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Addictive games, why (not) (!)(?)

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X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013

I was looking through my PM's today. And I spotted something that I forgot to do. (shame, shame, sHAME!!..on me)

Any way. Here goes.

Some time ago, there was a post that directed the unwilling victim (us), with a link, to a rather addictive game. Thing is... It started a healthy discussion. You remember?

While the entire thread got buried (by an honest mistake). The wish for a healthy discussion still was there. Not only that, I had seen with my own eye's how someone addicted to a certain game had to WORK to get healthy.
Man, that was very painful to see.
And I agreed to get a topic going, regarding addictive games.
Thenworkandforgot.... sjeeezz,.. typical me.


Addictive games, why!
Addictive games, why?
Addictive games, why not?
Addictive games, why not!

I am sure, all of us agree. That making an addictive game is a big NO. Destroying lives of good willing people is something we don't want to do. We have such morals here. Don't we?

Yet, out there, there are people, who DO!, make these games.
And why?
Just to get as much money as possible from individual victims.

Making, a game, addictive.

How do you do it?
How do you prevent it?
Or... do you want to find a mid way?

Still the,.. whyyyy??!

After all, the dream of a game designer is to make money with the game you designed.
At least, that is the "why we do it".

I have seen examples of game mechanics up close. That could easily turn kids into zombies. Grown ups too! And those grown ups generate money on a daily basis. So, why not start getting it from them?

Let's start pulling a teeny weeny bit, and remain friendly, and give a reward in return that the person likes.

Now lets pull a bit harder and more force full, and increase the reward just a little. That, the person likes,... and needs.

Now lets pull everything out of THAT person by promising certain doom if not!! And add just a little teeny weeny bit more to the reward. That the person certainly needs.


Now, I am "wondering" how YOU feel about this.
Have you experienced something similar?
Or someone close to you?

Or do you know about games that produce this behaviour?

OR are you causing it yourself? (Please tell me, o please do tell me)

How far can WE, go? With what we are doing here?
Is it possible with board/card games?
Does it happen with board/card games?
Or is it something that only video games might possess?
Perhaps only 1 kind of genre that can have these addicting effects?


Share your thoughts on this topic?

chris_mancini's picture
Joined: 05/01/2015
I once put the word

I once put the word "addictive" into some marketing language for the game I'm Kickstarting soon, and the question of whether or not that is a good thing arose.

I actually got the idea from Mattel, who uses the term in describing UNO. Maybe it's because they have to say SOMETHING intriguing about such a *blah* game, but I figured if their millions of dollars in marketing expertise landed them at that conclusion, there must be something motivating about it.

It's one thing to call a game addictive, and another to actually BE addictive. Simply put, addictive means you want to keep playing over and over and over...presumably introduce the game to new players, who in turn come to like the game and share with others.

Addictive means that when it's time to play a game, one title regularly jumps to the front of the line. I think these tend to fall into the lighter/filler variety that play quickly, perhaps frantically...a game that fires neurons and releases dopamine (which I'd argue all good games do) least that's what I'm counting on with my first small dice game. Speaking of dice, some people get hooked on just rolling them...the very mechanic independent of its purpose can be "addictive."

To say an "addictive" game is bad is like saying having a game go "viral" is bad...both have negative implications, but who here would be upset about having their game spread like wildfire? Doesn't that mean that you've created something great? Something that may end up creating enough revenue to allow you to MAYBE quit your day job and dive into the game business full-time?

Addiction can fall into negative territory in freemium mobile apps, and that business model depends on that tiny percentage of "hooked" users to generate 99% of the revenue. THAT can grow into an unhealthy pattern...but with a board game, if it brings people together, has an overall positive message and brings joy to those who play it...what can be wrong with that?

Joined: 06/07/2016
Anything can be addictive.

Anything can be addictive. Card and board games are no exception.

I had a dear friend once (he has since bizarrely ended our friendship) who was terribly addicted to magic (MtG). His days would often begin late and end late, and the time in between was spent in his basement sorting his cards and seeking new decks and ways he could build something "ultimate". He only left the house to get more cards and he completely ignored his wife and young son. All told in the space of a year he dropped $10,000 on MtG cards, box after box of them.

Wicked thing is he was unemployed at the time. He had been moderately successful before that and burned his saving's (and his marriage) on MtG.

