17 Mar 2015

What Makes Simple Tap Games So Damn Addictive? (pt. 2)

by Mario

Continued from Part 1!

3. Competition system

These games should be endless or at least contain an endless mode, otherwise players will tend to abandon it after beating it. But how could an endless game manage to attract players if the game itself can never be beaten? Here comes the most crucial part: a system of competition.
The competition system provides a source for constant stimulation, as players continue spending time on this endless game to fight for first place. It may sound complicated, but it can be as simple as the addition of a leaderboard. Many games contain a leaderboard where players can easily see their rankings.

If you’re a game designer, you don’t even need to bother with in-game rewards for the top players, because it’s not the in-game rewards that make their efforts meaningful and drive them forward. It’s simple the idea that “I’m better than the rest” that works.

“Satisfying one’s vanity is the best reward.” – Mario, the Insightful

In some games, the leaderboard is even segmented into “the world,” “your country,” “your city” and “among your friends” or whatever. In my opinion, this segmentation design is a really a big step in the history of both leaderboards and time wasting. It fits human psychology better, that everyone wants to be the best, but only within the scope of their ability. Just as an employee might never envy a CEO but only their colleagues with higher salaries.

To bring things back to the game, not all players will become the best in the world, and they know it. However, after numerous tries, everyone has the potential to become the best player among their friends. For a player that’s placed 1st among his friends, it’s not to imagine how he may feel when he wakes up one day and finds his friend in 1st place instead, with a score only slightly higher. To retake top position, the player would need to spend even more time playing to earn more points, and thus a vicious cycle is formed. Or perhaps a virtuous one, from the perspective of the game’s developers.

Some thoughts:

Last year, a Chinese game called Play Plane was released. It’s a black-and-white game in which the player controls a little plane, dodging bullets and shooting enemies. There are no power-ups in the game. All enemies are the same, and there’s only one kind of boss that appears between certain intervals of time. That’s almost the whole the game, and the gameplay is relatively easy. It’s not an exaggeration that if a player doesn’t need to eat, drink or rest, he can keep playing until the universe ends.

This simple game contains all three factors discussed above and may sound stupid, but it was so popular at that time that almost everyone was posting statements like “I got a score of XX in Play Plane and ranked YY among my friends!” It’s quite common to see many people on the subway sitting in the seats and playing. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it should be called a game or tediously repetitive work, but many people seemed to enjoy it, especially when they finally got a higher score than their friends after an hour’s hard work.

I may sound arrogant as I describe the indulgences of others, as if I were completely sober and immune to this kind of mechanism. To be honest, I must confess that from time to time, I’ve also become addicted to some games that may seem stupid afterwards, but at that moment I was just too addicted to stop playing. It is true that the moment I achieved the highest score was extremely exciting, and it felt like an important task in my life was accomplished and my value was recognized. But when the excitement faded away, it was replaced by emptiness, and sometimes even bitterness, for the time wasted and the other things I’d neglected.

It really impressed me when Dong Nguyen, the developer of Flappy Bird, decided to take his game off the Appstore. He said the purpose of this game was to let people have fun in their spare time, but as more and more people got addicted to it and spent too much time on it, the game quickly escaped his initial vision. Finally, he decided to remove the game, despite the fact that Flappy Bird was earning him $50,000 every day had it remained on the Appstore.

What impressed me was his clarity of mind. He knew that game should be something that brings people energy and makes them happy, not a shelter from within which people sever their connections to the real world as they clamor for spiritual solace via profitless progress or competition.

Judging by what’s happening today, his audiences may not be as sober as him, but hopefully they will be. As a person who has played video games for over 20 years, and as a player who has strong compassion in games, I sincerely wish we will not become ruined by what we love, and instead improve our lives with gaming.


I write stuff at Fedeen.