A British game designer challenges the idea of game addiction but does admit to using compulsive gameplay to keep people playing.
Game addiction can be a big problem for some people. It's easy for game enthusiasts, such as ourselves, dismiss it a fake epidemic. We like playing games; it's not unhealthy and it enriches our lives more than anything else. But at least one game designer recognizes that some games, especially the so-called "free to play" variety, need to encourage compulsive behavior in order to keep people playing and, hopefully, monetize that relationship. Adrian Hon, the Chief Creative Officer at SixToStart, cautions designers to approach these mechanics with caution.
"A new breed of social games threatens to give the industry a bad reputation for causing compulsive behavior among a small minority of players," Hon wrote in a blog post for the UK Telegraph. "Not all engagement in games is positive. If you play games or know someone who does, then you'll know that it's possible to play games too much."
Hon points out how games manipulate people in to continue playing.
Designers can use a suite of techniques to make their games more compelling. Some you may have heard of, such as variable ratio reinforcement (similar to slot machines, where players receive rewards on a random schedule) and avoidance (where players are punished for not playing enough, as seen in Farmville's withering of crops.) Others, like the compulsion loop, rely on providing players with a never-ending sequence of new content and goals.
[These techniques] are more powerful, and they have the capacity to create incredibly compulsive behaviours, even if the game itself is relatively small and empty, and afterwards you feel like you've wasted your time.
Hon says that these techniques are not always harmful, and can often be used to create games that are both fun, constructive and compelling. But he says that we as a society should still be aware that the possibility for abusing compulsive behavior exists. "Developers have commercial as well as artistic motivations, and in the race to create the next cash cow game, it's possible that a small minority of players could be harmed by the very techniques that keep people playing," wrote Hon. "As a society, we need to be aware of that, and we need to be responsible."
I can't argue with that. Adrian Hon appears in the BBC documentary show Panaorama tonight to discuss game addiction.