Now I don't know of other non-ccg card games offer the same appeal, or if board games do either, but when addiction takes hold its a scary thing. The trick is that many things that are addictive aren't intended to be. So while we could argue that we as designers have a moral responsibility to not craft addictive games, we have no way to gauge if our project is addictive or not.

chris_mancini's picture
Joined: 05/01/2015
Great case in point! Any game

Great case in point! Any game or otherwise which has "collection" and the dangling carrot of "completeness" can be terribly addicting...

MtG, Pokemon Go, sports cards, Funko POP! figures...even board games themselves can trigger addictive personalities (ahem, Jason Levine).

That behavior, to some extent, can be "designed-in." Offering any product which is rooted in collection, and advancement through collection, has the ability to create "addicts." I'd say that the goal of any collectible is to find a rabid audience that supports the product; i.e. 2% of the customer base accounts for 90% of the purchases.

I agree this can be dangerous, because with most of these, at the end of the day, your money is largely for say nothing of what it can do to your personal life in extreme cases. How many dumped their life savings into Beanie Babies??? Designing a product with the intent of "addiction" is where the line gets blurred, and toys can be a prime culprit. Shopkins, Skylanders, Bakugan...all rely on kids desperately wanting more in some quest for power and becoming "whole."

For me the positive side of "addicting" games are simply ones that you love to play repeatedly and share with others, and do not plant one hand in your wallet. If the game can be mentally stimulating or educational in some respect, all the better. Love Letter, Flick 'Em Up, Pandemic and Catan come to mind...and who wouldn't LOVE to say they designed one of those??

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011

If a game is FUN or the players enjoy the experience the first time - that may bring them to the table again - for another game. I think that is as "addictive" as a game should be.

Things like Magic are a bit "questionable". I am not very knowledgeable on the game itself, but I have been learning more about it. And what surprises me is that people who are serious casual Magic players suggest Aftermarket Deck-Building.

What that means is first you research online to figure out what cards you want to build your deck. Secondly you go to a store and buy the cards for that deck. The cost is $60.00+

But there are different types of "games": League, Standard, FNM, Draft, etc. And each of those "games" have specific deck requirements and restrictions.

However what surprised me is that "you need to keep buying" if you want to play at a store. Either Draft, you buy like 3 boosters or certain editions of the game to match standard or league play, etc.

So the "addiction" comes from the need to keep buying more cards.

That in my opinion is "not so good". Because it's like a money pit. Even Aftermarket pricing can be costly considering you are going to want like four (4) of the same card in your deck.

It's really a different style of a game.

Unique - however maybe a little expensive... and possibly addictive.

Masacroso's picture
Joined: 05/05/2014
The addiction to a game

The addiction to a game depends on the person, not the game. To me design an addictive game is a very good achievement.

Anyway I dont know someone addicted to a game (fortunately).

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
I have seen plenty of

I have seen plenty of addicts. And also some game addicts.

However, I have yet to see a board game addict. I think it is almost impossible to have a real board game addict.

The only other addict that was not related to video games, was the one collecting cards. This kid spend all his money and stole money to spend more. Just to get the cards he needed. He liked having the upper hand over the other kids with this game. There was no way for him to buy the cards online because of his home situation (no internet or computer).
He got help once they caught him red handed stealing.

All other gaming addicts where related to MMO games. Where you can buy items to get a little upper hand and have more fun. Seeing more of the game if you will. Some games are terrible in this. You buy something cheap, and get a huge advantage. Then others catch up. You buy something again, but this time the advantage is less. Others catch up again. This patron repeats itself a couple of times.
Eventually this leads to the unwanted compulsory behaviour.

When is it bad?
We can look at individual cases.
But the average number can be shocking too.

I have seen numbers like 50.000 for the individual cases.
I also see numbers like 350 for average numbers.

Isn't that a bit too much guys? For a simple I-phone game?

Willem Verheij
Willem Verheij's picture
Joined: 06/08/2016
I think with board and card

I think with board and card games its not really a concern. Yes people can get addicted to it, they can get addicted to gambling with poker too, but in those cases the addiction really seems to come from the players and not the designer.

Some foods clearly seem intended to be addictive too. Stuff like candy, chocolate and alcohol. But for example, say, salmon is not an addictive food. Bust still someone could crave to eat salmon every single day. Can't blame the company supplying the salmon for that.

