The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) published an article in 2014 that addressed biometric gaming that year.  As it was penned by Valencell co-founder Dr. Steven LeBoeuf, we decided to take the opportunity get an update and share his take on how biometrics could impact gaming in 2017. (You’ll find his original article below – it’s great stuff and deserves another read!)

His ideas for what the industry could do actually do in 2014 – or even 2015 or 2016 – haven’t been realized just yet.  He was less worried about the implementation of biometrics in 2014 than I was about the opportunities.

“It certainly hasn’t taken off yet, but I think we’re poised to see that very soon,” said LeBoeuf. And then he offered three reasons the gaming industry hasn’t fully implemented biometric gaming yet:

The Form Factor

According to LeBoeuf, the gaming industry hasn’t settled on the right form factor. Success, he suggests, will be had by gamers that integrate biometrics into a device gamers are used to wearing. Buying extra ‘add on’ devices won’t fuel adoption; it has to be an integral part of the experience.

“I think the best form factor is going to be headphones,” he said. “Gamers are used to wearing headphones when playing games, so it can be introduced right into the system they buy.”

He also believes there’s a great opportunity for Virtual Reality (VR) gaming. Again it’s because the form factor allows for easy integration into the hardware. The VR environment lends itself to accurately measuring and reporting via biometrics… unlike a gamepad or a gun where there isn’t always consistent contact point for biometric measurement. Reliable Optical Heart Rate Measurement (OHRM) requires consistent and clear signals and therefore the type of hardware and location used impacts reporting to the game.

Measuring Matters

Early attempts at implementing biometric gaming often failed because they weren’t measuring the right thing, nor were they measuring it accurately or consistently.  That was fine if the game was simply displaying heart rate numbers on the screen, but if your heart rate impacts whether or not you win it becomes important to report accurately. Not just any old heart rate monitor will do.

In a game about, say, using your Jedi powers you may have to measure the ability to relax as you get in zone to use those powers. If the sensor isn’t recording appropriately, it’s not measuring what matters. And if you’re not getting the correct results, you can’t move that wall the way a real Jedi would. Bad measurements can take away all the fun.

“So many sensors just don’t work well, hitting an accuracy rate of only 70% in many cases,” he states. “In a situation where gaming results depend on your heart rate, the heart rate sensor in the hardware has to be accurate. You can’t cheat on accuracy.”

The 3 Year Cycle

“Look, gaming companies aren’t experts in biometrics; they’re experts in software and design,” said LeBeouf. “There’s been great improvement in conceptualizing how to create games that really take advantage of biometrics. They’re learning that great OHRM can usher in a whole new genre of exciting gaming.”

He points to NeuroSky, for example. They’ve developed electrode-based EEG and ECG applications, pioneering new levels of exploration and applying it to drones. This is significantly surpassing the EA Sports approach from just a few years back where we used Wii systems it showed our heart rate.

Valencell is hoping developers get into the 4th dimension, where the way you feel inside impacts game play.

“Companies are putting our technology into gaming headsets, which will drive more innovation in other applications,” he said. An example of this is a company called NeverMind, a biofeedback-enhanced adventure thriller game that takes you into the world of the subconscious. It responds to emotion-based biofeedback in an attempt to help you control your fears.

Developments like these demonstrate the confluence of the impact of accuracy. And since new consoles come out in approximately a three year cycle, we’re likely to start seeing more implementation of biometric feedback in these products very, very soon.

We’re just not saying which year. Not this time.


How Biometrics Could Change Gaming in 2014

January 14, 2014
Dr. Steven F. LeBoeuf

Biometric gaming
As we begin 2014, pundits everywhere are outlining their prophecies for the year ahead. Why not join in on the fun? Lately I’ve been thinking about video games and how tech advancements—our company’s sensor technology and other wearable technologies—can catapult people who play virtual reality games into a new dimension. We’ve come an awfully long way since the Atari, but the gamer community is always searching for the next new experience. I believe biometrics could be the future of more immersive gaming.

Controlling the game experience using biometrics

We’ve seen how the body can be used as a controller in today’s games, but we’re not far from a time when we’ll be able to use our real-time biometrics, such as heart rate and respiration rate, to help add a new element to the experience. For players this could include changing the difficulty of challenges based on heart rate—for example, the player’s sharp-shooting accuracy may improve based on a lower heart rate. Similarly, a swimming or deep-diving competition may be more compelling if gamers must master their ability to hold their breath in real-life while under virtual water.

Heightening interactivity through biometrics

Through the use of biometrics, companies will be able to create smarter games that are capable of learning about the player and his or her biometric profile. How might your body react when you are under attack during a war-themed game? If you’re fitter in the real world, your character may be a more effective fighter in the virtual world. By tracking players’ biometric data, games can be personalized to change dynamically in relation to participants’ fitness levels, which will help the game continually evolve and engage.

By taking a player on a biometric journey of emotional states via heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring, a game may teach stress management without making the gamer consciously aware of it. For example, players could tap the mind-body connection to transform themselves from Bruce Banner into  The Incredible Hulk simply by changing their emotional state.

Understanding market implications

Technology that provides accurate, meaningful data can also spur players to get off the couch and engage in a fitness game or propel themselves to the next level of engagement—at the gym. The market for this is substantial as fitness game titles continue to grow exponentially along with the consumer appetite for wearable fitness monitors. According to research from the Consumer Electronics Association, consumer interest in purchasing wearable fitness devices in 2014 has quadrupled over the previous year.

Monitoring and tracking real-time body metrics with integrated sensor technology will create an enhanced experience for a wide variety of gaming titles. Audio earbuds, armbands, and wrist devices that track biometrics are natural peripherals.

Advances in technology continue to change the way we live, work, and play. Incorporating biometrics into video games could help propel the gaming industry into another realm, where not only players and developers win, but so does the public at large, as we may all be gamed into better fitness and health.

Would you be interested in a game if it adapted to your fitness level or daily life stressors? What do you think about using biometrics to enhance a player’s experience? We are eager for your comments below.