Consistency Maintenance in Networked Games
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Networking has become a key technology within digital games, as multiplayer interaction has become an almost ubiquitous feature. The time required to transmit data over a network can lead to usability problems in networked games, such as inconsistency between players’ views of a virtual world and potentially jarring corrections when inconsistencies are detected. Implementing a good consistency maintenance scheme is therefore critical to game play. Sadly, problems with consistency remain a regular occurrence in multiplayer games, and these problems can have a huge impact on player experience. This research provides guidance for implementing consistency maintenance through a series of user studies and through the establishment of a design space for consistency maintenance. The design space takes a multi-dimensional approach to consistency maintenance and, in addition to the conventional techniques used for reducing inconsistency, includes two additional design concepts – techniques for resolving game-critical decisions in the presence of inconsistency, and techniques for repairing inconsistencies when they occur. We validate the design space through a series of user studies demonstrating the trade-offs among the various techniques and confirming that it is not sufficient to focus on consistency alone. We also develop a set of metrics that provide an empirical comparison among the different techniques for consistency maintenance. We show that consistency algorithms that provide the best consistency do not necessarily lead to the best user experience. Players prefer smooth animation and prefer the results of game-critical decisions to be consistent with their view of the game, even when this results in lower overall consistency. We also show that the three most important factors affecting the detection of corrections are the player’s locus of attention, the smoothness of the correction and the duration of the correction.