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Why is Angry Birds Addictive?

News   •   Apr 10, 2013 14:44 BST

Combining the two could give Finland an edge in the fast-paced area.

We have a strong gaming industry,” said Kimmo Koponen, a senior business adviser at Helsinki Business Hub. “And Finland is one of the hotspots for neuroscience. The knowledge from that neuroscience research is not being used in Finland in the gaming industry. We’re trying to raise awareness of what neuroscience can bring to gaming.

It was the neuroscientists who got interested in the connection first, said Mr. Koponen. He explained that neuroscientists had explored just why Angry Birds, the globally successful from Finnish company Rovio was so addictive.

They looked at how the music and the color affected players, down to how you don’t get punished for failures. They have been interested in studying why certain games are so successful.

Brainwave-measuring tech is not new, it has been used in medical imaging for decades, but it’s only lately that headsets capable of detecting brainwave patterns from the surface of the head have become cheap enough to be put to commercial applications. Headsets - such as those produced by manufacturers Neurosky and Emotiv - can be taught that certain patterns mean certain commands.

Mr. Koponen believes both sides can benefit from the exchange. From the game developers’ side, there are big benefits in game testing pre-release. Headsets can track concentration at different stages of gameplay and create a wealth of analytical data about the concentration and excitement of the player that can be used to tighten design and maintain player attention.

And in the longer term, neurogaming can bring a whole new interface to gaming: games you can control with your mind.

For the neuroscientists, collaboration with the gaming industry provides a wealth of interesting data about concentration. In the longer-term, it has the potential for new treatments where games can be used instead of drugs to alter the mental state of patients.

Still, neurogaming is a fledgling sector. To date, only a handful of companies have successfully launched in Europe. One, Icelandic company MindGames, focuses on the health and psychological benefits of neurogaming. Deepa Iyengar, CEO and co-founder, whose background lies in neuroscience says there are still huge challenges in the area.

One is the hardware which can be insensitive to quicker signals and slow at collecting data. Another are the sky-high expectations.

People think the hardware will just read your mind. You think it knows you. But it doesn’t,” said Ms. Iyengar. “You have to learn how to control it, like with any other interface.

And in health, much work still has to be done to decipher and catalog how particular brain patterns match up to mental activities and mental disorders, said Ms. Iyengar. And then it is still unproven whether it is possible to change those patterns in a long-lasting way.

On the entertainment side, Jan Jonk, CEO and Interaction Designer at Dreams of Danu, is a pioneer for mind games. His company is based in Utrecht in the Netherlands. He said that using brainwaves as an interface made for a different kind of game experience:

The relationship between you and the game is more intimate because it’s not just you pushing a couple of buttons. You see your own neural state in the game. You’re constantly getting feedback about how your mind is doing, and that makes it seem more personal. If someone is in the room watching you play you feel a little self-conscious because someone else is watching how your mind behaves.

Mr. Jonk also sees a lot of potential in the area. He sketched out some uses of the area in tech ten years down the line…. Cars that can tell when the driver’s concentration is dipping, or in the most sci-fi example an incredible overlay withGoogle Glasses:

Connect Google glasses to a headset and you have a whole different beast. Imagine walking around a city with that on and seeing an overlay of how everyone around you is behaving in their minds. Are they relaxed, or stressed? And you could actually see that. Instead of seeing someone’s Facebook stat , you could see information about what people’s minds are doing. There’s a lot you could do with that data.

But the funding isn’t going to be there immediately, with the sector still very much in the curiosity phase. Ms. Iyengar said: “It does have potential, but it’s down the line, it’s a bit too early for VCs, unless if you have a high risk angel. Still you’d have to be excited about the tech, not the numbers.”

Samuli Syvahuoko, a Games Industry Serial Entrepreneur, currently mentoring gaming startups in Helsinki, said that in Helsinki’s case, this was an area where only established players with an appetite for risk would be likely to venture.

“This whole initiative is very new. For the Finnish games companies, it will be those who want to innovate more and are ready to take more risks than other companies, who [will] be the first. It should be financed partly by the government, so they can fund these collaborations with the researchers and universities, while they work out how to bring these technologies to the mainstream.”

Investors may pick up interest in the area, said Mr. Syvahuoko, noting that five VCs will be attending a neurogaming conference next month in San Francisco.