There’s an interesting article in RPG Vault recently about addictive gaming.

It’s a tricky thing to define, but I’ll take a crack at it. A design is addiction-based to the degree that it encourages players to experience the same content again and again (often referred to as grinding) in return to obtain a series of rewards. These can be simple labels with no tangible effect (like an in-game title or some achievements), or they can be character improvements that give the ability to move on to a new location with a slightly different sort of grinding. I call this the grind/reward cycle, and it can keep players coming back to one game for years.

One key aspect of this design is that it gives many small rewards instead of a few big ones, so that the player is receiving constant positive reinforcement. A classic example is the style of skill improvement in World of Warcraft and EverQuest. When you gain a level, your skills don’t go up five points. Instead, your maximum goes up that much, and then the skill itself increases with use, a point at a time. Splitting up the reward into many parts increased the number of reinforcements.

The majority of games classified as MMOs these days adhere to a greater or lesser extent to addition-based game play.  Do x until you get y, then move on to z.  Repeat.  Sadly, games don’t seem to deviate much from that pattern.  Star Wars: The Old Republic seems to be attempting to move to a more story-based model.  Whether or not it’s successful, only time will tell (the game isn’t even in alpha yet).

Like the author, I’d love to see more options in games.  One gripe I’ve had with LotRO is their new-found gear-centeredness.  Like WoW, LotRO seems to be heading towards making players loot-crazy to keep them playing.  LotRO’s problem is they can’t make the instances interesting.  Rather than becoming loot-crazy, players are taking extended breaks until the next content expansion or leaving for other games once they hit the cap (that seems to be the general pattern I’ve noticed, anyway).  Personally, I’d like to see more community-based activities in MMOs … I mean, we play MMOs to play with other players so encouraging players to work with each other doesn’t seem like a bad way to go.  I don’t mean that forced grouping should become the norm, but it would be neat to encourage players in other ways (clever game design pushing them into proximity, better and varied PvP activities, trading-card type games where players can interact, etc.).

New models of “addictive game play” may help the industry out of its current rut.