We’ve all experienced the power of an addicting game. In the Civilization series, you want to press ‘just one more turn,’ and when playing Tetris on your smartphone, you hope that you have time for just ‘one more round’ before you have to get off the subway and start walking again. When playing a game that emphasizes story such as The Last of Us, you simply want to keep playing to see what happens next.
When a game grabs ahold of you, it’s a beautiful thing. We love the feeling of anticipating the next time we play a game, yet if you are designing a game, how do you apply this feeling to your game? How can you make your game addicting in order to keep players coming back for more? There are a few ways you can achieve this.
One way to make an addictive game is to ensure it can be consumed in a small amount of time while giving the player a reason to continue coming back for more. This works great for puzzle games, as most puzzle games last anywhere between 30 seconds to a minute per round while you attempt to beat your high score or a friend’s score. When you want a quick gaming fix, a game such as Bejeweled is perfect, in that you can play a quick, fast-paced round and put it away. Or play another quick round. Or another quick round. And so on, and so on, and so on.
What if a round of Bejeweled took five – ten minutes to complete? The game wouldn’t be easily consumable, and the addiction factor wouldn’t be there. Thus, a fast-paced, extremely short game that entices the player to continue playing (e.g. beating high scores) is going to ensure that your game has the addictive edge that you desire.
Repetition Isn’t a Bad Thing
I tried playing Farming Simulator 2013 a few weeks ago to see why so many people were spending hundreds of hours in the game, and while I didn’t care for it (probably because I grew up on a farm and kept having ‘flashbacks’), I could tell why so many people have become addicted to it: repetition. It’s the same logic behind why most people watch the same television shows and films on Netflix when there are literally weeks upon weeks of new content available for to watch: repetition is comforting.
Why do we continue to return to Super Mario Bros., Angry Birds, Tetris, and classic arcade titles such as Galaga, Pac-Man, and beyond? Because we are familiar with the core mechanics behind these games, and once we return to them, we receive this soothing feeling of familiarity, which leads to us continuing to play a few extra levels of Super Mario World when we said we were going to turn it off once we reached Donut Plains.
It also helps that many games also exercise the first rule above: ‘Make Your Game Easily Consumable.’ It’s a core reason why puzzle games are so successful, as again, most of them can be played in as little as a minute. Yet other games such as the Super Mario Bros. series continue to be addictive without following this rule, so both rules do not need to be present for them to thrive.
The best games that exercising the rule of repetition also teaches the core mechanics to players quite quickly. Look at Farming Simulator 2013 for instance: the game seems a little confusing at first, but by spending a little while in the tutorial, players learn all they need to know about farming their land, to which they begin operating their farm via repetitive actions in an effort to improve the quality of their farm. Players then have a goal, yet they know exactly what they must do to achieve that goal, making the game familiar, relaxing, and addictive in the process.
Think about the first time you played Sim City. The idea of creating a huge, thriving city seemed daunting at first, yet you were taught the mechanics of the game pretty quickly, and before you knew it, you had a large city that you were managing as you attempted to make it grow into a metropolis. The same can be said about the Civilization series, in that while growing a civilization seemed difficult, once you are taught the mechanics for accomplishing this task, you want to play just a little bit longer so your civilization can discover animal husbandry or you can watch a Wonder be built.
This is true of the Harvest Moon titles, Farmville, and so on. Wow, there’s something addictive about farming games….
The ‘Laundry List’
Whether you recently started playing Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto V or another of their open-world games such as Red Dead Redemption, you know Rockstar always gives players a ton of challenges they must complete before players can ‘100%’ the game and unlock that coveted achievement or trophy. I can’t tell you how long I played Red Dead Redemption as I attempted to complete every challenge within the game, but I can tell you this: it kept me playing countless hours after I had beat the game.
And that’s really the point: by giving your players optional challenges to complete, you will keep them coming back for more so they can complete the challenges for bragging rights. It sounds simple, and although it seems as if most people will simply want to put the game away after they complete it, if they have enjoyed themselves and want a reason to continue playing the game? You can bet they’re going to attempt to squeeze every little bit out of the game.
Even casual games like Cut the Rope give players the option to return to each level and try to complete it with three stars, and because the game is so much fun, if players have a reason to return and, again, squeeze every little bit out of the game, they are going to do so no matter if the laundry list contains 50 extra tasks to complete or one extra yet extended task. People love playing fun games (obviously), and they want any reason to keep playing the game and experiencing new feelings of excitement.
The Quest For Improving Skills via Epic Challenges
One of the most addictive games I have ever played is Trials (unfortunately, I never got around to playing the sequel). For those unfamiliar, you control a person on a motocross bike, and you are tasked with completing tracks that increasingly become harder and harder. These tracks are insane too. Literally, I’ve felt my jaw drop to the floor countless times as I try to make my way through a track and complete it.
Failure is the name of the game in Trials, and players will fail a lot. A LOT. Yet it is this trial-and-error gameplay that makes it so addictive, as you find yourself thinking to yourself, “okay, if I do this, then I can get to this area of the track,” and just as you finally complete an area of the track? A much harder obstacle comes your way. Eventually, you will become skilled enough to piece all of the information together to successfully complete a track, to which you move onto the next one and continue the process all over again.
Also, Trials is timed, so players also want to be the high scores of their friends and themselves.
Players do not like to be overfly frustrated, but if they continue to feel as if they can complete a certain task if they become just a little more skilled, you are going to have them addicted.
Trials also uses an addictive tactic that casinos use to keep people gambling at their machines: the ‘near miss’ tactic. As with slot machines, players constantly feel as if they are about to complete a goal, when suddenly one wrong thing happens and they fail. Yet, they had a small taste of reaching their goal, they thought they were almost there, and in their minds, if they try just ‘one more time,’ maybe they will complete their goal.
The Compelling Story
I discussed this tactic in one of my blog posts a few weeks ago, so if you have a chance read it as you will learn a few things you need to know about developing compelling stories in your game. Stories can make a game addictive, in that it teases their minds and makes them start thinking to themselves, “what’s going to happen next?”
It’s the reason Breaking Bad has been so successful. The writers have masterfully written a story about a compelling protagonist thrown into a compelling situation while he attempts to find balance between his loved ones, amidst trying to have some sort of control over his life. The result? People haven’t been able to stop talking about it for years.
This is why games such as Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, and TellTale’s first season of The Walking Dead have addicted people. Not only does the game feature a captivating cast of characters and an epic situation, but in the back of player’s minds, they are constantly thinking to themselves, “what’s going to happen in a few moments?” They also present the character with one challenge after another via plot points that actually pay off (e.g. find a NPC, to which you find they have been bitten by a werewolf, grab some food, only to be confronted by bandits, etc.). Successfully implement these dimensions into your game and in the post above, and you will have an addictive story-driven story players will want to experience time and again.
Creating an addictive game isn’t easy, but it can be done. Successfully implement some of the dimensions listed above, and you will have an addictive game that will keep players coming back for more time and again. No matter what type of game you are developing, it can be addictive, so do your part and ensure it has an addictive quality. After all, don’t you want players to want to play your game long after they have completed it?