaw-dropping claims about their products however.

The psychological impact, good or bad, of playing virtual games or interacting with virtual pet products, is not known.

This does not stop one or two large games companies from making some frankly jaw-dropping claims about their products however.

Some interesting claims Nintendo on Nintendogs. Nintendo have reported the results of one review of their virtual pet Nintendogs by a “relationship psychologist” and make the claim that:- Ubisoft on Catz and Dogz (and Hamsterz etc). Ubisoft's Petz Executive Producer Tony Van, when interviewed about the recent release of the Petz series on the Nintendo DS, stated that: “ … it can not only help develop our attention spans and motor skills, but also improves our ability to solve problems and think creatively …. teaches us how to bond and provides us with a sense of nurture and responsibility ….(and has) emotional effects, helping to raise self-esteem and develop strategic thinking” “… one value I always suggest is the player learning how to best take care of their pet, which translates to its use in the real world. This is valuable to both kids and adults, and if it results in one less abused animal in this world, that makes my job even more rewarding” (Reputedly from a study by Susan Quilliam (2005)) Interview on Gamasutra , November 2006

Nintendo on Nintendogs.

Nintendo have reported the results of one review of their virtual pet Nintendogs by a “relationship psychologist” and make the claim that:-

Ubisoft on Catz and Dogz (and Hamsterz etc).

Ubisoft's Petz Executive Producer Tony Van, when interviewed about the recent release of the Petz series on the Nintendo DS, stated that:

Some interesting claims !!!!

So, why are we interested? We believe that there is a set of fundamental, unanswered, questions centered on the commercial interest in virtual pets which is has hitherto been overlooked. Sales figures and the very fact that many virtual pet products are squarely aimed at children and younger people indicates to us that more attention should be paid to the effects, both positive and otherwise, that such products have on their users, owners and players. For instance, it is not known what benefits , companionship , or enjoyment that users gain from owning a virtual pet. Compared to the scarcity of published work in this area, there is, in stark contrast, an abundance of literature examining the benefits of owning real pets . It follows, and indeed it is often claimed by toy manufacturers (as we have seen), that a virtual pet could possibly deliver some of these benefits, though to our knowledge, no studies have actually examined this.

We believe that there is a set of fundamental, unanswered, questions centered on the commercial interest in virtual pets which is has hitherto been overlooked.

Sales figures and the very fact that many virtual pet products are squarely aimed at children and younger people indicates to us that more attention should be paid to the effects, both positive and otherwise, that such products have on their users, owners and players.

For instance, it is not known what benefits , companionship , or enjoyment that users gain from owning a virtual pet.

Compared to the scarcity of published work in this area, there is, in stark contrast, an abundance of literature examining the benefits of owning real pets .

It follows, and indeed it is often claimed by toy manufacturers (as we have seen), that a virtual pet could possibly deliver some of these benefits, though to our knowledge, no studies have actually examined this.

Directly Relevant Work Very little work has appeared which describes any rigorous scientific investigations into peoples’ use of virtual pets. New media commentators such as Turkle have called for answers to the question of how we interact with such devices claiming this is an important, even ‘urgent’, issue. Most recently Isbister (2006) rationalised motivations in engaging with a virtual pet and suggests that the objective is to enjoy the pet’s development as well as its moments of both connection and resistance to the player. She identifies that virtual pets are relatively unique as autonomous agents since they evoke a high degree of time and emotional investment. Subrahmanyam et al (2001) discuss the shift from real life to simulation in the context of virtual pets but conclude, like Turkle, that systematic research is needed to assess the impact of such technology. Isbister K. Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach. Morgan Kaufmann. 2006. Subrahmanyam, K. et al. The impact of computer use on children's and adolescents' development. Applied Developmental Psychology (22) pp. 7-30. 2001

Very little work has appeared which describes any rigorous scientific investigations into peoples’ use of virtual pets.

New media commentators such as Turkle have called for answers to the question of how we interact with such devices claiming this is an important, even ‘urgent’, issue.

