Skinner Boxing

Skinner Boxing

Like any other aspect of game design, Skinner boxes are neither good nor bad. It's all about how the designer uses them within the overall game.

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I would argue that the addiction encouraging design of many f2p games is inherently bad, regardless of label you want to put on it.

Specifically wait or pay mechanics (including energy systems) are psychologically coercive. I'm fine with wait times that you CAN'T pay your way out of, those can be useful for balancing multiplayer games.

Paid blind bags are another addiction-inducing technique that imo should be illegal in games aimed at children. Same with systems where you lose your "drops" unless you pay to "expand inventory".

Daily quests whose purpose is habituation are questionable but could only be considered coercive to certain personality types.

I wish these things were added to rating systems so I could see before I bother to try a game whether or not it had specific examples of psychological coercion mechanics.

South Park did it! Remember that episode where Stan got hooked on the Terrence & Phillip smartphone game, sponsored by the Canadian government? He asked the Devil for help about addiction.

Shamus Young:
Calling a game with irregular rewards a "Skinner box" is like saying a trip to Olive Garden is "foraging for nutrients". It's technically true but also kind of obnoxiously reductive. Having said that, I don't really have a better term in mind.

You could call it a "variable-ratio reinforcement schedule", that has a certain dystopian dignity to it. At least for the "Cognitive Game Design" types.

Alas, it's hard make a distinction between legit thrill and base exploitation when it comes to this stuff. It's a balancing act between being a sucker and dourly waving a "FUN IS JUST A NEUROLOGICAL TRICK!" placard. Personally, I prefer to draw the line where "micro" transactions are involved.

A 1:200 chance is more interesting than "exactly 50", even if the latter is more convenient and the former takes overall more time on average

It immediately strikes me that those "Kill 23 Goblins in this area" quests could be more excitingly phrased as "One of the goblins in this area has my X. Kill him and get it back."

rembrandtqeinstein:
I wish these things were added to rating systems so I could see before I bother to try a game whether or not it had specific examples of psychological coercion mechanics.

There are websites that rate games based on how "Christian" they are. There's no reason you or somebody else couldn't use some other criteria.

I would define a skinner box not just by the randomized reward, but also by the box, meaning that there's not much else to motivate the player. A full game that happens to have randomized rewards is not a skinner box - it's missing the "box". If you reach a point where you're not having fun, you're just grinding (or cookie clicking as the case may be) in the hopes of a random reward, then you're in the skinner box.

Veylon:

A 1:200 chance is more interesting than "exactly 50", even if the latter is more convenient and the former takes overall more time on average

It immediately strikes me that those "Kill 23 Goblins in this area" quests could be more excitingly phrased as "One of the goblins in this area has my X. Kill him and get it back."

That plus a more engaging combat system would make all MMOs just so much more fun. The Elder Scrolls Online goes some of the way there - with block and dodge mechanics being as intuitive in the MMO as they are in the singleplayer games, and quests involving killing a specific number of enemies being few and far between.

Maybe pretty soon we'll get an MMO that relies less on the theme park model and more on something a bit more organic with more room for player reflexes and tactics.

I'd be surprised if anyone online didn't know what a skinner box was at this point. Thanks largely to Extra Credits, it is one of the most overused and misused terms in gaming. Literally everything is a Skinner box these days. This post is probably a Skinner box, somehow.

Can't argue with the "obnoxiously reductive" bit, though.

Skinner Boxing: more engaging than Shadowboxing!

...I'll show myself out.

I wanted to contribute more to this forum thread, but the sight of that Borderlands loot drop image has given me an erection, and I subsequently have forgotten everything I have ever known.

Probably demonstrating something pertinent to the discussion, blah-de-blah, I want purples.

Pyrian:
I would define a skinner box not just by the randomized reward, but also by the box, meaning that there's not much else to motivate the player. A full game that happens to have randomized rewards is not a skinner box - it's missing the "box". If you reach a point where you're not having fun, you're just grinding (or cookie clicking as the case may be) in the hopes of a random reward, then you're in the skinner box.

This. This. This.

There's a very good reason people are still playing Destiny. There are several folks who already have all the weapons and armor they care about. They're still playing. Why?

Simple - the gameplay. The way the guns feel, and the way the character movement works, and how it feels to pull of that perfect super move. There's nothing else like it on the market when it comes to its mechanics.

 

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