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Exploring Replay Value: Shifts and Continuities in User Experiences Between First and Second Exposure to an Interactive Story

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Exploring Replay Value: Shifts and Continuities in User Experiences Between First and Second Exposure to an Interactive Story

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While replay value is a common term in interactive entertainment, psychological research on its meaning in terms of user experiences is sparse. An exploratory experiment using the interactive drama "Façade" was conducted (n=50) to examine shifts and continuities in entertainment-related user experiences between first and second exposure to the same system. A questionnaire with brief scales measuring various user-experience dimensions (interaction-related facets such as usability, flow, and presence, as well as narrative-related facets such as suspense and curiosity) was administered after the first and the second round of exposure. Findings suggest that replay produces gains in action-related experience components such as presence and effectance, whereas narrative-related experiences such as curiosity and suspense remain stable across exposures. Implications for theorizing on interactive entertainment experiences are discussed.
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Exploring Replay Value: Shifts and Continuities
in User Experiences Between First and Second
Exposure to an Interactive Story
Christian Roth, M.Sc.,
1
Ivar Vermeulen, Ph.D.,
1
Peter Vorderer, Ph.D.,
2
and Christoph Klimmt, Ph.D.
3
Abstract
While replay value is a common term in interactive entertainment, psychological research on its meaning in
terms of user experiences is sparse. An exploratory experiment using the interactive drama ‘‘Fac¸ade’’ was
conducted (n=50) to examine shifts and continuities in entertainment-related user experiences between first and
second exposure to the same system. A questionnaire with brief scales measuring various user-experience
dimensions (interaction-related facets such as usability, flow, and presence, as well as narrative-related facets
such as suspense and curiosity) was administered after the first and the second round of exposure. Findings
suggest that replay produces gains in action-related experience components such as presence and effectance,
whereas narrative-related experiences such as curiosity and suspense remain stable across exposures. Implica-
tions for theorizing on interactive entertainment experiences are discussed.
Research Problem
Adefining attribute of interactive entertainment me-
dia, and specifically of digital games, is that user deci-
sions affect the events displayed.
1
The same game can
therefore evolve very differently when different players in-
teract with it. Also, a repeated interaction of the same player
with the same game can result in very different events, story
outcomes, and game progress.
2
It is likely that this between-
session variation in game content is a key factor in players’
replay motivation. Game companies aim for a high replay
value by enticing players to experience the effects of alterna-
tive decisions, strategies, or story paths on the game’s
outcomes.
However, while game companies and players alike seem to
agree on the benefits of high replay value, research in media
psychology has so far not devoted much attention to the ac-
tual experience of repeated game play. The current paper
therefore explores shifts and continuities in user experiences
when exposure to an interactive entertainment medium is
repeated, asking: How can specific user experiences be re-
lated to a game’s replay value?
Conceptual Background
According to recent research in interactive entertainment,
3–5
the fun of using interactive entertainment emerges from
various parallel or combined experiential processes that re-
sult from in-game elements such as story, characters, audio-
visual presentation, and game mechanics, as well as from
players’ active role in the gaming process (e.g., experiences of
impact and agency
6
).
Thus far, conceptual knowledge on the fun of repeated
game play is virtually nonexistent. In television research,
studies on repeated viewing of serial programs mostly fo-
cused on audience loyalty to successive episodes rather
than on viewing the same content several times.
7
One im-
portant exception is Tannenbaum,
8
who argued that re-
peated TV viewing seems to be motivated by the desire to
prolong or re-enter desired states of enjoyment, and by the
desire to reduce uncertainty about what to expect from a
television program. Risk-free elicitation of desired enjoy-
ment experiences thus seems to be an important factor
explaining repeated consumption of noninteractive enter-
tainment.
This explanation cannot be applied to the case of repeated
interactive entertainment use, however: experiencing specific
enjoyable events in a game does not guarantee the occurrence
of precisely the same events during the next round of expo-
sure.
