Friday, July 9, 2010

How games keep you playing

I recently read an interesting (and somewhat humorous) article about how the game industry keeps players involved to the point of addiction. Their closing paragraph really nailed it:
The danger lies in the fact that these games have become so incredibly efficient at delivering the sense of accomplishment that people used to get from their education or career. We're not saying gaming will ruin the world, or that gaming addiction will be a scourge on youth the way crack ruined the inner cities in the 90s. But we may wind up with a generation of dudes working at Starbucks when they had the brains and talent for so much more. They're dissatisfied with their lives because they wasted their 20s playing video games, and will escape their dissatisfaction by playing more video games. Rinse, repeat.

Which hits a lot of the points I mentioned earlier this year:

The sad thing is due to the nature of competition, both within the medium and against the other mediums, each source of entertainment is coming up with new ways to retain the interest of the viewer and prevent them from living a life beyond. In the case of video games, when I first started playing most games could be be finished in an hour or less and since there were only a relatively few games you could play all the new "good ones" over a weekend and move on with your life. But now if a game is less than 10 hours long, or does not include a multiplayer competition (which never ends), the game receives lower scores in reviews and will sell less copies. And there are many "good games" released every month, so many that there is no way you will be able to play them all (or get good enough in the multiplayer to truly enjoy it).


The biggest game currently, World of Warcraft, literally never ends. The game keeps expanding and gathering more subscribers (around 11 million currently) who pay $15 a month to live in a simulated fantasy world. The game makes more in a month than most movies make in their entire worldwide theatrical runs. The game is fun and, in a way, social. But unlike a book or a movie it will never end; there is always another task to do or goal to "accomplish". So the generation who grew up playing 1 hour games to completion get pulled into the game and never leave.

This change from short term game completion to long-term obsession happened so gradually that many players in their 20's and 30's don't realize what has happened and are just doing what they have always done. There is no older generation who experienced this, screwed up, and are warning others to avoid it. We are the first to do this and suddenly the ill effects of this entertainment cycle are becoming more apparent to us. And it takes people like Brian to reach out to those around them and say "hey, this isn't actually good! Slow down and look what life we've missed!"

This phenomenon is new, no generation has gone through this before, and no MMO has been around long enough, or been ubiquitous enough, to change social behavior on such as scale. Malcolm Gladwell, author of some of my favorite books Outliers, Blink, and What the Dog Saw (currently reading), states that in order to be happy at work people need:
  • Autonomy. You get a role in deciding what you do every day. Even if you might not always get decide exactly what you do, you can choose how to get it done.
  • Complexity. It must be an intellectually stimulating challenge. As the book states, it should “engage both your mind and imagination.”
  • Connection Between Effort & Reward. The harder you work, the greater your income or recognition (at least eventually).
And instead of working harder at their job or studies in order to improve their positions and achieve these work qualities, the players spend time in virtual worlds to gain the same satisfaction (being in a recession doesn't help much either, since it is harder and harder to find satisfactory jobs even if you do work hard to earn them). Again, this is so new that no one knows what effect it will have on future generations but it will be interesting to watch.

On a side note, one game company is trying to use these addictive methods for good by creating "Epic Win", a game where you level up your character not by fighting monsters but by completing your daily chores in real life. You want to earn a better sword to fight? Do the dishes and take out the garbage. Need more gold to buy better armor? Finish your homework. Need more strength to beat the boss? Go to the gym and work out:

Sure you can lie and say you did the chore instead of actually doing it, but then the game loses the "Connection Between Effort & Reward" aspect and players will quit playing. If it takes no effort other than lying to level up the game is no fun, therefore the true gamers will actually complete these actions (or move on to something else).

Kudos to this company for at least trying to make a difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment