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A new(?) way to make conputer games addictive. 
24th-Nov-2010 08:09 pm
slanty, martha
One of the things that makes computer games addictive is the feeling of progress. As you play, you get better and better, and complete harder and harder challenges, and the positive reinforcement this gives you as get better keeps you coming back for more.

But to get this right, the difficulty level and learning curve have to be properly calibrated. If the puzzles are too hard, or the learning curve too steep, people won't be able to progress, and will get frustrated and quit. If the puzzles are too easy, there's no feeling of progress or accomplishment, so it just feels like mindless repetition, and people get bored and quit.

So you need something that in fact anyone who keeps playing can accomplish, but that feels like something that takes skill to accomplish.

My new idea for how to make this work is to cheat. If each level appears to be something that you play over and over again, being confronted with the same challenge each time, but it actually gets easier each time you try it, then it will seem as though you get better with practice and eventually solve it, but in fact anyone can solve it, because you don't need to get better; the puzzle gets easier.

The reason for the question mark in the title is that I have a suspicion that Angry Birds does exactly this. Just as I'm giving up on a puzzle, I seem to make progress that I can't explain. Maybe I've learned to hit the exact right angle to destroy the building. But maybe the laws of Angry-Bird-Physics change depending on the number of times I've played that particular level, and it's not that I've learned to hit "just the right angle", it's that as I play, a wider and wider range of angles are good enough to count as "just right".

This could be tested by switching between two copies of the game that are at the same level, one of which has been played more at that level than the other. If anyone is near the end of the first third of Angry Birds on a droid, and wants to test my theory that it cheats in this way, let me know.

If Angry Birds doesn't 'cheat' in this way, does anyone know of any other games that do? Or is this a new idea in game design? Hard to know for certain, since anyone using this technique would not publicize it; it depends for its effectiveness on the illusion that the player is getting better, when actually the game is getting easier, and the illusion would be ruined if people knew what was really happening.
25th-Nov-2010 01:38 am (UTC)
I usually replay a level until I get three stars before I move on to the next level. A few I've not been able to score more than two stars. I recognize what you're talking about, but I think it's due more to trial and error and learning what works for a level. Have you played a level over and over again even after you get the three stars? If so, does it remain (relatively) easy or even get easier? I get the impression that what ends up working is the result of learning what has to happen to clear the level, then doing that over and over again until you do it in just such a way that it works. The one that does seems more of an anomaly or a lucky shot, not due to the level becoming easier.
28th-Nov-2010 04:13 am (UTC)
It's not quite true that no game would publicize it. A couple of years ago there was a game that billed its "adaptive difficulty," e.g. if you were having a lot of trouble it would make life simpler, but if you were zooming through levels without breaking a sweat, it would step up the pace. Unfortunately I have totally forgotten the name of the game, but I played it and I can attest it actually did this.

I wish more games would, because I don't have the reflexes of a twelve-year-old and I stink on ice in most computer games I play.

Then there was the most recent of the big Bethesda games (Oblivion, I think it was) where the game could step the difficulty UP but not down - the problem with this is that it defied what players had come to expect as a basic rule of the universe. Normally you have a level 1 character who has trouble killing rats, right? And as you move further away from town - imagine you are moving outward through concentric rings, starting from the bullseye - you are also making your character stronger and better. But (here's the rub) the bullseye is also the main town and you have to go back there a lot to resupply, get new quests, etc. The expectation is that beyond a certain point the trip to and from town will no longer be something you have to worry about, that if some rats are still stupid enough to attack you, you won't have to worry about them, just step on the damned things. In other words, there's an expectation that old areas will be "cleaned" and no longer a threat to you, that you can concentrate on the frontiers. But the game broke this rule - you'd be out in the frontier, leveling up, and you'd come back and find rats *as tough as you were* and you'd have to worry about being able to kill them all over again every time.

This is why I didn't get very far in the game. I hear later they released a hack to disable this.
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