2
Below, we discuss in brief some speculative notions
that may help to explain repeated consumption of interactive
entertainment, and will form the basis of our exploratory
study.
1
VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
2
University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany.
3
Hannover University of Music, Drama, and Media, Hannover, Germany.
CYBERPSYCHOLOGY,BEHAVIOR,AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
Volume 15, Number 7, 2012
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2011.0437
378
As a result of repeated exposure, players may become
more familiar with the handling of an interactive en-
tertainment medium. More effective handling and fewer
errors will result in better usability experiences, and thus
more positive affect, less negative affect (e.g., frustra-
tion), and greater levels of flow.
9,10
Repeated exposure could evoke greater curiosity in
players, because once they have become acquainted
with the (story) content of a game, they will be able to
develop more elaborate ideas about alternative and/or
more interesting and effective means of interaction.
Alternatively, repeated exposure could also reduce cu-
riosity, as players will inevitably come across narrative
content or action possibilities they are already familiar
with from prior game use.
Repeated exposure may allow players to become better
in finding ways to influence the game according to their
intentions. As a consequence, players may feel higher
levels of agency (effectance
6
), satisfaction, and enjoyment.
However, one may also speculate that replay merely
prolongs prior levels of such action-related fun experi-
ences, since perceived improvements (e.g., greater
player impact on the game narrative) will not occur
automatically.
With repeated involvement in a game environment,
immersive experiences such as presence
11
and identifica-
tion
12
may increase. Alternatively, increased familiarity
through repeated use may also undermine presence and
identification experiences, because users may develop a
better understanding of game mechanics and technical
limitations of the game software. This more distanced
type of experience would result in weaker immersion.
In short, based on anecdotal evidence and observations,
various and partially competing ideas on the psychological
qualities of replay value may be formulated. These ideas
served as input for the exploratory study described below.
Method
A within-subjects experiment on repeated use of Fac¸ade
was conducted (available at www.interactivestory.net
13
).
Fac¸ade is a conversation-based interactive drama about a
relationship conflict between two virtual autonomous char-
acters. Through dialogue input, users can participate in the
conversation. They can wait until they are directly asked for
their opinion or try to interrupt the dialogue between the
virtual couple. While the drama unfolds, the couple’s rela-
tionship problems become more obvious, secrets are re-
vealed, and the player is repeatedly asked to take sides. The
system is known as a milestone of technological evolution in
interactive storytelling.
A total of 50 university students (17 males, 33 females;
average age M=19.8 years, SD =1.73 years) with a moderate
degree of computer game literacy (M=1.78, SD =0.71 on a
scale from 1 to 3) participated in the study. Three participants
were excluded from the data analysis because of implausible
response patterns. Only a minority of participants (n=10) had
played Fac¸ade before. Upon arrival in the laboratory, par-
ticipants interacted with Fac¸ade for 20 minutes (first expo-
sure). Next, they completed a questionnaire that included
demographical questions, as well as questions relating to 13
user-experience dimensions derived from research on video
games and interactive storytelling
14
: curiosity, suspense,
flow, aesthetic pleasantness, enjoyment, affect, role adoption
(identification with the player character), perceived system
usability, user satisfaction, character believability, effectance,
presence, pride, positive affect, and negative affect. All scales
were construed as five-point rating questions, had been used
successfully in pilot studies, and comprised two or three
items per dimension. The full questionnaire and detailed re-
liability information is available from the authors.
After filling out the questionnaire, participants proceeded
to interact with Fac¸ade for another 20 minutes (second ex-
posure), after which they completed the same questionnaire
once again (excluding the demographical questions). Subse-
quently, participants received 15 eas compensation and were
debriefed.
