JUST ONE MORE LEVEL… The Art and Science of Addicting Games

Every day, Clash of Clans earns its creator, Supercell, about $1.5 million. How can a game draw players in so far that some are willing to spend hundreds of dollars at a time on something that seems so trivial?

Clash of Clans is one of many games on the market that follows a “freemium” model: players can download the game for free and progress by naturally accumulating in-game currency but have the option to speed up their progress by paying real money on a premium currency. Players can then use the premium currency to buy more in-game currency and speed up the building of new structures or the training of troops. But what aspects of seemingly simple games are so addictive that players are willing spend to their hard-earned money?

Freemium games like Clash of Clans and Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s) like World of Warcraft employ an astounding number of clever tactics to draw players in. One of these traits is the lack of a clear ending. For example, Clash of Clans has very little story-based structure. There are a few campaign levels, but the bulk of gameplay is competitive multiplayer. When there is no story, how can the game have an end? Despite its effectiveness, this strategy has a major flaw: players get bored. To keep players happy, game developers release regular updates with new content, which only adds to the game’s open feeling.

Another aspect of addictive games, which is evident most clearly in MMORPG’s, is the emotional connection the player develops with his in-game character. The very first step in any RPG (Role-Playing Game) is character design. The ability to create one’s own unique avatar, in both looks and skills, enables the players to relate to their characters and play the game however they want. Over time, the players may become attached to their in-game counterparts, causing them to spend more and more time playing.

In a University of Missouri interview, Joe Hilgard, a psychologist researching video games, said, “Researchers have suspected that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are the most addictive genre of video games… Our study provides some evidence that supports that claim. The games provide opportunities for players to advance levels, to join teams, and to play with others. In addition, the games provide enormous fantasy worlds that gamers can disappear into for hours at a time and forget about their problems. MMORPGs may be triple threats for encouraging pathological game use because they present all three risk factors to gamers” (University of Missouri News Bureau). Mr. Hilgard’s study demonstrated that in addition to character development and online play, the feeling of escaping from real life also draws in players. To stressed-out teenagers, that can be dangerously tempting.

An economist.com article found a similar conclusion: “One risk factor is found in players who are trying to ‘escape’ through fantasy immersion or role play. Indeed, their game use may be a symptom of some other underlying problem, say social phobia or depression. Playing can then generate a vicious cycle that is hard to treat if the game is a way of self-medicating. For example, a child who is unpopular in school, or being bullied, may be important and powerful in a video game. Real life may struggle to compete” (economist.com). Although video games have many addictive traits, it seems providing a break from reality is their greatest weapon.

Pavan Hirpara, a Morris Hills freshman, considers himself a gamer. He prefers PC games, with his favorite being League of Legends, an MMORPG. He plays at least two hours every day, totaling a minimum of fourteen hours every week. When asked if he thinks he is addicted to League of Legends, he responded with a resounding “Yes.” In his opinion, MMORPG’s are addictive mainly due to the friendly, social environment. A contributing factor, he said, is that “It’s fun to be someone you’re not.”