ITU-T Standardization Activities Targeting Gaming Quality of Experience

Authors: Steven Schmidt*, Saman Zadtootaghaj*, Sebastian Möller*'**
Affiliations: * Quality and Usability Lab, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany, ** DFKI Projektbüro Berlin, Germany

For more information about the gaming activities described in this report, please contact Sebastian Möller (sebastian.moeller@tu-berlin.de).

Editors: Tobias Hoßfeld (University of Würzburg, Germany), Christian Timmerer (Alpen-Adria-Universität (AAU) Klagenfurt and Bitmovin Inc., Austria)

Motivation for Research in the Gaming Domain

The gaming industry has eminently managed to intrinsically motivate users to interact with their services. According to the latest report of Newzoo, there will be an estimated total of 2.7 billion players across the globe by the end of 2020. The global games market will generate revenues of $159.3 billion in 2020 [1]. This surpasses the movie industry (box offices and streaming services) by a factor of four and almost three times the music industry market in value [2].

The rapidly growing domain of online gaming emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s allowing social relatedness to a great number of players. During traditional online gaming, typically, the game logic and the game user interface are locally executed and rendered on the player’s hardware. The client device is connected via the internet to a game server to exchange information influencing the game state, which is then shared and synchronized with all other players connected to the server. However, in 2009 a new concept called cloud gaming emerged that is comparable to the rise of Netflix for video consumption and Spotify for music consumption. On the contrary to traditional online gaming, cloud gaming is characterized by the execution of the game logic, rendering of the virtual scene, and video encoding on a cloud server, while the player’s client is solely responsible for video decoding and capturing of client input [3].

For online gaming and cloud gaming services, in contrast to applications such as voice, video, and web browsing, little information existed on factors influencing the Quality of Experience (QoE) of online video games, on subjective methods for assessing gaming QoE, or on instrumental prediction models to plan and manage QoE during service set-up and operation. For this reason, Study Group (SG) 12 of the Telecommunication Standardization Sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-T) has decided to work on these three interlinked research tasks [4]. This was especially required since the evaluation of gaming applications is fundamentally different compared to task-oriented human-machine interactions. Traditional aspects such as effectiveness and efficiency as part of usability cannot be directly applied to gaming applications like a game without any challenges and time passing would result in boredom, and thus, a bad player experience (PX). The absence of standardized assessment methods as well as knowledge about the quantitative and qualitative impact of influence factors resulted in a situation where many researchers tended to use their own self-developed research methods. This makes collaborative work through reliably, valid, and comparable research very difficult. Therefore, it is the aim of this report to provide an overview of the achievements reached by ITU-T standardization activities targeting gaming QoE.

Theory of Gaming QoE

As a basis for the gaming research carried out, in 2013 a taxonomy of gaming QoE aspects was proposed by Möller et al. [5]. The taxonomy is divided into two layers of which the top layer contains various influencing factors grouped into user (also human), system (also content), and context factors. The bottom layer consists of game-related aspects including hedonic concepts such as appeal, pragmatic concepts such as learnability and intuitivity (part of playing quality which can be considered as a kind of game usability), and finally, the interaction quality. The latter is composed of output quality (e.g., audio and video quality), as well as input quality and interactive behaviour. Interaction quality can be understood as the playability of a game, i.e., the degree to which all functional and structural elements of a game (hardware and software) enable a positive PX. The second part of the bottom layer summarized concepts related to the PX such as immersion (see [6]), positive and negative affect, as well as the well-known concept of flow that describes an equilibrium between requirements (i.e., challenges) and abilities (i.e., competence). Consequently, based on the theory depicted in the taxonomy, the question arises which of these aspects are relevant (i.e., dominant), how they can be assessed, and to which extent they are impacted by the influencing factors.

Fig. 1: Taxonomy of gaming QoE aspects. Upper panel: Influence factors and interaction performance aspects; lower panel: quality features (cf. [5]).