Most recently Isbister (2006) rationalised motivations in engaging with a virtual pet and suggests that the objective is to enjoy the pet’s development as well as its moments of both connection and resistance to the player. She identifies that virtual pets are relatively unique as autonomous agents since they evoke a high degree of time and emotional investment.

Subrahmanyam et al (2001) discuss the shift from real life to simulation in the context of virtual pets but conclude, like Turkle, that systematic research is needed to assess the impact of such technology.

Real pets Compared to the scarcity of published work in the virtual pets area, there is, in stark contrast, an abundance of literature examining the benefits of owning real pets – and especially dogs . For instance, studies have looked, for instance, at how pets can:- positively effect people as they get older (e.g. Mahalski (1988)) alter the interaction between people when they meet for the first time (i.e. act as social lubricants ) (e.g. Wells (2004)), help overcome the death of a close relative (Adkins (1999) be of benefit in a child’s development ( Pattnalk, 2004). It possibly follows (but is regularly claimed by manufacturers) that a virtual pet could, in some way, deliver some of these benefits. Though, to our knowledge, no studies have actually examined this. Mahalski, P.A. Jones, R. & Maxwell, G.M. The value of cat ownership to elderly women living alone. International Journal of Aging Human Development 27(4) pp. 249-260 (1988). Garrity, T.F., Stallones, L., Marx, M.B. & Johnson, T.P. Pet ownership and attachment as supportive factors in the health of the elderly. Anthrozoos 3(1) pp. 35-44 (1989). Wells, D.L. The facilitation of social interactions by domestic dogs. Anthrozoos 17, 340-352 (2004). Adkins, S.L. & Rajecki, D.W. Pets’ roles in parents’ bereavement. Anthrozoos 12(1) pp. 33041 (1999). Pattnalk, J. On behalf of their animal friends. Childhood Education Winter 2004/2005 pp. 95-100. 2004.

Compared to the scarcity of published work in the virtual pets area, there is, in stark contrast, an abundance of literature examining the benefits of owning real pets – and especially dogs .

For instance, studies have looked, for instance, at how pets can:-

positively effect people as they get older (e.g. Mahalski (1988))

alter the interaction between people when they meet for the first time (i.e. act as social lubricants ) (e.g. Wells (2004)),

help overcome the death of a close relative (Adkins (1999)

be of benefit in a child’s development ( Pattnalk, 2004).

It possibly follows (but is regularly claimed by manufacturers) that a virtual pet could, in some way, deliver some of these benefits. Though, to our knowledge, no studies have actually examined this.

Some of our previous work In our own work, we have taken the approach of trying to assess whether people gain similar benefits in terms of companionship with virtual pets as they do with real pets. In Chesney & Lawson (2007) we show that people do indeed register feelings of companionship when trying to quantify how they feel about interactions with their pet. In order to do this, we deployed a well-known questionnaire-based measure (CCAS developed in Zasloff (1996)) to determine companionship from animals. It was clear that a virtual pet offered some companionship to most owners - however not as much as a real cat or dog. The Comfort from Companion Animals Scale (CCAS) Zasloff (1996) Chesney, T. & Lawson, S. The Illusion of Love: Does a virtual pet provide the same company as a real one? Interaction Studies: Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems . (in press). Zasloff, R.L. Measuring attachment to companion animals: a dog is not a cat is not a bird. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 47 pp. 43-48. (1996). 1. My pet provides me with companionship 2. Having a pet gives me something to care for 3. My pet provides me with pleasurable activity 4. My pet is a source of constancy in my life 5. My pet makes me feel needed 6. My pet makes me play and laugh 7. Having a pet gives me something to love 8. I get comfort from touching my pet 9. I enjoy watching my pet 10. My pet makes me feel loved 11. My pet makes me feel trusted

In our own work, we have taken the approach of trying to assess whether people gain similar benefits in terms of companionship with virtual pets as they do with real pets.