A reliability analysis found almost all user experience
scales to perform to a satisfying degree following both rounds
of exposure, with avalues ranging between 0.66 and 0.89
(n=50). The only exception was the reliability for the negative
affect subscale following the first exposure (a=0.57). Reli-
abilities of scales with only two items (satisfaction, character
believability, effectance, suspense, enjoyment, and role
adoption) were assessed using Pearson’s correlations, and
were also deemed acceptable, with rranging between 0.35
and 0.85. The data analysis focused on within-participant
mean comparison (t-tests for dependent samples, two-tailed)
between experience ratings after the first and after the second
exposure to Fac¸ade to detect shifts and continuities in enter-
tainment experiences.
Results
Relevant increases after replay were observed for per-
ceived system usability, presence, effectance, and flow (see
Table 1). Nearly significant decreases occurred for character
believability and negative affect. Roughly speaking, replay
shifted mostly interaction-related experiences, but left expe-
rience aspects related to story and narrative unchanged:
Continuity between exposure rounds was found for curiosity,
suspense, enjoyment, and role adoption/identification,
which are all narrative-driven modes of enjoyment.
15
Discussion
The investigation of replay experiences with Fac¸ade re-
vealed several interesting insights. First of all, because partic-
ipants gained competence in handling the interaction
modalities through replay, system-usability experiences in-
creased. Next and more importantly, a group of experience
dimensions emerged that displayed an upward shift from
initial to second exposure, namely presence, effectance, and
flow. These dimensions primarily relate to players’ experience
of agency. Players perceived their game-related actions to have
the intended impact (effectance) and to run more smoothly
(flow). This resulted in more immersive experiences (pres-
ence). Replay-value is, according to these findings, driven by
increases in agency-based experiences. Users benefit from re-
play through more gratifying feedback on their actions.
In contrast, a second group of dimensions remained stable
between first and second exposure. These dimensions relate
to game narrative: curiosity, suspense, and identification.
Although replay allows trying out different story elements,
the core facets of narrative experience did not benefit from
REPLAY VALUE 379
this opportunity. Possibly, more positive experiences induced
during second exposure by trying out new story opportuni-
ties were balanced by more negative experiences resulting
from experiencing fixed story elements once again. Record-
ings of actual game play during first and second exposure
would be informative in this regard, to see whether the con-
tinuity of narrative-related player experiences across game
repetition occurred in spite of players doing things differ-
ently, or whether players performed similar actions during
both sessions.
The observed profile of experience shift from initial to
second exposure thus seems to revolve around action-related
dimensions: Replay feels different (and more enjoyable) in
terms of agency and task involvement; at the same time, it
seemed to produce continuity in terms of narrative engage-
ment. Notably, the overall enjoyment measure also remained
stable across both rounds of exposure, indicating that the
increase in agency-related experience does not result in an
upward shift of the entertainment experience at large.
Conceptually, this pattern of results suggests that replay
value in interactive entertainment integrates the advantages
of repeat-viewing linear messages––prolonged narrative en-
gagement such as suspense and identification
9
––with a new
facet of perceiving improvement in efficacy, flow, and im-
mersion (presence). Replay value can thus be construed as a
mixture of continuity and variability in experience––playing
an active part works better with repeated exposures, whereas
(pleasurable) narrative engagement stays stable over time.
A methodological limitation of the current study is that
intensities in self-reported user experiences were examined,
but not experience qualities. Possibly, the focus of curiosity or
the reasons for suspense shifted substantially between first
and second exposure to Fac¸ade, yet the applied measures
would not reflect such changes. Qualitative methods could
therefore greatly contribute to the current research. Inter-
views or in-depth observations could allow finding out how
player actions changed across sessions.
Further research should build on the present results by
expanding the focus to long-term repeated use. Especially,
interactive stories like Fac¸ade could offer high-multisession
replay value by revealing new aspects of a story, and by
giving more insight in relations between characters, and their
backgrounds, across numerous sessions. Shifts and stabilities
of user experiences may differ from the current findings
when, for instance, 20 or 50 game sessions are observed.
Likewise, as a few of the current study’s participants were
already familiar with the system before the first experimental
session, future research should also approach the question of
true initial (compared to subsequent) exposure with more
rigor. Replications with other types or genres of interactive
entertainment, such as multiplayer games that do not include
strong narrative content, for example, First Person Shooters
4
or Massively Multiplayer Online games,
6
would be helpful in
revealing the core meaning of replay value, and in improving
generalizability of results beyond particular systems. The
present study has already narrowed the research gap on re-
peated exposure to interactive entertainment. It suggests that
action-related and narrative-related components of experi-
ence are affected differently by repeated exposure. This
finding represents an interesting building block for a psy-
chological model of repeated interactive entertainment use
that can complement existing, static or single-use approaches
in theories of interactive entertainment.
5,12
Acknowledgment
This research was funded by the European Commission
(Network of Excellence IRIS––Integrating Research on Inter-
active Storytelling––FP7-ICT-231824). We thankfully ac-
knowledge the Commission’s support.
Author Disclosure Statement
No competing financial interests exist.
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Table 1. Users’ Rating on Examined Experience Dimensions
First exposure Second exposure
M SD Rel. M SD Rel. p
Perceived-system usability 3.66 1.00 a=0.85 3.99 0.79 a=0.83 0.001*
Correspondence with user expectations 2.89 0.94 r=0.57 2.99 0.80 r=0.46 0.46
Presence 3.25 0.80 a=0.76 3.41 0.75 a=0.87 0.06
{
Character believability 3.68 0.61 r=0.35 3.49 0.80 r=0.37 0.13
Effectance 3.00 1.09 r=0.82 3.41 0.97 r=0.61 0.03*
Curiosity 3.48 0.65 a=0.76 3.46 0.78 a=0.84 0.87
Suspense 3.53 0.91 r=0.47 3.50 0.81 r=0.57 0.86
Flow 2.86 0.69 a=0.72 3.22 0.65 a=0.73 0.001*
Aesthetic pleasantness 2.45 0.93 a=0.83 2.45 0.88 a=0.86 0.96
Pride 2.38 0.96 a=0.89 2.57 0.98 a=0.84 0.24
Enjoyment 3.15 1.11 r=0.84 3.20 1.15 r=0.85 0.69
Affect:positive 2.71 0.80 a=0.82 2.76 0.91 a=0.87 0.64
Affect:negative 2.77 0.77 a=0.57 2.60 0.87 a=0.70 0.11
Role adoption/identification 2.97 0.96 r=0.37 2.88 0.99 r=0.66 0.55
*Significant difference at p<0.05.
{
Marginal difference at p<0.1.
380 ROTH ET AL.
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Address correspondence to:
Christian Roth
Center for Advanced Media Research Amsterdam (CAMeRA)
VU University Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam 1081 HV
Netherlands
E-mail: roth@spieleforschung.de
REPLAY VALUE 381
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Media enjoyment is theorized by synthesizing empirical literature from uses and gratifications with Csikszentmihalyi's flow theory. This article argues that enjoyment of media results from a flow experience realized when media message content balances with individual ability to interpret that message. Further, it theorizes that media experience, along with individual differences in cognitive abilities, facilitates or prevents flow state in media users. Therefore, it is a balance between individual differences in cognitive abilities and media message challenges that explains enjoyment of media use. The authors offer the case of video game usage as an exemplar, and examples of cognitive tasks are provided and linked to game genre content.
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An empirical model of player motivations in online games provides the foundation to understand and assess how players differ from one another and how motivations of play relate to age, gender, usage patterns, and in-game behaviors. In the current study, a factor analytic approach was used to create an empirical model of player motivations. The analysis revealed 10 motivation subcomponents that grouped into three overarching components (achievement, social, and immersion). Relationships between motivations and demographic variables (age, gender, and usage patterns) are also presented.