Research Paper Attempts to Prove Why StarCraft Is Fun to Watch

Research Paper Attempts to Prove Why StarCraft Is Fun to Watch

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Two researchers believe that watching StarCraft matches is fun because the spectators can see stuff the players do not.

Competitive gaming and the people who like to watch such events has always been a kind of holy grail for the gaming community. The phenomenon of spectators watching experts play videogames the way that fans watch physical sports like baseball or soccer has been growing steadily over the last decade with organizations like Major League Gaming leading the way. Gifford Cheung and Jeff Huang from the University of Washington wrote a research paper that investigated why people like watching StarCraft and its sequel more than other games, citing the immense popularity in South Korea and the growing trend worldwide, if the large amount of YouTube commentaries on matches is any indication. In order for more games to enjoy the success that StarCraft has enjoyed as a spectator sport, Cheung and Huang think designers need to consider the "asymmetry of information," allowing people to become invested by deciding how they receive information.

"Video games are primarily designed for the players. However, the players are not the only people engaged with the game. In this paper, we turn our attention to the spectators, those who watch but do not directly interact with the game," the paper reads. "We want to know more about the context of their spectating so that game designers can better design video games as spectator activities."

To better understand why people enjoyed watching StarCraft, Cheung and Huang pored over thousands of emails, forum posts and comments to get to the nugget of what made spectating fun. The pair came up with nine distinct of spectator personas of StarCraft fans to use as tools in the discussion.

Which one of the following are you? (I'm pretty sure I'm an Inspired.)

The Bystander - The Bystander is the least engaged of the spectators. He or she is exemplified by an outsider's perspective.

The Curious - The Curious spectator focuses his or her attention on knowledgegaps about the game. As long as there is something that is incomprehensible and that can be discovered by spectating, the experience remains engrossing.

The Inspired - After spectating, the Inspired is eager to play the game himself/herself. Sometimes it is to try the same strategies that they witnessed; sometimes the enthusiasm is more broadly directed at the game itself.

The Pupil - Much like the Curious, the Pupil wants to understand the game and the techniques of the players. However, what distinguishes the Pupil is the emphasis on translating knowledge to practice. The Pupil's question is not merely "How did he do that?" it is also, "How does this information change how I play?"

The Unsatisfied - The Unsatisfied sees the act of spectating as a weaker substitute for the activity he or she would rather do. Overall, the spectating experience is inadequate because, for example, the Unsatisfied would rather be playing the game.

The Entertained - On the opposite end of the spectrum of Playing vs. Watching are those who find satisfaction in watching, which many prefer over playing. For these, watching affords the experience of playing without the stress.

The Assistant - Spectators often have the opportunity to impact the game in-progress. Two examples of this are to act as an advisor to the player and to help the player focus on the game. The advisor acts as a second pair of eyes, giving the player reminders about what to do and alerts about key events that may have gone unnoticed.

The Commentator - The Commentator or "shoutcaster" is both
spectator and a performer. He shapes the viewing experience of other spectators by providing a running commentary of the game.

The Crowd - There is a strong communal aspect to spectating and a pleasure in watching a game as a group that matches behavior for traditional sporting events.

Beyond these profiles, Cheung and Huang discuss how spectators enjoy watching games (and all sports really) because they are unsure of the outcome. "In American football, elaborate plays are developed by the coaches before the players jog on to the field, and the spectator watches them unfold." The same is true of watching an expert StarCraft player begin his assault.

Cheung and Huang consider how the asymmetry of information can be used to design games to be more fun to watch. "Perhaps the proper question for designers to ask is not 'how do we give more information to spectators?', but rather, as spectators participate in and co-construct their own experience as a body of viewers, 'where should we place control over the game information?'"

It's all very cool stuff, and I think it's great that students at a major institution consider games like StarCraft to be worthy of investigation. If you're interested, the whole paper is definitely worth a read.

Source: Jeff Huang.com

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I frequently set aside time to watch Shoutcraft.

Starcraft is more fun to watch because it is hard to get an actual "good game". Either you wreck the enemy or they wreck you, it seems like there is very little back and forth.

Course this is just from playing 1 a lot, I never cleared 1100 on bnet either because I sucked.

I feel a little embarrassed that someone had to explain why watching someone play a game can be entertaining.

EDIT: was this paper even really necessary? Who is arguing against video games not being fun to watch?

I am so glad this is getting seriously researched. Awesome! As for my type, I'm definitely the Pupil. Can't help it. I immediately get into the Day[9] mindset of analyzing their play, styles and timings, so I can learn to be a better gamer.

Also, I totally <3 Sean Plott. Not relevant, but needs to be said.

