A Design Perspective for Enhancing and Maintaining User Engagement in Software Games

Project: Research

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Inducing user engagement, the way of enhancing and maintaining user engagement of a particular commercial object (e.g., product, service, brand, or marketing campaign), is increasingly important for the academic research and commercial activities (Webster and Ahuja 2006). This issue is significantly important in the digitally networked environment (Boyle et al. 2012). Compared with traditional media, there is a trend that a large number of companies utilize network-based entertainment tools (e.g., online games) to catch consumers’ eyes and influence product branding (Lewis and Porter 2010). For instance, Coca-Cola Company established a cross-platform game called “Crab and Penguins” in Oct 2012. The Coca-Cola Company intended to utilize such method to build and maintain long-term user engagement toward the brand. Not surprisingly, industrial practitioners have realized the games could provide brand stickness and engagement in social networked environment. Such as Disney’s game “Where’s my water?” and PepsiCo’s social check-in game during the Super Bowl season, and Mercedes-Benz’s game “SLS AMG”. However, the way of enhancing and maintaining user engagement through social game is not easy. These software games suffer from the problem on enticing consumers to play with it (Kirman et al. 2010). A recent research report stressed that 85% of the gamers do not return after the first day playing (Playnomics 2012). This challenging situation is even signified by the highly competitive software game market. If a game application could not gain sufficient user game engagement, then how can the company build and maintain user engagement towards the brand from it? In this regard, this scenario presents pertinent and fundamental issues:how to enhance and maintain user game engagement of a software game? What are the design principles for the software games so as to enhance and maintain user game engagement?The main attention of prior studies often lies on identifying the antecedents of users’ engagement for gaming and conceptualizing user game engagement, yet seldom researches provided insights on how the design influence user game engagement as well as the underlying mechanisms of such an influence (O'Brien and Toms 2008). In this project, we propose the consideration of two primary gaming elements that could potentially affect user game engagement, namely game complexity and game familiarity, in the gaming design (Hsu and Lu 2007). Game complexity refers to the extent to which the game demands human cognitive capacity (Andres and Petersen 2002), while game familiarity reflects the degree to which a user is familiar with the schemata of a game (Lewis and Porter 2010). A game is made up of gaming elements (Dickey 2005). Our review of the extant literature on game design has drawn our attention to these two key conceptual elements. The former denotes the cognitive challenge of playing a game, while the latter represents the enabler to reduce cognition when one is playing a game. In this regard, establishing a theoretical understanding of how to strategically incorporate these gaming elements into the design of a software game for enhancing and maintaining user game engagement would be essential. From the practical perspective, there is a dearth of research for practitioners on how to enhance and maintain user game engagement efficiently and successfully.For this project, we adopt the theoretical lens of the stimulus-response theory to conduct a series of studies. Our project will consist of two parts. Part I will concentrate on the theoretical review of the user game engagement and the application of the theoretical foundation. Part II will focus on our progressive studies to examine how the incorporation of gaming elements in the game design influences user game engagement. Based on the empirical investigations, we will highlight managerial implications for merchants and service providers in Hong Kong (but not limited to this country) who are currently engaging in game-based marketing or contemplating such a move. In addition, our design principles would also serve as an important marketing strategic tool for commercial and research purposes.


Project number9041962
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1415/01/16