Editor’s note, this is a sponsored story by Greater Helsinki Promotions.
As a reminder, tonight at 17:00 in Helsinki is the Neurogaming event featuring Zack Lynch, the go-to guy on the industry. As a bonus reason to attend, they’re also giving away two Necomimi Brainwave Cat Ears, which you can see in the top image. It’s also an excuse to check out University of Helsinki’s brand new ‘Helsinki Think Company’, a new co-working space right in the city center that will officially open its doors tomorrow.

Space is limited, so to attend the free event, send an email to [email protected] right away!

As a teaser on the subject, we got in touch with Deepa Iyengar, one of the founders of Mindgames, and Icelandic developer of games harnessing brainwave headsets.

AS: What’s happening in Neurogaming at the moment?

Iyengar: What’s happening in neurogaming is happening in small startups and research labs. Most of the startups focus on the games, making them compatible with NeuroSky and Emotiv hardware. Many of the “games” from these startups are related to helping with meditation, and therefore appeal mainly to people who are already interested in meditation, although Throw Trucks With Your Mind seems to be purely for fun, whereas MindGames makes fun games which also train your relaxation and concentration abilities.

The research labs, on the other hand, are trying to develop neurogames which can train players to improve their attention skills to affect their ADHD, autism, and other conditions. It will be a few years before we see commercial results from the research labs, because in addition to developing games, they also have to find the right brain signals to use as game controls – and they will likely as a result also have to develop the brain headsets to use with their games. Then, the resulting game system has to be tested and medically and electrically certified.

Zach Lynch seems to be defining neurogaming as including other biometric inputs, like pulse and heart rate. If we include these types of inputs, then Wild Divine, a Myst-inspired virtual environment for meditation students, has been around since the early 2000s.

AS: Are the barriers for consumers to pick up neurogaming too large?

Right now there are several types of barriers between neurogaming companies and the market.

First, what do consumers want neurogaming for? We’ve noticed several answers to this question:

A. Specific medical niches: mobility impairment, ADHD, etc. These will require specifically-developed, medically-certified systems. Time and money are big barriers between the company and the consumer here.

B. Personal mental improvement: meditation, stress relief, attention/concentration. But within this category are several distinct types of users, including:

  • Users who will want the game and the headset (NeuroSky, Emotiv, or custom) to be tested on many subjects to demonstrate the game’s effects.
  • Users who decide for themselves whether the game system will be helpful, depending on how they feel.
  • Users who don’t want to play a game, but want some sort of interactive graphical and sound experience to give them feedback, and perhaps some graphs to show their progress.
  • Users who want a game, with rewards within gameplay and points, in order to motivate them.

C. “I control it with my mind!” users who want a new, cool interface for gameplay. These players don’t want controls that take time to build up, like relaxation and concentration: they want “up,” “down,” “jump,” “fly” and more. And they want instantaneous response.

Each of these groups of users wants a distinct sort of product, and it’s not possible to get users from all groups to buy the same product.

Secondly, will consumers be willing to take time to learn how to use neurogaming interfaces? Today’s interfaces don’t “read your mind.” Instead, you have to learn to produce what the headset is designed to pick up. It’s like learning to find an invisible button in your mind, and press it, and feel yourself pressing it. Usually, people feel like what is happening is random, until they get a feel for how to control the output of the headset. Looking, for example, at the user groups above, different groups will have different levels of patience with this process.

And thirdly, we still need headsets which are less expensive, easier to put on, more comfortable to wear, look “cooler” (for some user groups) and provide a larger variety of controls, in order to address the wants and needs of even just the user groups described above.

So in sum, there are still huge barriers to entry. The key is, can you find a user group which is large and really wants to try neurogaming, and then give them a game system which suits their pocketbook, their comfort, and their interests? It’s not an easy puzzle to solve, but I believe it is solvable, even in these early days.

AS: What’s going on with MindGames?

Iyengar: We are selling 2 games on the iOS App Store, W.I.L.D. and 28 Spoons Later, which are compatible with the NeuroSky brainwave headsets, and hearing from players about what works and what doesn’t work for them.

We’ve heard from several people who say they have ADD and ADHD that they feel that the games are really fun and helpful for them, which is great! And we’ve heard from hypnotherapists who intend to use our games with their clients. At present, we are in closed beta on our Facebook game, Gods and Mortals (the world’s first multiplayer mind-controlled Facebook game), and are discussing possibilities with investors and research collaborators. We are really interested in working with scientists to develop therapeutically or medically certified game systems.

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