10 Mar 2015

What Makes Simple Tap Games So Damn Addictive? (pt. 1)

by Mario

“No! This game is stupid! It’s not even a game! It’s just…you know, tapping! What the hell is the purpose of this stupid…software?” – Weini, the Unkind Critic

Our story begins with a strongly negative comment from one of my colleges, Weini, about a mobile game. As an unkind critic and hardcore player who has spent eight years on World of Warcraft and has beaten all Need for Speed games twice, Weini would never spend more than three hours of his precious life on the games he described as stupid. As far as I know, this is his golden rule.

But just like what Will Smith said in I, Robot, rules are made to be broken. Weini’s rules are no exception. After just two 2 weeks, he recommended a game to me, the very same one he’d previously thought was for the extremely stupid only. Apparently, he was so addicted that he even made in-game purchases. I can’t help but ask myself: what game is so magical that it has turned a skeptical opponent into a loyal advocate? Based on curiosity, I also tried the game, and soon became more interested in it than I thought.

Its name is Tap Titans.

In Tap Titans, you attack monsters by tapping the screen and collect gold by defeating them. You can use your gold to upgrade your hero to deal more damage each time you tap, or you can use it to hire and upgrade companions who will automatically fight the monsters with you. There are infinite stages in this game, and the HP of all the monsters and bosses will increase as you progress. Basically, this game is as follows: keep tapping, kill monsters, level up your heroes, kill stronger monsters, level up your heroes even more, and so on and so forth.

Despite the in-game upgrade and artifact systems, the core gameplay can be summed up in just one word: tapping. In one sense, the gameplay is monotonous. However, it’s not unusual for successful games to be based around such a simple gameplay approach. Most of us have heard about Tap Titans, Flappy Bird, Crossy Road, and maybe a Chinese game named Play Plane. All these games have quite monotonous gameplay, but they’ve all become extremely popular, spreading virally. We can’t help ask: what features do they have? Why have so many people gotten addicted to them?

Here, I’ll try to give some explanations:

1. Quick Start & Restart

This kind of game doesn’t contain complex mechanics. It’s not like a strategy game, where you only begin to understand it after having played for some time. On the contrary, it’s so straightforward that even the least experienced players are able to play it in less than one minute.

Just imagine that you’ve downloaded a game from the App Store, and you can’t wait to see what the game is like. You don’t want to spend time creating a profile, changing some settings, finishing the tutorial or following the storyline before you can finally start playing. No! You want it now! You want to play as soon as you tap the icon on your screen.

That’s exactly how Tap Titans, Flappy Bird or Crossy Road works: no opening, no story, no tutorial, and even loading time is minimized. You tap the icon, and the next moment you will find yourself playing the game. The whole process takes no more than five seconds, enabling players to start the game whenever they want.

Moreover, people may feel bad when they fail, and they may eagerly want another try to make up for it. A quick restart would immediately bring them to back into the game, causing minimal interruption to the gameplay process. With quick start and restart, players can get into the game as soon as possible, and disruption of the gameplay’s integrity will be minimized.

2. Feeling of Progress

In Tap Titans, players may spend gold and relics they’ve accumulated to upgrade their heroes and obtain powerful artifacts to gain advantages in fighting. After that, monsters that used to be near-invulnerable now become beatable. Though it won’t be long until next unbeatable boss comes along, the whole process of getting stuck, upgrading and hunting down monsters keeps strengthening player’s belief that all monster can surely be overcome, as long as one keeps fighting and upgrading.

In reality, nothing is guaranteed, and people always need to face uncertainties that are beyond their control. But in this game, a guaranteed path to success is provided. Players are safe, and there’s no game over. As long as they keep tapping, they will make progress that they can see and measure.

In Flappy Bird or Crossy Road, the gameplay may be different, but the feeling of progress remains the same. Players become better at controlling as they keep playing, and as a result, they will enjoy the feeling of progress by constantly beating their best score.

To be continued next week in Part 2!


I write stuff at Fedeen.