With videogames, it really is a big concern however. Mostly those free to play games with micro transactions. They represent all that is wrong with videogames these days. I wont touch those games.
I am fine with videogames offering DLC however, as long as the game itself did not feel incomplete at launch and the price of the DLC is fitting for what you get.
But still, its possible to pick those games up a year or more after release with all the extra content for half the price of the full game.
Because unlike boardgames, videogames lose value fast. At this point you cant really sell any game thats merely a year old for the full price unless its GTAV or such.

Personally I would not want to make an addictive game. I do have an interest in mainly writing videogames and developing the concept of the game, but I'd strongly advocate a system that does make good profit but without alienating the playerbase.

First of all of course by launching the game as a full product. For example, the game the next installment of a fighting game series.
I would not exclude the most popular fighters unless it makes sense story wise, like if they died in the last game. I would also aim to have at least as many fighters as in the last installment. If there are less fighters, then there should be other new content to compensate for that, like for example a sidescrolling beat em up mode with co-op.

For a pre order, I'd go with a costume pack or such. Its not vital to the game experience, but it just adds flavour. A year later that costume pack could be released as paid DLC so others can get it too.

For a DLC plan, I'd go with some additional characters. Some that had valid reasons to not be in the main game's story mode, maybe even bring back a popular dead character.
Some new stages and other content too, but always for a fitting price.

But the key thing is that the main game should offer a full experience. Some board games do have the issue of strongly requiring an expansion pack to become good, so thats certainly something to look out for.

Joined: 08/21/2015
addiction and obsession

Here's how I see this:

There are always people who will engage in self-destructive behavior (in this case, specifically addiction).

As a game designer, I am (or try to be) a sort of artist. I want to create aesthetically pleasing or interesting things which people consider worth something (even if my games are free to print and play, if people play them they are saying that they are worth the time to play them). If I do a very good job of my design, then some people may spend quite a bit of time analyzing tactics and strategy for my game. If some unfortunate people may take this too far and destroy their marriages or lose their jobs as a result, this is sad, but not my intention, and I probably wouldn't derive any profit from their failing (I certainly wouldn't want to.)

If, however, you create any sort of pay-to-win game, you are to some extent deliberately exploiting other people's character-flaws or self-destructive tendencies, which may be a good business model, but it is an evil thing to do in my opinion. In addition, if the main "strategy" is to be able to spend enough money to win, it's not "really" a game in any artistic sense to me - just part of the economic reality of modern life. In some cases it is arguably worse than gambling, because there is still a tiny chance of winning back something in a legitimate gambling game - whereas in a pay-to-win game, the "house" always wins - not just on average, but every time.

kungfugeek's picture
Joined: 09/10/2008
Pay to Win isn't a game

As a previous poster said, pay to win games aren't games.

But I'm certain that the people making these games don't give a flying frog about what we think of their games.

There's a pay-to-win aspect to MtG, and most CCG's, as well. But I'm not sure I'd blame the publisher/designers for that. The publishers said, "One of the cards in this pack will be really powerful. That's why it's rare." But it's the players who said, "Then we'll buy four of them so we can win!" I'm pretty sure Richard Garfield never expected people to do that. He expected the rare cards to stay rare and cool and exciting. But that kind of goes out the window when anyone with wallet can snap their fingers and max out on them.

The ones I get a kick out of are the video games that let you pay to skip the grind and go right to the end game. It boggles my mind that actually works. Here's how it goes:
Game Maker: "Do you like playing this game?"
Player: "It's ok. Kind of boring."
Game Maker: "Would you like to play the game even less?"
Player: "Would I!"
Game Maker: "Then pay us some more money."
Player: "Here you go!"

Tedthebug's picture
Joined: 01/17/2016
I always found pay to finish amusing

In video games a lot of forums have players raging at the cost of the game for how long it took to play through I.e. They are linking play time to cost to come to an hourly rate. Often this is way better value than movies but is unacceptable to the player. Yet if you offer that player day 1 content that will make them even better/stronger/faster/harder to kill they will happily pay that cost, finish the game quicker than they would have without those items (which they never know as they never play the game without them) & rarely complain about how short the game was for how much they paid. They appear to believe that it was because they were an awesome player.

