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Creating addictive games - an ethical problem

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#1 gr33n   Members   


Posted 28 June 2013 - 09:47 PM

Hello all.

First of all I need to apologize for a long post. And for possible mistakes, English is not my native language.

I'm a former MMORPG addict. This addiction has cost me about 30000 hours of my life and was my only activity in the last 8 years (although I finished university 5 years ago and had some job this doesn't count, I had no life anyway). That's very sad and I know that. Now I'm 27. However, I don't think my life is over and nothing can be done. I've got a strong intention to have an interesting and well paid job, a family and other attributes of a normal life. I've also got a belief that every person has to create, leave something behind in his (her) life. Not to go to work just for money.

That being said, the first thing I decided to do after getting rid of my addiction was looking for a direction for my future career. At first I thought that game development (MMO development in particular) could be the thing, for three reasons. First, this is a creative work, just what I was looking for. Moreover, it's like an art. I know I can't start making my own game right now, it requires a lot of studying, gaining experience, a qualified team, money and what not, but this can be a very motivating goal. Second, I've got an appropriate higher education in a Computer Science field. Third, I've been in it for too long. I have some interesting ideas and it seems to me that I know how to make an MMORPG better and more desired. So I started learning a programming language and getting prepared for a job as a junior software engineer. With a chance to have my own developer team in 5-7 years.

But then I faced a some kind of ethical dilemma : is it really a good idea to try to create something that has stolen such a large part of my own life? I don't want to create anything harmful even if it can bring me a lot of money. And I can't create something really cool unless I'm absolutely sure it won't harm anyone. Of course I might be responsible for my addiction myself but I'm not the only one. There're hundreds of thousands of addicts worldwide who waste their lives in simulated worlds among those millions who play MMO. Instead of self-perfection and making something useful.

So is there any way to make an MMO that would be simultaneously awesome and wouldn't have such a terrible side effect? I mean addictivity of course. Let's think about it. For example, we can require players to go offline so that their skills could advance in level, or introduce a durability timer for items that would stop ticking if a player goes offline. Or perhaps make the player's progress tightly linked with others so that there will be no point in spending a lot of time in game to become "the best".

All features I could think out to achieve this goal seemed too artificial for me. And I can hardly expect the players to like something that limits them in game that way. As a result the game won't probably be popular and will not sell. And not worth making.

So does a truly awesome game have to be that addictive or not? And is it worth trying?
Any advice will be appreciated. Thanks!

Edited by gr33n, 28 June 2013 - 10:31 PM.

#2 kseh   Members   

Posted 28 June 2013 - 11:47 PM

I don't really understand video game addiction very well so my thoughts here may not be well informed. I certainly have found some games so compelling that I've made poor choices in how much sleep I need or getting responsibilities taken care of. But I've never been faced with any irreversible consequences. I would liken my compulsion to keep playing a game to being unable to put down a book. *Just one more page. I have to know what happens next. Five more minutes. I almost have this figured out.)


If your game isn't to some degree compelling, what is it that will keep people coming back? Whether that's to subscribe for another year or to just finish the game, you'll want people to play a number of times.


If you're going to make a career out of making games then my only advice is to be sure to make games you're proud of. Adding features to a program that you believe detract from the quality of your product is unpleasent enough without an additional lingering sense of moral guilt.

#3 Steel Neuron   Members   


Posted 29 June 2013 - 03:37 AM

I am in a similar situation, although much less extreme.


I've had some issues with game compulsion (thankfully they haven't harmed me as much) and I've also faced that ethical dilemma when I decided to get into indie development (as a hobby).


If you're willing to enter the industry of MMO development, I think you should forget about those "ethical" design principles right away. Most MMO are designed with operant conditioning in mind; they're glorified Skinner's boxes. Even when a feature appears designed to enforce casual play (think WoW's "rested" system) it is often implemented with the idea of giving hesitant players an incentive to log in. "I don't really feel like playing, but I should have a full rested bar by now so hey".


Not even EvE online, which has been jokingly referred to as a game that doesn't want you to play it, is free from this sort of stuff. Okay, mechanically it may not necessarily reward obsessive players, but it is built with social interaction in mind, and you will eventually get to a point in which your corporation requires your presence.


If you want to develop in an ethical way, I think MMOs are a complex issue. It is unlikely you'll get to lead the design of a MMO without doing a lot of grunt work first, and even if you do, it's doubly unlikely any publisher or investor will back a risky enjoy-but-don't-get-addicted scheme. However, there are many other genres that are focused on giving the player a great experience, without attempting to condition him or her to become a slave.


