So I tried a cookie clicker called BitCoin Millionaire.
Coockie Clickers games are games well known for the addiction they cause for no apparent reason. People have tried to analyse it seriously on gamasutra , it has attracted the interest of popular websites like buzfeed and it is the source of various jokes.
Coockie Clickers are games with the most basic and elegant core-loops. Clicking on the screen gets you money, which allows you to buy items, which allows you to get more money. It sounds self-referencing doesn’t it? It is. But then , if you think about it doesn’t Diablo also have a very basic loop like that?
- Kill monsters
- Get stronger
- Kill Stronger Monsters
- etc etc…
Picture from the “Compulsion Loop explained” article by Joseph Kim
The fun comes from a sense of completion, progress and fulfillment we experience by completing these basic tasks. Video games further enhance this feelings with positive feedback, like an increase in score, sound, images anything to convince you that what you are doing is worth your time.
You have other factors weighting in , for example unique items that are hard to get by, which give the player social status in the virtual communities but this subject is so big that I am going to have to tackle with it in another post entirely. For now, I will stick to the basic reward loop.
All these are based on Skinner’s box. Skinner’s box is an experiment carried out by B.F Skinner and demonstrated that a mouse, or any lab rat, would decide to perform an action e.g to push a button if a reward was included. This is called operant conditioning. Interesting huh? What’s more interesting is that the machine learning method of Reinforced Learning was based on this principle. It’s funny how different fields tend to be connected. Most of the Game Design field is based on the principle of that reward cycle. If you are more interested in this subject, have a look at this 5-miinute video by extra credit:
Game Designers made an attempt to name this video-game variant of the Skinner Box the “Compulsion Loop”, which is defined as
“Compulsion Loop: A habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain.”
Bear in mind, this is nothing formal or official but it’s quite practical and handy as a definition.
Now that we have gotten around our basic background we can now get back to our original subject. BitCoin Millionaire and Coockie Clicker’s success initially makes no sense but if you think about it they are the quintessence of this Compulsory Loop and their success was not random at all. It’s in this games that you can see the Skinner’s Box principle applied in such a clean, and terrifying, way. I tried the game out of pure curiosity but in the end I got hooked for days. To that it helped the fact that you can play the game while watching a movie or listen to music. The constant tapping can have a surprisingly soothing effect. I was planning to analyze the game mechanics of BitCoin millionaire but once I started reading about this games I was surprised with the connections I found with the world of behavioral psychology and it affects Game Design in general. To anyone dealing with Game Design I suggest them to give it a shot. Even if you are not hooked you will be able to get a glimpse of the basic principles of Game Design in their most elegant form.