The Shackles of Gaming

posted by on 31st May 2014, at 3:02am

What keeps a gamer playing longer than they normally would? With so many interests competing for the average human’s attention, game developers have had to think of ways to keep gamers’ attention on their product. From what I’ve found, there are three main ways developers do this: promotions, achievements, and new content. All three of these, though different in what they do, are effective ways of keeping gamers attached to a game long after its initial novelty has worn off.

The object of a promotion is to give players a special benefit for playing, usually during a specific timeframe or for playing consistently. For example, sometimes games on Steam will have a “free weekend” where Steam users who do not own a game can play it for free to get a feel and taste for it. After the weekend is over, users are unable to play it unless they decide to purchase it. In a different example, players in the game League of Legends receive x2 Influence Points for the first win of the day. These points can be used to purchase new champions or other in game items to improve their game play.

Both these rewards are effective at keeping a gamer’s attention. The first attracts new players while the second retains current players. The nice thing about a promotion is that it doesn’t cost much money if anything to do. Not only that, but it gives players either an opportunity to try out a game or get a small boost to improve their gaming experience. Promotions play cause a sense of urgency that makes a player decide quickly to participate even though the benefit is small compared to what the gaming company gets from it.

Another simple way of keeping gamers attached is the use of achievements. People, including gamers, love to feel a sense of accomplishment. Merriam Webster defines achievement as “something that has been done or achieved through effort : a result of hard work.” But to be honest, achievement has been severely watered down in gaming. How?

First off, many achievements are either too easy or too hard to achieve. When we think of the word achievement, we think of someone completing something that most people are never able to. An achievement is typically not easy, but not impossible either. Yet, a gaming achievement can be as simple as starting a game for the first time or spamming a key on the keyboard. Conversely, some achievements can be virtually, if not literally, impossible to obtain without cheating. Achievement, as defined above, can be either one. But in truth, it falls somewhere in between. An achievement is not as much about difficulty as it is about effort or hard work put into getting it.

Second, achievements should have some kind of value to them. Easy achievements are not considered valuable or noteworthy while extremely hard to reach achievements are held in high regard. Some achievements are cooler than others, but all of them should have value. If accomplishing something does not have a lot of value in the eyes of the player or other, it shouldn’t be considered an achievement.

Lastly, achievements mark a major milestone or completion of a special task. An achievement should be unique in that is isn’t just a repeated task. There should be an appropriate number of them in a game, like less than thirty. However, many games have achievements numbering in the hundreds. Many of these achievements are simply milestone achievements (in an fps game, 10 kills, 100 kills, 1000 kills, etc). Rather than having many achievements or marking every milestone, games should focus on a few special achievements.

The beauty of achievements is that they too, like promotions, cost virtually nothing. Yet, they play on a gamer’s wish to excel and be great. Achievements lure gamers into a false sense of accomplishment. Real accomplishment doesn’t come from how many achievements you can complete, but from the effort and hard work you put into completing a few achievements that most other people are unable to ever reach.

New content is another way to keep a gamer’s attention. New content gives players new reasons to keep playing. The moment a gamer feels they have done all there is to do in the game, the more likely they are to quit and move on to the next thing. If, however, the developer gives the gamer something new and exciting to do, the gamer is likely to stay and continue playing…at least for a little while longer.

New content, unlike promotions and achievements, has a cost/benefit aspect to it. Money is a consideration in whether or not new content is made. If the cost of making new content outweighs the benefit of attracting or keeping players, then a company won’t make the content. Even if a company can get players to think that they’ll play new content when in reality they don’t have the time or interest, they will go forward with making new content.

In summary, gamers ought to be aware of the tactics developers use to get them to game more. Though the intentions are not bad, the effects on gamers can be. The more reasons a gamer has to keep gaming, the fewer reasons they’ll have to do other things like focus on school, family, friends, work, and rest. Gamers can get tired or worn out from gaming too much. They can become more complacent with how they are living rather than seeking to improve themselves or do better. If you game, don’t let developers give you reasons to keep playing. Keep playing because you want to.

This article is filed under Gaming. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can discuss this article on our forums.