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How Do Players Define Open World Games? with Nathan Hughes

Open world games are a popular type of game that offer players vast amounts of choice and gameplay to engage with. Research in this field has been lacking, mostly focused on the creation of algorithms and procedural content generation to aid in developing these games. There is a need to study the player experiences of open worlds, to understand what people are doing in these games and why.
But what do we mean by ‘open world’? Are we sure we are discussing the same phenomena? In this talk I use Prototype theory to describe how people use definitions to make sense of concepts that are ‘fuzzy’ and continuous (e.g. the ‘openness’ of an open world), and show how this can be applied to the open world definition. I will then discuss the findings of my current research, whereby I aim to find how players define open world games, and what about the category is important to them. Following the findings from a content and thematic analysis of player’s opinions, I describe the 3 core concepts important to the definition from the player’s perspective:

  • A large world space, connected in a way so that players can access all of the content
  • If a main goal is present, it is not so linear as to restrict players from engaging with other content
  • Because of the above, players can self-pace gameplay through engaging/disengaging with tasks at will
I will then explain why these are central to the definition of an open world, and how missing any of them leads players to consider the game out of the category/“not a good example”. From this I will also show how the definition can be used to categorise games to determine what is and is not an open world. This will help researchers to understand what specifically about open worlds they wish to study, and provides a way to choose the games they want to use in research. Game developers will also benefit from this player-centric definition, as it shows what is important to players and why.

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