Modeling Player Engagement with Bayesian Hierarchical Models

Sawyer, Robert (North Carolina State University) | Rowe, Jonathan (North Carolina State University) | Azevedo, Roger (University of Central Florida) | Lester, James (North Carolina State University)

AAAI Conferences 

Modeling player engagement is a key challenge in games. However, the gameplay signatures of engaged players can be highly context-sensitive, varying based on where the game is used or what population of players is using it. Traditionally, models of player engagement are investigated in a particular context, and it is unclear how effectively these models generalize to other settings and populations. In this work, we investigate a Bayesian hierarchical linear model for multi-task learning to devise a model of player engagement from a pair of datasets that were gathered in two complementary contexts: a Classroom Study with middle school students and a Laboratory Study with undergraduate students. Both groups of players used similar versions of Crystal Island, an educational interactive narrative game for science learning. Results indicate that the Bayesian hierarchical model outperforms both pooled and context-specific models in cross-validation measures of predicting player motivation from in-game behaviors, particularly for the smaller Classroom Study group. Further, we find that the posterior distributions of model parameters indicate that the coefficient for a measure of gameplay performance significantly differs between groups. Drawing upon their capacity to share information across groups, hierarchical Bayesian methods provide an effective approach for modeling player engagement with data from similar, but different, contexts.