As a designer you do have some responsibility in how you use the psychological hooks in your game, but ultimately you can't be responsible for how every player reacts to the game if you have taken care to try to balance all those aspects (making the game enjoyable, replayable & having an income tail to provide revenue). If you have designed the game to exploit all those hooks knowing that not only will you get the extreme end of the gaming spectrum but also the more reasonable middle 'addicted' to your game such that they are doing nothing else & spending everything on your game then you need to accept some responsibility for your actions. This is where tokenism in what you do will add to bad press coverage.

ssm's picture
Joined: 04/06/2017
People (or any animal) will

People (or any animal) will become addicted to something that fills a need. I play a mobile game (since 2009) that has seen marriages, homes, businesses, etc, all destroyed due to the addictive nature of some. Some I played with spent upwards of $100k. Children are often targeted to get the money from the parent (that can't say no).

Having said that; I am working on a very fast to play tabletop wargame. My goal is to have a battle last less than 15 mins. I have achieved it. I have done a little playtesting & tweaking (much more to do). In the end, I hope my game is addicting in the sense that someone always wants to play it and see what can be done. As someone up there mentioned; someone addicted will buy for friends. I have no plan to nickel & dime players, but if they want to buy multiple copies for friends & family; why not? In fact, I am doing all I can to create a low level addiction through images, colors, and gameplay. I am not in the business to 'help' people. We, as creators, want one thing the most- to have people use and enjoy what we create.

If you spend your time worrying about what others do, then you will rarely ever do anything yourself. You need to draw a line somewhere. My line is right in front of me- I will try to make something 'addicting', and you try to manage your addiction.

Try to think this way- Do you think Stephen King sits up at night worried that people are getting fired from work for staying home to read his new book? No. He is counting his money and hoping people eventually get a grip on their addiction (like he once did).

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009

I addressed "addictive" in "Game Design is not Mind Control"
(from the slides):
Another way to express the “control” idea is to say you want to make the game “addictive”

No, no, no! Addiction is BAD. People don’t want to be addicted. It indicates a loss of control by the person who is addicted. Why would a decent person want to get anyone addicted?

Is that something you want to do to other people? Do you want to treat people that way? I sure don’t

Would you like to be treated that way, as someone to become “addicted” to a game?

Perhaps if you have an addictive personality you wouldn’t mind; I’m the opposite

ssm's picture
Joined: 04/06/2017
'Addiction' is a bad word

'Addiction' is a bad word used to describe something we don't care for. We are all in charge of our own selves and how we deal with things.
If it makes you feel better, replace 'addictive' with 'can't put down/stop thinking of/whatever'.
If I make a game, movie, write a book, make lotion, etc, I don't care what words people want to put on it, as long as they enjoy it and use it.
To me the word 'addiction' is a cop out for most. Just have some self control about it, you have that control over so many other parts of your life. It is too often used as an excuse for what people want but don't want to admit they enjoy.

The guy i the MTG scenario wasn't 'addicted' to MTG or the cards; he found the same outlet that most find, and that is spending money when down to feel better about yourself. This 'pattern' is highly self destructive and we have all seen it play out in various forms.

So, do I want to make something that is 'addictive'? yes, very much. If someone applies that word to something I put out for consumption, then I know I hit the mark. On top of that; when the word 'addictive' is applied to anything, many rush out to 'prove it is not addictive', thus creating a run on a product and generating 'buzz'. How is that a bad thing?
Remember, I, nor you, are in charge of anyone else's actions.

Do you know that much study has been put into Agatha Christie's works and it has been proven that the bulk of her writing is 'physically addictive'? The combinations of words used trigger the release of our own drugs....and that is why she is one of the best selling authors of all time. Is that a bad thing?
We choose when and where to apply 'good' or 'bad' and often times those flip back and forth depending how we feel about other things at the time.

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Agatha Christie

Remember, addiction involves not being able to stop. I am immensely skeptical that any form of writing can be physically addicting. Can you give us any references?

ssm's picture
Joined: 04/06/2017
You can start here-

You can start here-

You may also want to look into Joe Vitale, he made a small industry of this & if you can find his original book Hypnotic Writing you may find it utterly fascinating. His 2.0 book is just about writing sales copy, where the original goes in depth.

Rick L
Rick L's picture
Joined: 08/22/2016
Just wanted to point out

Just wanted to point out something for this discussion. In a clinical definition, "addictive" behavior isn't describing someone who is just "really into" something, and who has a hard time tearing themselves away from it (like catching up on several seasons of a series on Netflix).

In a clinical sense, addictive behavior has to do with people who are damaging their lives - health, relationships, finances - and continue with their addiction in spite of the negative consequences​. It's beyond "irresponsible" behavior. We all make occasional irresponsible decisions. Addiction is reckless and irrational.

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