In Chesney & Lawson (2007) we show that people do indeed register feelings of companionship when trying to quantify how they feel about interactions with their pet.

In order to do this, we deployed a well-known questionnaire-based measure (CCAS developed in Zasloff (1996)) to determine companionship from animals.

It was clear that a virtual pet offered some companionship to most owners - however not as much as a real cat or dog.

Our own work We have also tested the hypothesis that younger virtual pet owners will experience closer companionship with their virtual pet and shown this to be true for all definitions of younger people (Lawson & Chesney, 2007). A related question is whether children and younger people are more likely to be more anthropomorphic about technology than adults – and hence whether they might score higher on the CCAS. However, Chiasson and Gutwin (2005) partially tested the well known media equation theory of Reeves and Nass (1996) with children and concluded that contrary to their expectations there was no evidence that children were significantly different to adults. Additionally, Turkle (2005) attempted to contrast the reactions of older people and children to examples of commercial embodied virtual pets (including Aibo and Furby), but found a range of individual, rather than systematic age-related, differences in how relationships were formed. Lawson, S. and Chesney, T. The impact of owner age on companionship with virtual pets. To appear in Proc of 15th European Conf on Information Systems (ECIS 2007), St. Gallen, Switzerland, June 7-9 2007. Chiasson S. and Gutwin C. 2005. Testing the Media Equation with Children. ACM CHI 2005. April 2–7, 2005, Portland, Oregon, USA. pp.829-839. Reeves B and Nass C. 1996. The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places. Cambridge University Press. Turkle S. 2005. Relational artefacts, children and elders: the complexities of cybercompanions: towards social mechanisms of android science. A COGSCI 2005 workshop, July 2005, Stresa, Italy, pp. 62-73.

We have also tested the hypothesis that younger virtual pet owners will experience closer companionship with their virtual pet and shown this to be true for all definitions of younger people (Lawson & Chesney, 2007).

A related question is whether children and younger people are more likely to be more anthropomorphic about technology than adults – and hence whether they might score higher on the CCAS.

However, Chiasson and Gutwin (2005) partially tested the well known media equation theory of Reeves and Nass (1996) with children and concluded that contrary to their expectations there was no evidence that children were significantly different to adults.

Additionally, Turkle (2005) attempted to contrast the reactions of older people and children to examples of commercial embodied virtual pets (including Aibo and Furby), but found a range of individual, rather than systematic age-related, differences in how relationships were formed.

Gender & Nintendogs The role of gender in virtual pet usage has received little academic attention – though it seems apparent (at least to us) that games like Nintendogs are marketed at younger female players. It also seems that the previously perceived child-like appeal of virtual pet games has largely been dispelled single-handedly by Nintendogs – though the more acceptable feeling of kitsch quirkiness remains. Given Nintendo’s supposedly gender neutral marketing of Nintendogs which contrasts with the wider perceived notion that there are many female players of the game, or even that the game is perhaps preferred by female players than male players, we wished to investigate whether there are any differences in the perception of virtual pets in general, and Nintendogs in particular, between male and female owners.

The role of gender in virtual pet usage has received little academic attention – though it seems apparent (at least to us) that games like Nintendogs are marketed at younger female players.

It also seems that the previously perceived child-like appeal of virtual pet games has largely been dispelled single-handedly by Nintendogs – though the more acceptable feeling of kitsch quirkiness remains.

Given Nintendo’s supposedly gender neutral marketing of Nintendogs which contrasts with the wider perceived notion that there are many female players of the game, or even that the game is perhaps preferred by female players than male players, we wished to investigate whether there are any differences in the perception of virtual pets in general, and Nintendogs in particular, between male and female owners.

Gender Hypotheses There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a male by a Nintendog. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a female by a cat. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a female by a dog. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a male by a Nintendog and a male by a cat. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a male by a Nintendog and a male by a dog. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a cat and a male by a cat. There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a dog and a male by a dog.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a male by a Nintendog.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a female by a cat.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a Nintendog and a female by a dog.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a male by a Nintendog and a male by a cat.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a male by a Nintendog and a male by a dog.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a cat and a male by a cat.

