Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What is Fun? Revisited.

"Game companies are using the same techniques as the gambling industry."
I felt this was a nice, catchy quote to continue this topic with. This 15-minute video helped me to articulate, in my head, what I've been thinking (and blogging about) over the last little while. It puts the pieces together on my various rants about fun, as well as my discussions on the pricing model of World of Tanks, and how I find certain aspects of the game unsatisfying.

I'm not naive enough to believe the mechanics designed to keep us playing games are haphazardly put in. I think most of us know that game designers will design games to make money and this is best acieved by keeping us interested and therefor playing. It sounds like a fair exchange, doesn't it? One of the suggestions made in the video is that if game companies know about behavioral addiction (because they have psychologists on staff helping them to create games we want/need to play) then the addicting hooks they use to keep us playing are, in fact, unethical.

I had the opportunity to attend a conference here in my home-town several weeks ago. The setting was the downtown casino......which was reasonably full of people 9 am.....on a weekday. You could argue that they are just there for a bit of fun, but 9 am...really? That sounds like an addiction to me. I say that, yet I happily jump on the computer to play games as early as I possibly can on the weekends, and when I was unemployed, or working evenings, I was on shortly after walking the dog in the early am. Who's the addict now?

It's a fine line, I think, between healthy, engrossing hobby, and hard-to-stop compulsion. Addiction is a tricky area and one that I would say doesn't really come in to play on a large scale with video games (thinking about and using the medical professions criteria/terminology of addiction) but obsession/compulsion certainly is a term that fits (for me in any case).

And they know this.

"The ability to be exploited is built into our brains"

I especially like the point the video makes about there being two possible paths of gaming: one that satisfies our natural tendency to be compulsive, and one that manipulates it. The examples of Mario Brothers games (which are immediately satisfying) and MMO's (which manipulate and delay our statisfaction) are highlighted.

I danced around this earlier, but put into this framework I can say that the World of Tanks test server satisfies my compulsions. I can try any tank almost any time (with the 10X experience and credits, and the free gold) and I have fun doing it. If I get bored, or frustrated, I jump on another tank because credits aren't an issue and it won't hurt my stats in the long run. This doesn't mean I play poorly, or without care, but I certainly feel it's a bit more fun.

World of Tanks, the game, frustrates and manipulates my obsessions. It incorporates a 'grind' which delays the reward for my actions. This isn't something new. It's an element of almost every MMO currently on the market. As the video explains, the human brain is conditioned much like a rat in a lab. In the beginning of the game there is a quick succession of rewards such as level-ups which is often accompanied by dings, whistles, and flashy lights- just like a slot machine. The reward-for-action is quick but then it begins to slow down. Enter the grind. By this time, however, our brains (being fast, complex machines) have already associated the reward with this boring, monotonous acivity and this is what keeps us going (as talked about in the video).

Don't belive it? Okay, how about you click your mouse for me, right now, 5,000 times. Sounds boring, huh? Without the flashy lights, the level ups, the gear drops, or the next tank to drive, it is. No reward, no action is my motto.

Bartel's model of the gamer types is well known (I'm assuming) and used by developers (again, I'm assuming...they'd be fools not to know and use it) to hook us. Bartel, incidentally, has a good personal blog which I have been following for some time and recommend.

Taken from Hi. I'm Frank.

I'm not the only one to notice and comment on this issue:

"To be honest, after Ultima Online it has been a long and slow rush downhill to where players are akin to lab rats pushing buttons to get rewards and an emotional hit. The achievement system is the ultimate expression of a game without soul and players with no mind of their own." The Noisy Rogue

This whole topic is a deep, complex one, and it could easily be argued that I'm reading too much into it. Games should be designed to keep us interested, shouldn't they? Who wants to play a boring game? No one. The point is, that other non-MMO games are made for profit, and they incorporate more satisfying elements in terms of obsession-gratification. These games will only recieve your money once (maybe a bit more with Dowloadable Content being incorporated into major titels now) so they don't have to use hooks to keep us subbed, or to get us to the micro-transaction store.

Why can't MMO-designers do this as well?

I'll be continuing this topic in later posts. I think it is interesting, but want to avoid a 'wall of text' and see what you might have to say.

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