Developing a Multimodal Entertainment Tool with Intuitive Navigation, Hands-Free Control, and Avatar Features, to Increase User Interactivity; Power without Bounds: How Entertainment Companies Are Addicting Users

Palnati, Saimanga Sreya, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Gerling, Gregory, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Wayland, Kent, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Norton, Peter, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

The general research problem of this paper is “How has online entertainment proliferated beyond the business models inherited from television and cinema?” With over 4.5 million internet users worldwide, the online digital entertainment industry is valued at $183.1 billion as of 2019 and continues to grow. This growth was facilitated by online entertainment companies adopting the attention-economy business model, where users’ attention is sold to advertisers to create revenue. This model contrasts to most businesses where the user of the product or service is the source of revenue. In previous business models such as those used by television and cinema, revenue was generated from users paying for access to content, paying for cable and movie tickets for example, and advertisements. Driven by technological innovations, online entertainment companies have sought novel ways to not only gain more users but also engage such users in a way that they will spend more time on such platforms. Recently, online entertainment companies including Netflix have created interactive multimedia experiences related to popular tv shows with the hopes of users spending more time on the platform, generating more revenue. Such methods used to engage users have become increasingly effective – and controversial, leading to an increase in internet addiction. Online entertainment today also contrasts to prior business models in that there are more diversified revenue sources and interconnectedness between users, though this lays outside the scope of my specific projects.

The technical research problem investigated in this project is “How can an interactive culinary multimedia experience be implemented into our client’s existing platform?” Our client is a multimedia entertainment platform that offers at-home entertainment to their viewers. Currently, online cooking experiences with the aim to help users successfully cook a recipe are sedentary, over-simplified, and solitary experiences. The aim is to cater to the interactive and entertainment elements that our client bolsters and increase user engagement with the content. Each experience is personalized with a pre-recipe questionnaire in which the user can input the number of cooks, number of individuals being cooked for, and any food allergies present. An initial prototype of the mobile screen views of each frame of an example cooking experience was curated using digital tools including Figma and Framer. Next, usability testing was conducted in real kitchen settings with a total of seven participants and provided useful insights that led to further alterations of the final prototype. The final prototype has three novel features including hierarchal content navigation, hands-free voice commands, and digital avatars. This prototype will be pitched to our client, researched and modified until a launch version is built, implemented into their platform, and continuously updated.

The STS research problem is “In the U.S., how have online entertainment companies sought to addict viewers?” Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) causes a user to have a “compulsive need” to use the internet “to the point where other areas of life such as relationships, work, or health suffer”. It has a growing prevalence rate between 1.5 and 8.2% in the United States and Europe, which only includes diagnosed cases. Online entertainment companies have utilized design features such as infinite scroll and using color, sounds, and unexpected rewards and psychological concepts such as variable reward schedules, social validation, and loss aversion to their advantage to drive compulsive behavior among users. This is done with the goal of increasing the number of users and their interaction with the platform, and ultimately, profits for the company. Recently there has been increased pressure from nonprofit organizations, lawmakers, and users themselves on online entertainment companies such as Facebook and TikTok to curate ways to mitigate the addictive nature of their platforms. Though some companies such as TikTok and YouTube have programmed features that help users consciously opt in to decide whether they want to continue using the platform or take a break, the overall effect on users is minimal. In order to successfully combat the rise of internet addiction among users, online entertainment companies should take further responsibility in making their platforms less addictive.

I believe that my work this past year has achieved what I set out to do, both with my capstone group in working on our technical project and my STS research project. With the technical project, my group and I were able to curate a fully fleshed-out prototype and gain valuable insights into the UX/UI design experience. This prototype will be pitched to, and hopefully adopted by, our client’s researchers on May 9th. I felt that the research done in the STS research project portrayed an adequately comprehensive view of the issue of entertainment companies addicting their viewers for profit. I recommend that future researchers study which programming features would best help to mitigate user addiction on online platforms. This will give current online entertainment companies looking to make their platforms less addictive more direction in which to do so.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
online entertainment companies, user interaction, internet addiction, variable reward schedules, online cooking experience

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering

Technical Advisor: Gregory J. Gerling

STS Advisors: Kent Wayland and Peter Norton

Technical Team Members: Nathaniel Barrington, Caton Gayle, Erin Hensien, Grace Ko, Megan Lin

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