Quantic Foundry is a "game analytics consulting practice" that makes a buck by blending data analytics with social science to uncover more meaningful insights about games, behaviours and everything in between.
In the last 24 hours the firm has just published some findings from a survey that functions like "a benchmarking tool for game titles". And there's some pretty quirky comparisons within that map.
Let's provide some context for all of this, to start with. The survey was called the Gamer Motivation Profile, which takes 5-7 minutes to complete and gives you a report of what games are best for you.
After you get through the basics — your age, gender, how often you play, what platforms and so forth — the questionnaire plunges into a series of not important/mildly important/very important-style enquiries about different elements of gaming. How much of a completionist are you? How important is the backstory and lore of all the characters in a game? Do you need to play every game at the hardest difficulty possible? And how much do you really like helping other players?
Many of you will have probably filled out this survey before. It produces a profile that charts your "percentile rank across a broad range of gaming motivations" compared to other gamers, which you might have seen others post to Twitter or Facebook at some point. Here's one I filled out for fun, just to give you an idea of what we're talking about.
Quantic Foundry's Nick Yee then took all of the data and then, as an experiment, decided to plot games in the strategy genre against each other. "First, we’ll pick 2 game franchises—Civilization and StarCraft. We can then use our data set to find the games most closely related to these two exemplars. This gives us a good mix of turn-based strategy, real-time strategy, management sims, and grand strategy games," the firm explained.
"Strategy is the appeal of thinking, planning ahead, and making decisions; Excitement is the appeal of fast-paced action and gameplay that rewards rapid reactions. In the plot below, the games in the lower-right corner have high Strategy and low Excitement, while the games in the upper-left corner have low Strategy and high Excitement. And just to be clear, by 'low', I mean low relative to other games in the Strategy genre."
That chart looks like this.
Image courtesy of Quantic Foundry
What we've got is two axes. One measures the level of complexity in the strategic decisions you have to make in a particular game, while the other maps the appeal of gameplay that rewards fast reactions, features high levels of adrenaline, and speedy action.
You'll notice that there's nothing really on the upper right hand part of the chart, and there's a reason for that. If a game has an immense amount of complexity, but demands that you make those decisions too quickly, the game's simply not fun. Quantic calls this the "cognitive threshold", a boundary beyond which point a game ceases to be enjoyable. Here's what that chart looks like once it's applied.
Image courtesy of Quantic Foundry
The fact that StarCraft and Dota 2 (it says DotA on the map, but I strongly doubt the custom WC3 map and not the game being played for tens of millions of dollars is being used as the reference point) are just beyond the boundary of fun makes sense. It certainly mirrors the feelings of some of my friends, as wonderfully unscientific and useless that is for comparison.
But similarly, it makes sense that Rollercoaster Tycoon is on the far left edge. The series is known for its accessibility, and it makes sense that it requires less planning and forethought than, say, setting up for a team fight in Heroes of the Storm. Or the intense management that X-COM occasionally demands. (Again we're probably talking about the Firaxis reboot here, but that distinction wasn't outlined in the post.)
It's not all logical, of course. I'm a massive fan of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, but there's no way you could describe it as being more strategically complex than the original Age of Empires. Yee, however, wrote at the top of his post that this is a comparison of the games' audience scores and that it is a benchmark of sorts.
"The map also shows how these sub-genres are related to each other, and in particular, the games that function almost as bridges or gateways between sub-genres. For example, do you enjoy slow-paced 4X games like Civilization, but want to try something more strategically complex? You should take a look at Europa Universalis," Yee said.
So is World of Tanks as strategically complex as League of Legends? And does Kerbal Space Program really have less strategic depth than the Total War series or Europa Universalis? That's not a line I'd be comfortable drawing — then again, I'm not the co-founder and lead of analytics at an analysis firm. But what do you think?