And where my personal preference goes to board games, I fully understand the appeal of computer games as well (I’ve played more than my fair share of them; just a few more turns in Civilization… (And before you know it it’s 3 o’clock at night!))
The best of games you don’t ever want to stop. Let’s play once more! Just let me finish this level? More than once I’ve described a game as being addictive.
And in a very real sense, they are addictive: Action X givers response Y, which brings you closer to goal Z. Your brain is learning and it’s loving it! Reward centers are light up and so it’ll keep on doing the same thing to keep getting that buzz (until the other players really need to go home or your mom tells you that you have to go to bed now…).
This is what you paid for. You put down a fair amount of money and then you could enjoy your game for as long as it stayed interesting. Because at some point you’ll have figured it out; you know the best strategies, you beat the end boss. The learning stops, the buzz stops. And thus you stop playing.
Unless it doesn’t. Unless you get new content. New levels, new things to try, new lessons to learn, new ways of activating the pleasure centers, new morsels to feed the addiction. Still, you might say you’re just getting really good value for money.
Unless you don’t. Because maybe you got the game for free. And it really is free, you don’t need to pay a dime to play. As long as you’re willing to accept a few minor minor nuisances. Like having to wait for a few minutes to retry a level. Or like having to try a level over and over again until finally (after many times waiting for a few minutes) you bash your way through it.
Or you could remove some of those nuisances. And really, it’s very cheap. A few cents and you get an extra life, or you don’t have to wait, or you can skip a level altogether. And you can go back to playing, back to lighting up those pleasure centers like they’re a Christmas tree.
Many people don’t, seeing it for the trap it is. But many people do. Because really, what’s a few cents? And so you pay once.
Which is the beginning of a new habit. Before it was: Play => Pleasure. Then it became: Play => Get stuck => Persist => Pleasure. But now it’s: Play => Get stuck => Pay => Pleasure.
So after doing it once, you’ll do it twice. And if you do it twice, you do it a hundred or a thousand times over. A thousand times a few cents… It starts to add up.
Of course, for the other side, the company that made the game, this is a pure gold-mine! They discovered the same business model as crack-dealers: Get someone to “try” your stuff for free until they are addicted, then milk them for everything they’ve got.
Now, I am launching a startup around games. And there is a very strong possibility that there will be a digital / online component. For any game to be fun it has to push the right buttons, it has to provide pleasure. So the beginnings of an addiction machine, of an evil empire are there…
For now I’d like to believe I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye if I went down that path. But what if things are going bad, debts are due, wages need to be paid…? Taking the moral high ground is easy when things are going well, but if you’re struggling just to survive?
Maybe I should make a game in which you have to defeat the evil games corporation empire?
I’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.
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