That said, some people will become addicted to anything, and you shouldn't let that reality haunt you. Just think of the quality of the experience. What makes it compelling? If it is addictive because it is a blast to play, rejoice. If it is addictive because it deliberately exploits the way your brain reacts to short term rewards, social pressure... Then you have a problem.

Edited by Steel Neuron, 29 June 2013 - 03:55 AM.

#4 ranakor   Members   


Posted 29 June 2013 - 03:54 AM

Timeblocks are only a pain for the players, mmo addicts (and i've been one much more than you, hitting at closer to 18H+ a day 7/7 365/365 for 5 years) are a small part of the population "and" would've done something else anyway, i wouldn't blame it on the mmo unless it is genuinely designed to be "unfun" if you're not minmaxing.

#5 Steel Neuron   Members   


Posted 29 June 2013 - 04:06 AM

I really recommend you check out this video:



It gives some nice insights about how Skinner psychology (operant conditioning) is used in MMO design, and why it's a lazy substitute for actual fun.

#6 Khaiy   Members   

Posted 29 June 2013 - 01:30 PM

This article had some interesting points on that (they may be the same as the video above, I didn't watch it).


I think that the biggest issue you would have is the publisher. In the same sense that a tobacco company has zero interest in finding a way to make cigarettes less addictive, an MMO publisher has no reason to cut back on any addictive properties of its games. You probably can't make an MMO without a ton of money behind you, which means a publisher, which means that there will be enormous pressure against your removing elements of a game because you think that they will make people want to play too much.


At the same time, I think you might be overly concerned. While people can get addicted to games, it's not as insidious as a chemical addiction can be. Anyone can become addicted to a chemical but it seems to be a very small subset of people who can become addicted to video games, no matter how much a given person plays.


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#7 Darkhog   Members   


Posted 29 June 2013 - 03:11 PM

Replace publisher with Kickstarter or IndieGoGo and you should be fine. That is, if you'll have compelling story behind you and not being another WoW clone.


I think many people would jump at promise of F2P done right alone.


What is F2P done right, you ask? Well, in my opinion there are several things that makes it:

  • Only vanity items in cash shop/ability to get gameplay-altering items in game
    • Game should have only vanity items in cash shop, such as outfits, different weapons "skins", etc. Not even mounts as they make you move faster around the world and as such qualifies for gameplay altering device
    • If you want to put gameplay altering items such as weapons or mounts, make sure they are available by some very hard quest (so most people would pay for it, but those who can't or don't want to could in theory get those. Such quest should be Nintendo Hard though) in game's world.
  • No "premium" accounts that gives you access to areas that free players can't. This is very bad.
  • Ability to win "premium" currency (that can be bought by $$$ or €€€), but in highly unlikely event, like there would be 1/1000000 chance that monster you killed would drop premium money instead of standard one. This way players could still win it if they desire so, but it would be so unlikely, that they'd be more likely to pay for it.
  • No lazy "Bring me (number) (resource)" or "kill (number) monsters" quests. Think more how you would put quest in single player game - those should be engaging and preferably custom-built.
    • Note, there is nothing wrong with those lazy quests, but only for tutorial.

That's just my 2 cents on the subject.


Anyway, picking MMO for your first project is just bad idea, start with something smaller, like platformer.

#8 samoth   Members   

Posted 29 June 2013 - 03:34 PM

30000 hours of my life and was my only activity in the last 8 years (although I finished university 5 years ago and had some job this doesn't count, I had no life anyway)
i've been one much more than you, hitting at closer to 18H+ a day 7/7 365/365 for 5 years

Woah, out of curiosity, how do you guys get these stunning numbers?


30k hours in 8 years translates to 10 1/2 hours per day, every day, with no single day off. Having a job with "somewhat normal" working hours (i.e. 8 hours) and "somewhat normal" time for commute, this does not leave enough time to sleep, eat, and take a dump.


Even more so, 18+ hours 7/7 for 5 years sounds just unbelieveable. Assuming you're not in need of working (won the lottery, or living off welfare?) Playing for 18 hours per day and accounting for 1-2 hours to do the minimum things to keep your body alive, this leaves less than 4 hours for sleep -- not something you can sustain for years. And then, sitting in the chair for 18 hours per day isn't precisely feasible either (think decubitus, this is what Superman died from after all).

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