The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Making Games Unfun for Profit

When I had played Swords and Potions for a few days, Mrs. Tao came by and said “I guess you like that game.”

“Not really.”

She thought I was joking. But by that point I’d already realized that S&P was much less of a game than I’d hoped.But I kept playing it for another week or so.

What I didn’t realize is that there was a deep design … not in the game play, but making it addictive. But now that I’ve read “Who killed videogames” by Tim Rogers , I see everything. The article (along with a review of The Sims Social) isn’t even for the same game, but all the tricks are the same.

You look at this cartoon world long enough, and something of an Inverse Pavlov happens. Your brain begins to know that you are “enjoying” yourself, even if you hate this insipid thing. In spite of a love-shaped hole in the center of your spirit re: this electronic monster, you will not turn away.

The articles are long (and similar, but aimed at different audiences), so you don’t need to read both. If you just want to read the short form, I suggest the section called “First Time User Experience.” After describing how they hook people, they discuss why:

He clicked his Macbook Pro’s trackpad. The next slide was a graph.

Tap Pet Shop launched as a free app. It made zero dollars for its first three days of availability. On day four, it made $10,000.”

The larger man was still standing up. He put his hands on the table. “If you engage the player for a day, you engage the player for three days.”

“If you engage the player for three days, you will possibly engage the player for a month.”

“If you engage the player for a month, chances are you have engaged the player for three months.”

“If you engage the player for three days — chances are the player will spend a dollar.”

“If you engage the player for a week, twenty-five percent of the time he will spend ten dollars.”

“This is all backed by research.”

As I said, the articles are long, but Tim can write … here’s his summary of the review:

The Sims Social is a game about sitting around in your house. It’s a game where you can make your character play games, and then watch him smile, unable to join his fun. Is this art? Fuck you. Is this a game? Not quite. Is it terrorism? Maybe. Is it interesting? Sure. Is it evil? Let’s go ahead and say, “Why not?”

I have no problem with free webgames with premium content, but the free game should be a game.  Having played S&P, I think I’d be able to recognize another Pavlovian treadmill, but having it spelled out cleanly can’t hurt.

Incidentally, what finally let me break free is when S&P decreased the wait time to unlock the next day. When I started playing, you could play up to a “week” (7 days). Each day took ~3 minutes to play, and you earned new days every 30 minutes. So I’d play a week in 20 minutes, then maybe wait a few minutes to play one more day. Waiting 1/2 an hour for one more day didn’t appeal, so I’d quit. Doing that once or twice a day? A little diversion.

Then they lowered the time to 15 minutes. Now I’d play a week and a half, and that’s when I realized I wasn’t enjoying it as much. But I kept playing. You had to use the chat room to “trade.” That was sometimes amusing.

Now my shop was a bit more complex, so I’d take 5 minutes per day. And then they lowered the recharge time to 10 minutes. Now I could play for an hour at a time. Ugh. I thought about quitting, but I had a ‘guild’ of people I traded with. That kept me in for a few more days.

The funny thing is … I presume they had a good reason for reducing the wait time, but it’s a numbers game and they plan on losing a lot of people. Thankfully I lost.


Written by taogaming

September 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Posted in TV & Media

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  1. I was also thinking of S&P as I read the Rogers piece. I was addicted for a couple of days, and then something clicked and I was out.

    Fascinating how the designers explicitly think in terms of identical addictive mechanics, simply reskinned with a different “metaphor”. And evil, yes.


    September 29, 2011 at 5:28 am

  2. Right now the industry is trying to attract as many lowest common denominators as possible (Farmville). But things are rapidly evolving. We are saturated with TapKingdomVille and so more niche games will start appearing.


    September 29, 2011 at 10:08 am

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