The current climate of social distancing, including a mushrooming stay-at-home population, has been good for multiplayer online gaming, notes Isenberg Assistant Professor of Operations & Information Management Zachary Sheffler. More intriguing, he posits, are indications that the situation is leading to greater demand for games with cooperative, interpersonal elements, such as Borderlands and Left 4 Dead.
“During the current crisis, there’s been a greater need than ever for interpersonal relationships, for people at home to feel that they are part of something greater,” he observes. Through his connections in the online gaming industry and other anecdotal evidence, Sheffler noticed a greater bump for cooperative versus solo game-play, which inspired him to launch a pandemic research project.
“Now I have ‘robots’ collecting data on the trend,” Sheffler says, referring to automated scripts on a computer. “I’m looking at PCs only, not PlayStation or Xbox.” The beauty of the study, he continues, is that those data are public and readily accessible. (Information on cooperative gaming in work settings is less accessible, he remarks.) His study, moreover, is capturing a moving picture: “With the eventual easing of social distancing, I’ll also be tracking online gaming as it reverts to the norm.”
A significant stream in Sheffler’s research involves gamification, which attempts to influence user behavior by adding elements of games to information systems. A progress bar that gradually fills up when you load or download a program, he notes, is a gamification element that can help hold your attention. In a recent published study, Sheffler examined gamification strategies that replaced cash incentives with electronic “badges” of merit. Gamification research, he says, is a wide-open field, because it has, to date, been predominantly qualitative. “There’s a need for more precise measures of what does and doesn’t work,” he says. “In that, academics can offer precision and a more expansive take on human behavior.”