Does Winning or Losing Change Players' Engagement in Competitive Games? Experiments in Virtual Reality

Roni Barak Ventura, Samuel Richmond, Matthieu Nadini, Shinnosuke Nakayama, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Engagement is a key element in game design, and competition is frequently used to enhance players' engagement. However, it is presently unclear how winning or losing might influence players' engagement. We hypothesized that users in a competitive game will increase their level of engagement when they are losing. To test this hypothesis, we created a game in virtual reality in which each user competed against a virtual opponent that was programmed to either underperform, tie with, or overperform the user. We conducted a series of experiments on 72 volunteers who played four rounds of the game, with three rounds against each of the potential virtual opponents and one round alone. We found that user engagement increased when the virtual opponent outperformed the user, compared to when they played alone. A similar increase in user engagement was not registered when the user played against an underperforming or equally performing virtual opponent. To further elucidate the effect of the virtual opponent on user engagement, we applied the information-theoretic notion of transfer entropy, which offers a model-free approach for the inference of causal relationships between dynamical systems. Our findings provide insight into technology-mediated competition and its impact on engagement, thereby opening the door for targeted system interventions to modulate human response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8764501
Pages (from-to)23-34
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Games
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Competition
  • engagement
  • human behavior
  • transfer entropy
  • virtual opponent
  • virtual reality (VR)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Does Winning or Losing Change Players' Engagement in Competitive Games? Experiments in Virtual Reality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this