Introduction to Standardization Activities

Building upon this theory, the SG 12 of the ITU-T has decided during the 2013-2016 Study Period to start work on three new work items called P.GAME, G.QoE-gaming, and G.OMG. However, there are also other related activities at the ITU-T summarized in Fig. 2 about evaluation methods (P.CrowdG), and gaming QoE modelling activities (G.OMMOG and P.BBQCG).

Fig. 2: Overview of ITU-T SG12 recommendations and on-going work items related to gaming services.

The efforts on the three initial work items continued during the 2017-2020 Study Period resulting in the recommendations G.1032, P.809, and G.1072, for which an overview will be given in this section.

ITU-T Rec. G.1032 (G.QoE-gaming)

The ITU-T Rec. G.1032 aims at identifying the factors which potentially influence gaming QoE. For this purpose, the Recommendation provides an overview table and then roughly classifies the influence factors into (A) human, (B) system, and (C) context influence factors. This classification is based on [7] but is now detailed with respect to cloud and online gaming services. Furthermore, the recommendation considers whether an influencing factor carries an influence mainly in a passive viewing-and-listening scenario, in an interactive online gaming scenario, or in an interactive cloud gaming scenario. This classification is helpful to evaluators to decide which type of impact may be evaluated with which type of text paradigm [4]. An overview of the influencing factors identified for the ITU-T Rec. G.1032 is presented in Fig. 3. For subjective user studies, in most cases the human and context factors should be controlled and their influence should be reduced as much as possible. For example, even though it might be a highly impactful aspect of today’s gaming domain, within the scope of the ITU-T cloud gaming modelling activities, only single-player user studies are conducted to reduce the impact of social aspects which are very difficult to control. On the other hand, as network operators and service providers are the intended stakeholders of gaming QoE models, the relevant system factors must be included in the development process of the models, in particular the game content as well as network and encoding parameters.

Fig. 3: Overview of influencing factors on gaming QoE summarized in ITU-T Rec. G.1032 (cf. [3]).

ITU-T Rec. P.809 (P.GAME)

The aim of the ITU-T Rec. P.809 is to describe subjective evaluation methods for gaming QoE. Since there is no single standardized evaluation method available that would cover all aspects of gaming QoE, the recommendation mainly summarizes the state of the art of subjective evaluation methods in order to help to choose suitable methods to conduct subjective experiments, depending on the purpose of the experiment. In its main body, the draft consists of five parts: (A) Definitions for games considered in the Recommendation, (B) definitions of QoE aspects relevant in gaming, (C) a description of test paradigms, (D) a description of the general experimental set-up, recommendations regarding passive viewing-and-listening tests and interactive tests, and (E) a description of questionnaires to be used for gaming QoE evaluation. It is amended by two paragraphs regarding performance and physiological response measurements and by (non-normative) appendices illustrating the questionnaires, as well as an extensive list of literature references [4].

Fundamentally, the ITU-T Rec. P.809 defines two test paradigms to assess gaming quality:

  • Passive tests with predefined audio-visual stimuli passively observed by a participant.
  • Interactive tests with game scenarios interactively played by a participant.

The passive paradigm can be used for gaming quality assessment when the impairment does not influence the interaction of players. This method suggests a short stimulus duration of 30s which allows investigating a great number of encoding conditions while reducing the influence of user behaviours on the stimulus due to the absence of their interaction. Even for passive tests, as the subjective ratings will be merged with those derived from interactive tests for QoE model developments, it is recommended to give instruction about the game rules and objectives to allow participants to have similar knowledge of the game. The instruction should also explain the difference between video quality and graphic quality (e.g., graphical details such as abstract and realistic graphics), as this is one of the common mistakes of participants in video quality assessment of gaming content.

The interactive test should be used when other quality features such as interaction quality, playing quality, immersion, and flow are under investigation. While for the interaction quality, a duration of 90s is proposed, a longer duration of 5-10min is suggested in the case of research targeting engagement concepts such as flow. Finally, the recommendation provides information about the selection of game scenarios as stimulus material for both test paradigms, e.g., ability to provide repetitive scenarios, balanced difficulty, representative scenes in terms of encoding complexity, and avoiding ethically questionable content.

ITU-T Rec. G.1072 (G.OMG)

The quality management of gaming services would require quantitative prediction models. Such models should be able to predict either “overall quality” (e.g., in terms of a Mean Opinion Score), or individual QoE aspects from characteristics of the system, potentially considering the player characteristics and the usage context. ITU-T Rec. G.1072 aims at the development of quality models for cloud gaming services based on the impact of impairments introduced by typical Internet Protocol (IP) networks on the quality experienced by players. G.1072 is a network planning tool that estimates the gaming QoE based on the assumption of network and encoding parameters as well as game content.

The impairment factors are derived from subjective ratings of the corresponding quality aspects, e.g., spatial video quality or interaction quality, and modelled by non-linear curve fitting. For the prediction of the overall score, linear regression is used. To create the impairment factors and regression, a data transformation from the MOS values of each test condition to the R-scale was performed, similar to the well-known E-model [8]. The R-scale, which results from an s-shaped conversion of the MOS scale, promises benefits regarding the additivity of the impairments and compensation for the fact that participants tend to avoid using the extremes of rating scales [3].

As the impact of the input parameters, e.g. delay, was shown to be highly content-dependent, the model used two modes. If no assumption on a game sensitivity class towards degradations is available to the user of the model (e.g. a network provider), the “default” mode of operation should be used that considers the highest (sensitivity) game class. The “default” mode of operation will result in a pessimistic quality prediction for games that are not of high complexity and sensitivity. If the user of the model can make an assumption about the game class (e.g. a service provider), the “extended” mode can predict the quality with a higher degree of accuracy based on the assigned game classes.

On-going Activities

While the three recommendations provide a basis for researchers, as well as network operators and cloud gaming service providers towards improving gaming QoE, the standardization activities continue by initiating new work items focusing on QoE assessment methods and gaming QoE model development for cloud gaming and online gaming applications. Thus, three work items have been established within the past two years.

ITU-T P.BBQCG

P.BBQCG is a work item that aims at the development of a bitstream model predicting cloud gaming QoE. Thus, the model will benefit from the bitstream information, from header and payload of packets, to reach a higher accuracy of audiovisual quality prediction, compared to G.1072. In addition, three different types of codecs and a wider range of network parameters will be considered to develop a generalizable model. The model will be trained and validated for H.264, H.265, and AV1 video codecs and video resolutions up to 4K. For the development of the model, two paradigms of passive and interactive will be followed. The passive paradigm will be considered to cover a high range of encoding parameters, while the interactive paradigm will cover the network parameters that might strongly influence the interaction of players with the game.

ITU-T P.CrowdG

A gaming QoE study is per se a challenging task on its own due to the multidimensionality of the QoE concept and a large number of influence factors. However, it becomes even more challenging if the test would follow a crowdsourcing approach which is of particular interest in times of the COVID-19 pandemic or if subjective ratings are required from a highly diverse audience, e.g., for the development or investigation of questionnaires. The aim of the P.CrowdG work item is to develop a framework that describes the best practices and guidelines that have to be considered for gaming QoE assessment using a crowdsourcing approach. In particular, the crowd gaming framework provides the means to ensure reliable and valid results despite the absence of an experimenter, controlled network, and visual observation of test participants had to be considered. In addition to the crowd game framework, guidelines will be given that provide recommendations to ensure collecting valid and reliable results, addressing issues such as how to make sure workers put enough focus on the gaming and rating tasks. While a possible framework for interactive tests of simple web-based games is already presented in [9], more work is required to complete the ITU-T work item for more advanced setups and passive tests.

