Here's why you need the hands of a surgeon to beat Flappy Birds on hard

touchscreen game annoyance explained via new study confused annoyed cellphone man
Many a rant has been written on the horror of imprecision that is touchscreen gaming. Said imprecision is so annoying that researchers used Flappy Bird, a notoriously hard “casual” game to develop a computer input theory to explain the trouble.

The group of researchers from Aalto University in Finland gathered volunteer gamers and asked them to tap away. Some users were given physical keys, others used touchscreen. The results showed a marked difference in timing.

Professor Antti Oulasvirta, one of the study authors said, “We can finally explain why games that require accurate timing are annoyingly hard on touchscreens.” The three major factors involve our basic physical limitations, predictability, and processing time.

First, people using a touchscreen can’t keep their finger hovering indefinitely at a constant distance from the screen. Even the slightest tremor or breath alters the distance between the finger and the screen, which therefore changes the time required to react to on-screen stimuli. By comparison, when using a keyboard or button, a player’s finger generally rests on the button. There is no variability in contact related to the distance from finger to activator (screen or button).

touchscreen usage study

Next, the predictability issue arises after a player has tapped the touchscreen and is wondering if the game will react. The human neural system has a hard time predicting if the input event (tap or touch) registered in-game. Software detects and reacts to the touchscreen, but we don’t know instinctively how long that reaction will take. We can’t sense it, so it’s not predictable.

Last, after the input has been registered, the game still needs time to process it. That time varies based on a host of factors (when you want to throw your phone at the wall because some background process is making everything run slowly is the most extreme and rare case).

This research implies that making touch events more predictable will improve gamer’s performance, and therefore make a game or any touchscreen program seem less annoying. If the event is registered when the finger has reached the maximum surface contact area, people can improve their timing. What this means is designers may have to take a really close look at how devices or apps respond to touch and make some adjustments for feedback or response.

But this isn’t much of a surprise. Most gamers have already accepted what this research just proved: touchscreens today will never be as accurate for what we could describe as basic gaming inputs (press X to open that door) as physical keys. The problem with the variability of finger travel distance, an unpredictability that will make a given game harder on a touchscreen than on console or PC, won’t be solved until players can rest their fingers on a touchscreen during gameplay.

Of course, timing-based games will remain huge draws on touchscreen platforms. A game’s challenge is often part of its appeal, and this will likely continue even now that its been made clear you need hands as steady as a surgeon to beat some games. As well as our desire to challenge ourselves, this by no means applies to all touchscreen games, some of which require no timing whatsoever.

touchscreen usage study flappy birds

In any case, this research should serve game designers well. According to the experiment with Flappy Bird, “the model could predict how often gamers die,” so at least designers can put an accurate number on their brutality.

The paper on the subject titled “Modeling Error Rates in Temporal Pointing” will be presented at the CHI (pronounced Kai) 2016 conference, taking place May 7 -12 in Silicon Valley.

Mobile

New Boox Note Pro is all the ebook reading device you’ll ever need

The Boox Note Pro is an impressive ebook reader that combines so many features and services, that you're unlikely to need any other reading or note-taking device. We took a closer look at CES 2019.
Home Theater

QLED and OLED may have similar names, but they're totally different technologies

The names may look almost identical, but OLED and QLED are two entirely different beasts. In our QLED vs. OLED battle, we dissect the differences between these dueling TV technologies, and help determine which might be best for you.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Gaming

If we get a Nintendo 64 Classic, it needs to have these games

The Nintendo 64 introduced a long list of top-tier games, but which were the iconic platform's best? From Mario Party to Ocarina of Time to NFL Blitz, check out our picks for the best N64 games.
Gaming

‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’ will make Blackout mode free to play this week

Treyarch and Activision are offering Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode as a free trial download for a limited time. The mode will be available from January 17 through January 24.
Gaming

Break out the Wii: ‘Just Dance’ movie reportedly in the works

Sony's Screen Gems has reportedly acquired the film rights to the Just Dance video game series from Ubisoft, which previously helped bring the game Assassin's Creed to the big screen in 2016.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ security flaw let hackers spy on players through microphones

A security vulnerability found in Fortnite allowed hackers to gain access to other players' accounts, potentially letting them spy on conversations using the in-game microphone. It has been addressed.
Gaming

Microsoft CEO says Project xCloud is the ‘Netflix for games’

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella referred to the company's Project xCloud game streaming service as "Netflix for games." The service will let users play Xbox and PC games on a variety of devices.
Gaming

‘The Division 2’ private beta kicks off February 7 on consoles and PC

The private beta for Tom Clancy's The Division 2 starts on February 7 and runs until February 10, Ubisoft announced in a new story trailer. To guarantee access to the beta, you have to pre-order the game on PS4, Xbox One, or PC.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Gaming

Here are all the awesome games you can play without a fancy graphics card

Just because you don't have a dedicated graphics card, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the best games out there right now. This is our list of the best games you can play on Intel integrated graphics.
Gaming

Console wars are so last-gen. Check out all the games that support crossplay

Crossplay is still in its infancy, but a growing number of games support online multiplayer between competing platforms. Here's a list of all games that support console crossplay.
Gaming

Want to trick out your PlayStation 4? These themes will get you started

Personalize your gaming experience with some of our favorite themes for the PlayStation 4, including free, paid, static, and dynamic options.
Gaming

Play your games whenever you want with a MicroSD card for your Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch uses cartridge-based games, but its internal storage may fill up quicker than you would think. Here's what you should consider when picking out a MicroSD card to expand your Switch's storage capacity.