I've been watching a lot of Husky, HD, Day9 ForceSC2Strategy and (for jokes) LifesAGlitch "Say Cheese" and "When Cheese Fails" series. Don't have time to play, don't have the skills to even play at the level I placed in, so watching games keeps me happy :D Plus you sometimes get some absolutely fantastic games - a recent ForceSC2 2v2 cast was absolutely great to watch - forwards and backwards, flukes and upsets, brilliant entertainment :D

Probably in that "Entertained" bracket, though mostly for lack of time to get the ability to play :]

Wish Day9's vids weren't so long though...

I definitely find myself in the Entertained part. After a brief period of playing in gold and ending off in platinum I kinda stopped playing ladde. Custom games are still crazy fun.

Also there is some good news for people who watch Starcraft 2, MLG and GomTV made a League Exchange Program which is going to bring some of the best players from the GSL to MLG Columbus which will be crazy to watch.

RT-Medic-with-shotgun:
I frequently set aside time to watch Shoutcraft.

If by that you mean TotalBiscuit's shoutcraft and not Shoutcasting in general than I would suggest looking around, TB is quite dull compared to other casters out there and provides nothing more than a baseball announcer would to a golf tournament.

HeroKing89:
I feel a little embarrassed that someone had to explain why watching someone play a game can be entertaining.

EDIT: was this paper even really necessary? Who is arguing against video games not being fun to watch?

It was never suggested that other games aren't as fun. It is just trying to explain why there are so many giant tournaments for Starcraft 2 (NASL and its $50,000 USD prize pool, MLG season has five season tournaments with $14,000 USD followed by the post season $120,000 USD finals, GomTV's GSL, GSTL, and the Super GSL which was just announced to have a $150,000 USD prize pool) and other games aren't reaching that.

I'm definitely The Pupil. I watch the big tournaments (GSL, TSL, NASL when the matches look interesting, etc) and never miss the Day[9] Daily. Stopped really watching the guys like Husky and TotalBiscuit though. They can be extremely entertaining but don't teach me anything anymore. I doubt I'd have remained invested as a spectator this long if I wasn't a player. I only consistently enjoy sports that I compete in as well.

I think variety makes StarCraft so fun to watch. 3 races with different mechanics make for 5 distinct, interesting match-ups. And there's PvP too. There are undoubtedly several other factors but that's what really sold it for me and drew me in enough to care about the high-profile matches.

SwimmingRock:
Also, I totally <3 Sean Plott. Not relevant, but needs to be said.

It needs to be said as often as possible. Lack of Dailies this week makes me so sad. Can't wait til he gets back and does StarCraft full time.

bob1052:

It was never suggested that other games aren't as fun. It is just trying to explain why there are so many giant tournaments for Starcraft 2 (NASL and its $50,000 USD prize pool, MLG season has five season tournaments with $14,000 USD followed by the post season $120,000 USD finals, GomTV's GSL, GSTL, and the Super GSL which was just announced to have a $150,000 USD prize pool) and other games aren't reaching that.

I never said that it did suggest other games aren't fun. There is nothing about Starcraft in particular that makes it intrinsically more fun to watch then any other game of a similar genre. Also, there was nothing stated in this article that jumped out to SHOW why Starcraft is more fun to watch. In general, this article was more about games as a whole then Starcraft because there wasn't a thing there that couldn't be applied to any other game.

Woah how frigging unnecessary was that?

Watching "eSport" isn't different from watching normal sports at all. And that's it. (It's actually even better :D)

I guess there's something in that. The reason I don't seek out FPS' to watch is because you can't really get a perspective of how the game overall is progressing and even in a 1 v 1, you have to end up focussing on one person and not really getting the full view of what's occurring.

Fighting games solve that and I guess there's fighting games are a touch more popular, but the genius of Starcraft is the way it lets you see what the players are doing and you get a glimpse of what they're thinking. In a fighting game by the time you know what the players doing, it's done and the consequences have already taken place. In Starcraft there's tension to see what the results of the decisions will be and the consequences aren't necessarily clear right up until the end.

And why Starcraft and not other RTS'? Blizzard focussed on giving the players simple but meaningful choices, obvious in affect but with depth (hence dumbed down resource collection compared to wood, gold, stone, food games and the mineral patches are always a set distance) but a lot of flexibility and room for creativity

EDIT:@ the people who say this is unnecessary. This is what science is, you may laugh at all the crazy people with illogical views but unless you actively seek to find the mechanics of and prove everything, especially obvious things, then we'd still be flat-earth thinkers. Just with a better education.

