New study shows placebo effect can change gamers' perceptions of game difficulty and immersion
It isn't a white sugar pill, but it might be just as potent.
Two researchers at the University of York have found that gamers report different gaming experiences when told the game they're playing has "extra" gameplay features. This occurs even when the game they're playing has the exact same features.
For their experiment, Paul Cairns and a colleague had a group of participants play two rounds of Don't Starve, the rogue/surivival adventure game by Klei Entertainment.
Participants were told that the first round of gameplay would feature "randomly generated" map features, including survival items and monsters. The second would instead have an "adaptive AI", and adjust the gameplay based on the player's actions and skill level (note: Don't Starve does have randomly-generated maps, but does not actually feature an artificial intelligence system).
After both rounds, participants were more likely to rate what they believed to be the AI version of the game as more challenging. Other participants rated the AI version as easier, and more helpful in how it dispensed items, and as a more "immersive" experience.
What's most interesting is that while participants rated the AI version as both less or more challenging than the regular version, no participant said that the versions were of equal difficulty. Expectations changed participants' views of the game in every instance.
Cairns states that this "changing of perceptions" about game features shows that the placebo effect, often seen in medical and drug research, applies to gaming as well.
So game devs take note: player expectations can be just as important as game features. But please don't start writing a long list of lies on the back of the box.