More than data gatherers: exploring player experience in a citizen science game


We present the results of an exploratory player experience study on the game Quantum Moves, a citizen science game where players move quantum particles to help create a quantum computer. Eight-hundred-and-seventeen players responded to a 13-question exploratory survey constructed to understand how players relate to the game, what are their motivations, and how could the game be improved. We analyzed the data using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis. Specifically, the thematic analysis helped identifying two cross-cutting themes amongst the players: (a) learning and (b) the opportunity to contribute to science. Results indicate that the opportunity to help science, along with game design, game elements, involvement of players with the scientific community, and players’ strategies influence experience. Implications of the particular findings for the research on player experience on citizen science games and development of evaluation methods are discussed.

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This work was supported through funding from Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Grant No. 2013.0020, Lundbeck Foundation, Grant No. R139-2012-12633, Carlsberg Foundation Grant No. CF18-0019, and John Templeton Foundation Grant No. 60969. J.F.S. Acknowledges funding from the ERC, H2020 Grant No. 639560 (MECTRL) and the Synakos foundation.

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Correspondence to Carlos Díaz.

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Appendix 1

Distribution of players according to the player types as assessed by the Bartle Test (Q20). NA stands for the players who could not take the test. The total sum of players per category is more than the players who answer the question; this is because several players reported that they belong to more than one category.


Appendix 2

Coding schema of player responses to question Q19

Topics and subtopics (indented) Definition
Not defined—no response Players did not answer the question, or their answers were irrelevant
Game type Players use a name that defines the game as a genre and explain why they like it or not
 Casual game Players state the game is a casual game or they play it casually
 Zen game Players state the game is a Zen game or having calming properties
 Puzzle Players state the game is a puzzle
 Single player game Players state the game is a single-player game
Distinct game Players state the game is different from other games on the market and/or other citizen science games
Educational effects Players state the game has educational effects, or it is good for learning/teaching science.
 Interest in learning Players state the game taught them something about science
 Generating curiosity Players state the game generated curiosity for them to learn more
Engagement Assigned to indicate the way players engaged with the game
 Enjoyment Players state they have enjoyed the game
 Monotony Players state the game is monotonous or repetitive
 Boredom Players state the game is boring
 Frustration Players state the game is frustrating, either for its mechanics or for problems with the game build
 Challenge Players state the game is challenging, either in a positive or a negative way
 Confidence Players state they are confident when solving the problems proposed by the game
Modes of learning Applied when players mention how the game engaged them in learning, or they suggest a way in which they can learn about the game or from the game
 Vicarious learning Players would like to see other players’ solutions to learn better ways to solve problems
 Interest in quantum mechanics Players state they have learned more about the specific field of science of the game
Game design suggestions Applied when players suggest design ideas for improving the game
 Graphic design suggestions Players suggest changes to the graphic aspects of the game
 Opportunities for player customization Players state they would like to be able to change certain features of the game ad libitum (e.g., re-skin the game)
 Send reminders Players state they would like to receive periodic reminders to play the game
 Sound design suggestions Players suggest sounds designs for the game, such as auditory cues for success or background music
 New mechanics suggestions Players suggest new or improved mechanics for the game
 Enlarge game Players suggest developing the game further, for example by adding levels
Improving tutorials Players state tutorials should be improved, or they evaluated the current tutorial as insufficient
Influence of leader board on motivation Players evaluate how the leaderboard influenced their motivation when playing the game
Interest in contributing to citizen science Players state their interest in the game for their contribution to citizen science
Intuitive (easy to understand) Players state the game and game mechanics were easy to understand, or they did not have to make mental effort to understand it and play it
Intuitive solution Players state the game was easy to play and not much knowledge was required to solve the problems
Knowledge representation Players state the way the game represents information on quantum physics makes it easy to understand this topic
Lack of game feedback Players state not having enough feedback from the game
Lack of information regarding quantum physics (scientific topic) Players state the game lacked of more and deeper information about quantum physics
Lack of interaction with the scientific team and the game developers Players state the need for more interaction and conversations with the team of scientist and developers behind the game to better understand how the data gathered is being used
Lack of understanding Applied when players state not being able to understand certain aspects of the game
 Lack of understanding of the game Players state they did not understand the game
 Lack of understanding of the game mechanics Players state they did not understand the game mechanics
 Lack of understanding of the procedural understanding Players state they did not understand the procedures required to solve the problems
 Lack of understanding of the UI interface Players state they did not understand the user interface or they were confused by it
 Lack of understanding of the purpose of the game Players state they did not understand the purpose of the game apart from the partial goals in each level
Learning curve Players make a statement on the learning curve of the game. Statements about game progression, level progression, and blockages in the gameplay fall into this category
Parallel thinking Participant state having to think in non-conventional ways to solve the problems proposed in the game
Player types Players state they engage or not engage with the game due to a personal trait
 Competitive Players state they are competitive or like competition
 Non-competitive Players state they are not competitive or dislike competition
 Not a gamer Players state they are regular players of video games
 Puzzler Players state they like solving puzzles
Psychophysical constraints Players state having problems performing tasks requiring fine motor skills
Relationship between game and the scientific topic (QP) Players state that it would be a gain for the game if it highlighted more its scientific relevance
Relevance of controllers Players state controllers were relevant for the implementation of the strategy, usually in a negative way
Relevance of gaming experience Player state that their experience playing games helped them solve the challenges proposed by the game
Relevance of science knowledge Player state their knowledge of science helped them solve the challenges proposed by the game
Rewards other than the score system Players state they find rewarding aspects of the game that are different from the score system, e.g., learning science or helping the development of a scientific tool
Science dissemination Players state the game is good for science dissemination
Social aspects Players state interest in the inclusion of social aspects in the game
Strategy making Applied when players talked about the strategies they used to solve the challenges proposed by the game
 Lack of strategy Players state not having a strategy
 Scientific reasoning/experimentation Players state experimenting and finding patterns which allow them to overcome the game challenges
 Serendipity Players solved the problem by chance or luck
 Trial and error Players solved the game challenges using trial and error
Technical issues Applied when players state having technical issues with the game
 Problems with responsiveness and accuracy Players state having problems with the responsiveness or the accuracy of the game depending on the device they used
 Game bugs Players reported bugs in the game
 Relevance of OS Players reported incompatibility of the game with some operative systems
 Relevance of console Players state the device (e.g., PC or mobile device) they used for playing influenced their performance
 Problems with data transmission Players reported to stop playing because data transmission was very costly
Too busy to play Players state not playing much because they had other activities to do

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Díaz, C., Ponti, M., Haikka, P. et al. More than data gatherers: exploring player experience in a citizen science game. Qual User Exp 5, 1 (2020).

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  • Citizen science
  • Games with a purpose
  • Player experience
  • Quantum physics