Besides it;s not even, why are games fun to watch, it's why is Starcraft significantly more fun to watch than other games?

the genius of Starcraft is the way it lets you see what the players are doing and you get a glimpse of what they're thinking. In a fighting game by the time you know what the players doing, it's done and the consequences have already taken place. In Starcraft there's tension to see what the results of the decisions will be and the consequences aren't necessarily clear right up until the end.

dude, that is every game that involves strategy. By this logic watching a game of final fantasy would be equally as exhilarating cause you can see how the plan out each of their battles in order to tackle any given situation. It is not unique.

And why Starcraft and not other RTS'? Blizzard focussed on giving the players simple but meaningful choices, obvious in affect but with depth (hence dumbed down resource collection compared to wood, gold, stone, food games and the mineral patches are always a set distance) but a lot of flexibility and room for creativity

This is a matter of pure opinion, not something that is objectively provable and as such shouldn't be the product of "reaserch". I've had more exciting games of Age of Mythology and Red Alert 2. The latter of which is a little more complicated while the former is less complicated but emphasizes strategy even more.

This is what science is, you may laugh at all the crazy people with illogical views but unless you actively seek to find the mechanics of and prove everything, especially obvious things, then we'd still be flat-earth thinkers. Just with a better education.

There is nothing to prove here. We all know Starcraft is popular both as players and watchers. There is no scientific research going on that requires any sort of correlational, experimental, or quasi experimental design. IT IS A MATTER OF PURE OPINION. I do not find it fun to watch Starcraft matches. I get more entertainment value from watching people play Oregon Trail (non-ironically). Ergo, not everyone finds it fun which automatically defeats the entire purpose of research. Why it is fun to watch is something that each individual has to decide for themselves.

Besides it;s not even, why are games fun to watch, it's why is Starcraft significantly more fun to watch than other games?

Except that is really not how the article reads but i'll concede on this point because it is a dead end discussion

Let me clarify my gripes a little bit better as to make it more clear.

1. The entire idea isn't necessary. We know why it is people enjoy watching them. It is the same reason we enjoy watching any sport.

2. If you want to build a game with spectators in mind maybe you should be trying to create a movie instead. True, it isn't the same but as soon as you take the focus off the gamer then me and you (the publisher) are going to start having some issues. A game that is fun to play will be by nature, fun to watch. Unless you don't get enjoyment from that medium anyway.

3. The list they give of the types of Starcraft players are too vauge to be useful. I can apply this to not only video game players but to ANY sports fan. Heck, people can get the same entertainment by watching a painting get made.

I think this is a lot like why people enjoy watching Poker on TV. It has dead simple rules, but they just like the fact that they know when someone is bluffing, but this all-star pros do not.

Or in movies where Matt Damon has already planned this amazing escape route, but you know nothing about it, and it's reveal slowly at every step.

Anyways, awesome paper and glad Starcraft has some legitimate exposure at universities.

SwimmingRock:
Also, I totally <3 Sean Plott. Not relevant, but needs to be said.

Amen, my brother. Amen.

More on topic, it's good to see people start to take E-Sports seriously. It's especially good how they notice that much of the same psychology that drives people to watch conventional sports also drives us nerds to watch E-Sports. I think it's an argument that will be easier to sell mainstream than 'Well, this particular subset of geek culture enjoys it, so it is legitimate.'

Blizzard them self said the game is designed to be fun to watch. The researcher could save lot of time if they just go ask Blizzard.

I think there has been a slight misunderstanding here.
The authors didn't attempt to show why Starcraft itself was more fun to watch, they were trying to understand why game spectators in general have more fun watching the games rather than playing them, and they chose Starcraft as basically a resource, because of its popularity. This is all stated in the paper, right in the beginning.
They could just as well chose chess, to give a spectator game example that's not a video game, but the content that's currently out there for Starcraft offered a much better resource. Tournaments like GSL, MLG, IEM, NASL, TSL, recurring shows like the Day[9] Daily, State of the Game, Weapon of Choice, round the clock live streams of progamers or amateurs playing, countless YouTube videos of the game and about the game, there's enough content out there for a dozen social studies. If you want to study the spectator games, Starcraft is the obvious choice.

I bet that for every hour of Starcraft being played, there are 5 hours of Starcraft being watched. And that says something for a game that's being played quite a lot.

Did anyone else see the TSL grand final between Thorzain and Naniwa a few days ago? Epic!

I watch Starcraft because Day9 is a very entertaining (and sexy) man.

Hearts to all the Daily fans.

I don't enjoy watching SC2 matches at all, probably because I haven't played the game. It's possible to enjoy watching a match of a game that you haven't played but it's harder to get into.

This could had just simply been answered by knowing Blizzard made the game. Simple.

What a waste of resources... :(

I'm pretty sure I'm a border case, sitting on the fence that separates the Assistant from the Unsatisfied.

This is the kind of thing I'd like to see more of: Scientific forays into the gaming realm. So much potential for learning... it makes my head spin. In a good way.

 

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