Author: Bryce Koike

From rec.games.programmer:

From: Bryce Koike
Subject: Re: Addictive Game, what would you recommend?
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 1997 05:12:06 GMT
Organization: Pacific Bell Internet Services

Mighty Quinn wrote:
So if you had to take a game that you would become addicted to, what would your ideal game have, that would keep you glued to the screen for hours, while skipping lunch and holding phonecalls for ?

  1. The game needs to have many payoffs starting early in the game. These payoffs need to come regularly and can’t gift players with godlike capabilities. In SimCity this was simply the ability to keep expanding the city, etc. In Diablo this is getting new levels and just a handful of points to increase stats -- enough to help you at the next level, not enough to make a serious difference in your capabilities.

  2. Flexibility. I should be allowed to tackle problems as I see fit and not follow a linear plot. In fact, any sort of strict plotline is probably going to hurt a game that’s designed to be addictive. You can have a loose one, or one that defines the end goal (arguably, Diablo has a plotline, but it’s not particularly integral to the enjoyment of the game).

  3. The “just a few minutes more” syndrome. This does tie into #1, but it’s a matter of providing rapid, incremental increases in capability at relatively close intervals. Just a few more monsters to kill, just a couple more territories, just one more level, etc. It’s providing an attractive enough lure (the “carrot”) to keep the player playing longer than the player (the “horse”) normally would.

  4. Expandability. At some point, boredom will creep in. The more addictive a game, the greater the potential for boredom, in my opinion. Anything that’s too repetitive, too frequent, and totally lacking in challenge (like some of the battles in XCom as you got powerful enough, or the battles near the end of Civ when you KNOW you’ve won the game, but you’re now going through the maneuvers to prove it by wiping out all of the enemy civs, etc) is going to be a problem.

    The solution is to offer expansion capabilities that are either developed by the primary developer or to allow players to produce their own add-ons. In Diablo-style games, petty conflicts against lowly monsters should actually become more infrequent as time goes on to sidestep the tedium element that too many games fall prey to. The game should actually change to fit the new needs of the player.

    If a point comes where a player has obviously won the game, the player should be able to wrap it all up FAST. It should not be a matter of wading through a thousand more petty conflicts before reaching the end.

  5. Interaction. Multiplayer capability (cooperative and competitive) can only help to increase the entertainment factor of a game. Games that can effectively support player + computer cooperation would be nice, but it’s rare. These days, it’s either players vs. computer or it’s players vs. players.

  6. Reward for success. If you’ve done REALLY well and you’ve become particularly powerful, that shouldn’t mean that the game is over and you should just start over from the beginning in order to continue playing a challenging game. A good game has a changing dynamic that constantly tries to maintain a good balance between offering up a challenging game and still giving the player a chance to win. But if a game starts to fall into predictable, boring patterns without offering up anything new, it might just be time to say Game Over.

  7. Skill. As the skill of a player increases, that should make that player more effective at the game. Excessive random elements aren’t desirable. But increased skill shouldn’t mean that the entire game is a cakewalk. Game balance is difficult and fairness to all people playing is important, but the game at some point should still provide some form of challenge, whether it’s from computer opponents or player opponents. (What I’m trying to say here is that the game out of the box shouldn’t be so hard that people get discouraged, but when a skilled player comes back to the game, it shouldn’t be tedious. An adjustable skill/difficulty level is always nice.)

    Ideally, there should be a series of skill humps that a player must overcome in order to become the “best” player of the game. There not be any one simple trick to winning the game. A series of interconnected skills is ideal. One example is playing Quake -- knowledge of a level, knowing how to confuse an enemy (open doors to send false clues as to where you are / what you’re doing), knowing how to pay attention to sound cues to guess what an enemy is doing, knowing what weapons are best in what situations, aiming accuracy, remembering specific patterns, keeping armor, weapons, and ammunition away from the enemy, etc. It’s not a matter of who can circle-strafe the best, but a combination of a series of skills. In the case of team-based playing, there are additional dynamics that don’t exist in 1-on-1 play.

Cheap tricks, while perhaps effective at a newbie level, should not have a large effect at higher skill levels. Also, play balance is vital. One weapon, one unit, one tactic should not stand above all others. All of the elements should be carefully balanced to allow for a wide variety of tactics.

Eye candy is not always vital -- NetHack had me hooked for a good long time with a simple text interface. I never felt that MOO had good graphics, but it was a heck of a lot of fun. Very good gameplay is vital, but if a game falls into a rut too quickly, people will lose interest, no matter how quickly the skill rate might increase. There comes a point when I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do in MOO and I don’t want to see it ever again. Sadly, in MOO2, I felt like they just combined Civilization / Master of Magic / MOO together and left me with a combination of multiple games that I’ve become sick of.

(Which leads me to a different point: stop the micromanagement!!! It should not take me four hours to complete one turn or to make one character or to do ANYTHING in a game if it’s really going to be addictive. A game should be fun, not work!)