There is no difference in the companionship offered to a female by a dog and a male by a dog.

Gender Response rates and descriptive statistics 13 16 15 Mean female age 14 16 18 Mean male age 37 34 67 Number of females 27 16 38 Number of males 64 50 105 Response Dogs Cats Nintendogs

Gender *p<0.05 Five F tests for differences in variances of the Comfort from Companion Animals Scale scores 2.312* 5.22 37.74 27 Male Dog Owners 7.94 39.26 37 Female Dog Owners 2.949* 5.22 37.74 27 Male Dog Owners 8.97 33.73 38 Male Nintendog Owners 0.990* 7.94 39.26 37 Female Dog Owners 7.90 34.16 67 Female Nintendog Owners 2.657* 4.85 37.12 34 Female Cat Owners 7.90 34.16 67 Female Nintendog Owners 0.776 8.97 33.73 38 Male Nintendog Owners 7.90 34.16 67 Female Nintendog Owners F SD Mean N Name SD Mean N Name Compared With Group of Owners

What have we learned? The more we look at virtual pets the more intrigued we are. Despite the huge commercial success of such products, fundamental, unanswered, questions remain as to the benefits, companionship, or enjoyment that users gain from owning a virtual pet. It is even unclear, for instance, as to whether different people (older/younger male/female) play, or interact, with virtual pets for differing reasons. Additionally, there are many recent instances of virtual pet manufacturers claiming that the ownership of virtual pets in some way provides either useful training or education prior to, or a long-term substitute for, the ownership of a real animal. Many claims surrounded virtual pets are, at present, unfounded, and little, if any, academic work has examined such claims. We believe the questions on the next slide are the most important ones which arise from virtual pet use and that all such questions are currently unsolved.

The more we look at virtual pets the more intrigued we are.

Despite the huge commercial success of such products, fundamental, unanswered, questions remain as to the benefits, companionship, or enjoyment that users gain from owning a virtual pet.

It is even unclear, for instance, as to whether different people (older/younger male/female) play, or interact, with virtual pets for differing reasons.

Additionally, there are many recent instances of virtual pet manufacturers claiming that the ownership of virtual pets in some way provides either useful training or education prior to, or a long-term substitute for, the ownership of a real animal.

Many claims surrounded virtual pets are, at present, unfounded, and little, if any, academic work has examined such claims.

We believe the questions on the next slide are the most important ones which arise from virtual pet use and that all such questions are currently unsolved.

Unanswered questions What health and ethical issues arise from virtual pet use – particularly when considering young and much older people? 7 What educational benefits, if any, are there from interacting with virtual pets? 6 What attributes of virtual pets are key to their commercial success? Is there an ultimate virtual pet requirements specification? 5 Are virtual pets merely social lubricants and used to facilitate new interactions with other people and/or strengthen bonds between existing friends and peers? 4 Are virtual pets merely casual games that we treat in the same way as Tetris and Mario Kart? 3 Do people of differing age groups, backgrounds and gender view virtual pets in different ways and get different benefits (if any) from them? 2 Why, fundamentally, do people buy and interact with different types of virtual pet – is it to get the same, some of same, or completely different benefits as they get from real pets? 1 Research question Q

Thanks and Questions? In our work we collaborate with Dr Deborah Wells who is Director of the Canine Behaviour Centre at Queens University Belfast. Shaun’s contribution to this work is partly funded by Microsoft Research. Shaun Lawson Lincoln Social Computing Research Centre, Dept of Computing and Informatics, University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool, Lincoln, UK. LN6 7TS. [email_address] Thomas Chesney Nottingham University Business School Jubilee Campus, Nottingham, NG8 1BB. [email_address]

In our work we collaborate with Dr Deborah Wells who is Director of the Canine Behaviour Centre at Queens University Belfast.

Shaun’s contribution to this work is partly funded by Microsoft Research.

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