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Multiplayer Online Game

Powerhouse screen shot
Multiplayer games may be the most engaging, sophisticated and collaborative media ever to be applied to changing behavior in serious contexts. This project developed “Power House” to see if games can be used to build energy efficiency habits?

The 400 million people worldwide who play multiplayer online games are surprisingly diverse, with more in their 40’s or 50’s than in their teens. Games offer a compelling new context for home energy information that may engage families and change behaviors. The online, multi-player game developed in this project, “Power House,” displays players’ actual energy use data from smart meters and other sensors. Players are challenged with energy efficiency tasks and rewarded for real-life actions with points in the game.

In the virtual home, immediate feedback in points develops efficiency habits, like always thinking about a light switch when leaving a room. Users can compete with friends on Facebook. For example, one can challenge their friends to a “lights out night” and then see who won based on the actual energy consumption data. Embedded within the overall game is a smaller game. In one mini-game, the user races around a virtual house, trying to achieve all the goals of the household members while turning appliances on and off so as to use the least amount of energy.

Among the findings:

  • In the initial laboratory study, playing the game for 30 minutes resulted in significant increases in energy efficient behaviors after play ended, compared to playing the comparable non-energy focused game. In the energy game condition an average of 2.55 (out of 5) appliances were turned off when subjects left the room; in comparison, an average of .55 where turned off after playing the non-energy game. Subjects reported no conscious connection between game play and the measured energy behaviors.
  • In the broader field study, results suggest that participants use significantly less energy while they play the game.
  • In the field study, energy use reduction was stronger for those participants who started with a lower energy baseline than those with a higher energy baseline. This difference might be explained by the presence of a high energy consuming device such as a pool or by a higher number of occupants in the home.

The laboratory experiment randomly assigned 40 participants to play Power House or a similar but non-energy game for 30 minutes. The experimenter announced that they had to leave and requested that subjects "close the office" when they were finished with the game and questionnaire. In the field study participants played the game in their homes over the course of one week to one month while their smart meter provided home energy consumption data for analysis. Participants in this study would typically play the game within a real social context. For example, while playing the game via Facebook, players were able to post in-game achievements and energy savings for their Facebook friends to see.

Publications and Presentations

Increasing energy efficiency with entertainment media: An experimental and field test of the influence of a social game on performance of energy behaviors
Environment & Behavior
Reeves, B., Cummings, J.J., Scarborough, J.K., Yeykelis (2013)

Can Games Change Energy Behavior and Reduce Consumption?
Behavior, Energy & Climate Change Conference
Reeves, B., Cummings, J.J., Scarborough, J.K., Flora, J., Anderson, D. (2012)

Leveraging the Engagement of Games to Change Energy Behavior
International Conference on Collaboration Technologies & Systems, Denver, CO.
Reeves, B., Cummings, J.J., Scarborough, J.K., Anderson, D., Flora, J. (2012)

Future Work

Researchers will revise some elements of game; acquire a large population of users by leveraging online social networking and viral recruitment, including hiring a community manager to initiate game play and recommend the game to new players; and develop and implement a commercial business model around this version of the game. Possible considerations include directed advertising for recruitment, corporate sponsorship and utility licensing. Future research efforts may isolate and investigate the relative contribution of particular game play elements (e.g., leaderboards, team-based play, energy challenges, virtual currencies) to the effects currently observed.