Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.

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A Behavioral Approach to Fun

John Hopson, Ph.D. (Bungie)


Hopson John

Dr. John Hopson is the head of user research at Bungie, creators of the popular Halo series of video games. In the past, Dr. Hopson was the lead researcher for a wide variety of games ranging from AAA blockbusters (Halo, Age of Empires) to small indie games (Trials HD, Crimson: Steam Pirates). He also is the author of a number of articles on the intersection of psychology and games, including the infamous “Behavioral Game Design.” Dr. Hopson holds a Ph.D. in behavioral and brain sciences from Duke University and is the former chair of the International Game Developers Association’s Games User Research Special Interest Group. He is currently at work on Bungie’s upcoming game, Destiny.


Abstract: On one hand, games are a creative medium full of incredibly nebulous, fluffy concepts like “fun,” “storytelling,” and “adventure.” At the same time, modern games produce terabytes of exquisitely detailed behavioral data, letting us analyze everything from how our players respond to contingencies to the substance of their in-game conversations. The games industry is driven by a unique mix of talented designers who work by instinct and experience and analysts who use rigorous behavioral testing methodologies, battling and collaborating with each other to produce fun experiences for our players. This talk will cover some of the ways research has been incorporated into the game design process, from small scale lab studies to beta tests with millions of active participants. The talk will cover why behavioral approaches have been so unexpectedly successful in games and cover the secret methods we use to persuade stubborn designers to listen to data. Finally, Dr. Hopson also will discuss some of the ways that behavioral analysts are still way ahead of game designers and what the games industry needs to do in order to catch up.


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