What’s in a Game? For Marketers, Emotion Tracking.

Marketers, Game On

Call it the new ROE (return on emotion). If you’re a gamer (or an up-to-speed technophile) you may have already heard of Sony’s new hands-free, emotion tracking game controller called ICU, which stands for Interactive Communication Unit, released this November at the Vision 2009 trade fair in Germany. While the controller raises the bar in the ultra competitive hands-free gaming space, it does so with a twist: this controller tracks emotion.

According to NewScientist:

ICU ‘reads’ facial expressions using a pattern-matching algorithm that has been trained on pictures of people expressing different emotions. Using cues such as the position and shape of the lips, ICU spots five basic states: happiness, anger, surprise, sadness and neutral.

More than Meets the Eye

Way back in March of ’07, we wrote about a new type of eye tracking that allowed for greater understanding of emotions: Eye Tracking for Ads: Going from Heat to Emotion. It was clear then that using eye movement analysis for emotion identification was an early foray into the nascent world of emotion tracking. Sony’s technology not only uses eye movement analysis (through partnership with Atracsys, but it goes a step further by expanding the data source to include movements of the entire face, or simply – our facial expressions.

Google’s 2008 Eye Tracking Data – Limited, at Best

It will be interesting to see what the search industry does (ahem, is doing), with such forms of technology, which expand dynamically beyond pure eye scan path tracking. In the detailed 2008 research study undertaken by Google’s own Laura Grank: Eye Tracking and Online Search: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead”, three separate eye tracking studies are outlined, and analyzed.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the structure of these studies and subsequent modes of data analysis are geared towards “clicks.” In other words, who clicks, when do they click, where do they click, and what affects those behaviors? It would make sense for a search engine that generates 96% of its revenue from paid clicks to focus on this. For Google, a click is a conversion.

Some quick “click” takeaways from the Google paper:

– For 96% of the queries, participants looked only at the first SERP

– Participants clicked on results one and two 42% and 8% of the time, respectively, despite spending equal amounts of time reading those result listings, or “abstracts.”

– Males clicked on the second result only 7% of the time, and females selected it 14.5% of the time

However, it is more interesting for us to consider that for the vast majority of web sites a click is only an invitation to a conversion. There is much, much more that happens after an initial click – and the user information that one can glean from software such as Sony’s regarding a user’s emotional experience throughout an entire click stream presents much, much more insight into how to identify emotion, understand its implications and immediate associations with site content and usability, and maximize a site’s overall return on emotion.

As far as we can tell, there aren’t any eye tracking technology providers out there that are offering facial expression analysis. While some firms, such as UserVision/iMotions use emotion incorporation via emotional response questionnaires in addition to highly advanced eye tracking analysis, there isn’t any facial expression analysis.

The Eyes Still Have It – For Now

So yes, as far as emotion tracking technology goes, it seems to be true. But we think that Sony’s technology, in fact, makes a damned good argument for getting in your face.