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The striking difference between liking and wanting




There are two different kinds of pleasures we experience every day, we have anticipatory pleasure or ‘wanting’ and consummatory pleasure or ‘liking’. ‘Wanting’ is pleasure for looking forward to future events. On the other hand we have ‘liking’, this is pleasure for things in the moment. Think of it this way: when you play a game right now and enjoying it, you experience consummatory pleasure (liking). You might experience anticipatory pleasure when you are at your day job or school but can’t wait to be home this evening so you can play your favorite game. It might surprise you, it certainly surprised me, but these two pleasures are very different from each other and even have their own neural system in the brain. This means that according to your brain, liking and wanting aren’t the same thing. The wanting-type pleasure relies of the dopamine system. Dopamine is released each time you’re looking forwards to something you enjoy. The liking-type pleasure relies on your reward-driven system. When you do something you enjoy doing, opiates such as endorphins are released as a reward. These chemicals of the brain make you feel good. While wanting and liking are very different, it’s good to realize that you have to like or enjoy the thing at first before the wanting system for that same thing kicks in. However, you can have liking without wanting and wanting without liking. Think about a party you are dreading to go to. You really don’t ‘want’ to go but you know that you will ‘like’ being there once you get to the party. Addiction is probably the best example of wanting without liking. An addict will ‘want’ his drug but he doesn’t ‘like’ the effect of the drug anymore.


So be careful with too much wanting though, this can create addiction (Berridge & Robinson, 1998). I realize it’s an ethical debate whether you as a designer are responsible for a player being addicted to your game. In most cases you simply want people to enjoy your game on a regular basis and a healthy player shouldn’t become seriously addicted (where gaming becomes a problem for their daily lives). While not everyone is equally susceptible for addiction it’s important never to design for it.

The difference between ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ doesn’t seem to be very logical and not much research has been done. It’s only logical that I couldn’t find many games that apply this theory. The closest application of the wanting-system to a game I could find was

candy-crush-no-lives It takes forever before I can play again!

Candy Crush. Candy Crush and other similar mobile games want their players to come back every day. The design of these games is driven by retention and that’s why they often have a lives-system and short levels. The short levels encourage the player to try another level. Once the player fails too many levels and runs out of lives, he or she has to wait before they are restored. Most games with such a lives-system have cycles of about 20 hours. This means that if a player runs out of lives, it takes about 20 hours for all lives to be fully restored.

Both the wanting- and liking-systems  can be applied to all types of games. However, mobile games can probably benefit most from these different neural-systems. Chances are that you aim for high retention when you design a mobile game. The wanting system is important here, your players should look forward to play your game every day. And of course they should ‘like’ playing your game as well, especially the first time they play.


Games with micromanagement can also benefit from the wanting-system, especially if the player has to use a limited resource that replenished over time. Imagine that you have people as a resource and you can use them to build stuff. Of course building stuff isn’t instant, it takes time. There is nothing for the player left to do after a while because all people are building things. The player will than leave the game with the intention to come back when his people are finished building his stuff. The player won’t be annoyed or dislike the game because there is nothing left to do since it’s the nature of the game.

Some design ideas for you
When designing for retention, it’s good practice to ask yourself why the player should come back to play your game a second time. In my opinion your first answer should always be: “because they liked playing the game”.  There is no point in playing a game you didn’t like the first time. The other answers are up to you to think about. Designing your game to be ‘liked’ is much more difficult that designing your game to be ‘wanted’. whether you like something or not is very personal. Some people can’t get enough of shooters while others (like myself) aren’t a big fan. But there are a couple of things that can help the  player like your game. Completing or finishing something feels good. When your game is level-based, it helps to keep the first couple of levels short. You can increase the time spend in a level slowly as the player progresses. Finishing each level leaves the player wanting more: “just one more level, then I’ll stop”. Designing your game to be ‘wanted’ is a lot easier. Design your game in such a way that player has some unfinished business when he or she finished the first session. Think about a good cliff-hanger at the end of an episode: it leaves you wanting more. It’s the reason you and your friends are dying to see the new game of thrones season. You can design cliff-hangers for your game as well. The only difference is that you might have to “force” the player out of your game somehow. Add a resource-system to your game that is time-based but is depletes when you are playing. It can be a lives-system like in candy crush or a resource such as money or people in a micro-management game. There is no reason to stay in the game once the player runs out of the resource. Balance the resource in such a way that the player runs out of it when he or she is enjoying your game the most. It’s always important to make sure your player ends the game on a high note. It leaves them wanting more and have them looking forwards to the next session. If you want, you can send the player a reminder when the resource is replenished. But there is no need for daily rewards, this kills the player’s intrinsic motivation (I will talk more about intrinsic motivation the next time) and they won’t like to play your game anymore.

References and further research

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