ITU-T G.OMMOG

G.OMMOG is a work item that focuses on the development of an opinion model predicting gaming Quality of Experience (QoE) for mobile online gaming services. The work item is a possible extension of the ITU-T Rec. G.1072. In contrast to G.1072, the games are not executed on a cloud server but on a gaming server that exchanges game states with the user’s clients instead of a video stream. This more traditional gaming concept represents a very popular service, especially considering multiplayer gaming such as recently published AAA titles of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) and battle royal genres.

So far, it is decided to follow a similar model structure to ITU-T Rec. G.1072. However, the component of spatial video quality, which was a major part of G.1072, will be removed, and the corresponding game type information will not be used. In addition, for the development of the model, it was decided to investigate the impact of variable delay and packet loss burst, especially as their interaction can have a high impact on the gaming QoE. It is assumed that more variability of these factors and their interplay will weaken the error handling of mobile online gaming services. Due to missing information on the server caused by packet loss or strong delays, the gameplay is assumed to be not smooth anymore (in the gaming domain, this is called ‘rubber banding’), which will lead to reduced temporal video quality.

About ITU-T SG12

ITU-T Study Group 12 is the expert group responsible for the development of international standards (ITU-T Recommendations) on performance, quality of service (QoS), and quality of experience (QoE). This work spans the full spectrum of terminals, networks, and services, ranging from speech over fixed circuit-switched networks to multimedia applications over mobile and packet-based networks.

In this article, the previous achievements of the ITU-T SG12 with respect to gaming QoE are described. The focus was in particular on subjective assessment methods, influencing factors, and modelling of gaming QoE. We hope that this information will significantly improve the work and research in this domain by enabling more reliable, comparable, and valid findings. Lastly, the report also points out many on-going activities in this rapidly changing domain, to which everyone is gladly invited to participate.

More information about the SG12, which will host its next E-meeting from 4-13 May 2021, can be found at ITU Study Group (SG) 12.

For more information about the gaming activities described in this report, please contact Sebastian Möller (sebastian.moeller@tu-berlin.de).

References

[1] T. Wijman, The World’s 2.7 Billion Gamers Will Spend $159.3 Billion on Games in 2020; The Market Will Surpass $200 Billion by 2023, 2020.

[2] S. Stewart, Video Game Industry Silently Taking Over Entertainment World, 2019.

[3] S. Schmidt, Assessing the Quality of Experience of Cloud Gaming Services, Ph.D. dissertation, Technische Universität Berlin, 2021.

[4] S. Möller, S. Schmidt, and S. Zadtootaghaj, “New ITU-T Standards for Gaming QoE Evaluation and Management”, in 2018 Tenth International Conference on Quality of Multimedia Experience (QoMEX), IEEE, 2018.

[5] S. Möller, S. Schmidt, and J. Beyer, “Gaming Taxonomy: An Overview of Concepts and Evaluation Methods for Computer Gaming QoE”, in 2013 Fifth International Workshop on Quality of Multimedia Experience (QoMEX), IEEE, 2013.

[6] A. Perkis and C. Timmerer, Eds., QUALINET White Paper on Definitions of Immersive Media Experience (IMEx), European Network on Quality of Experience in Multimedia Systems and Services, 14th QUALINET meeting, 2020.

[7] P. Le Callet, S. Möller, and A. Perkis, Eds, Qualinet White Paper on Definitions of Quality of Experience, COST Action IC 1003, 2013.

[8] ITU-T Recommendation G.107, The E-model: A Computational Model for Use in Transmission Planning. Geneva: International Telecommunication Union, 2015.

[9] S. Schmidt, B. Naderi, S. S. Sabet, S. Zadtootaghaj, and S. Möller, “Assessing Interactive Gaming Quality of Experience Using a Crowdsourcing Approach”, in 2020 Twelfth International Conference on Quality of Multimedia Experience (QoMEX), IEEE, 2020.

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