Valve Wants To Hear Your Body Talk

Let's get physical, or more specifically, let's get biometrical, as Valve's Gabe Newell, Erik Johnson and Doug Lombardi talk to PC Gamer about using players' intrinsic physical reactions to playing video games.

Valve doesn't just want to hear how much you like its games. Valve wants to know how you really feel, and the company is looking into measuring biometrics to figure that out. What begins with a discussion of Gabe Newell's ever-changing roles at Valve soon turns into a discussion on the benefits of gathering biometric data on players. Says Dr. Gabe:

So when you look at our games, more and more we have this representation of player state, where we think we know how you feel, essentially. And with biometrics, rather than guessing, we can actually just use a variety of things like gaze tracking, skin galvanic response, pulse rate, and so on. Through combining those pieces of information, we can get a much more accurate indication of player state. So that's something we're super interested in. We've done some experiments in that space, and feel like there's some easy wins for customers and for developers.

It isn't just about the developer either. Newell says the benefit of biometrics in competitive social gaming has been surprising as well. Imagine playing a game of Team Fortress 2 and being able to see the heart rate of your opponent leap as you bear down on him. That's useful, while amazingly satisfying at the same time.

Of course technology still has to catch up with these grand ideas, providing players an unobtrusive method of measuring heart rate and sweating while gaming that doesn't involve wires or, as Doug Lombardi suggests, asking players to shave their heads before playing so the electrodes stick.

While we wait for our gaming heart rate monitors, Valve is utilizing another sort of biometrics to aid in game design: gaze tracking. The company has a $50,000 gaze tracking system in order to research what players look at while playing.

Developers spend large amounts of time making sure every nook and cranny of their games is pixel perfect. As Gabe explains, since not everyone is going to look at everything, that equates to wasted time and resources.

With gaze tracking it's even worse than we could have ever imagined. A huge percentage of the stuff we draw on the screen people never even look at. And so what you want to do is use that and redesign it.

Your first reaction is, "Oh man, we're not designing these things right, because if they're spending all their time looking this rectangle on the lower half of the screen. Maybe that should just be the screen?" So you want to actually provide meaningful stuff on the screen. And even then, if you end up finding that people spend most of their time looking here or here, then obviously you want to allocate your rendering quality or whatever ‘budget' you have that way.

Using data provided through use of the gaze tracking rig, Newell believes game designers will shift from a " homogeneous allocation of screen real estate to rendering performance and visual quality" to a system where what players are actually looking at is what looks the best.

I think that sort of approach will result in games the look much more natural to the human eye. Naturally what we focus on looks better, while the periphery of our visual is blurred and slightly out-of-focus. So not only will developers save time and resources, the games could turn out looking even better than before.

Thanks, biometrics!

Valve want to see you sweat, and make a game of it [PC Gamer]