Destiny’s Addictiveness Explained

Back in 2001, Gamasutra published an article written by John Hopson. In 2001, you might have had no clue who Hopson was. Here in 2014, Hopson is now an accomplished developer and is the head of user research at Bungie Studios, developers of Destiny. In this article, Hopson discusses how you get gamers to keep coming back to your game. While it sounds great to think that we've got someone on the inside voicing our opinions and watching out for us, you might feel like Hopson's job is a bit more sinister after reading this.

Destiny, which is essentially an MMORPG in a first-person shooter shell, has a certain element of addictiveness to it. There are tons of rewards available to the player for simply spending time in the game. While you can excel and improve marginally faster than other players, it's very hard for anyone to get too far ahead unless they spend large amounts of time in the game world. In Hopson's article, he talks about these very tenets.

One reddit user describes the article as an "addictive formula." Check out these excerpts from the article below, which perfectly describe the work/reward ratios we are talking about.

"Secondly, there is the question of what happens when you stop providing a reward, which is referred to as 'extinction.' Say the player is happily slaying the dragon every time it appears, but after a certain number of kills it no longer appears. What will the player do? The answer is that behavior after the end of a contingency is shaped by what the contingency was. In a ratio schedule, the player will continue to work at a high rate for a long period of time before gradually trailing off. In a fixed interval schedule, their activity will continue to peak at about the time they expect to be rewarded for a few intervals before ceasing."

Frankly, I feel like we're being talked about as if we're lab rats here.

"A related phenomenon, called 'behavioral contrast,' occurs in chimpanzees, among other species. A chimpanzee is doing a simple task such as pulling a lever and is being rewarded with pieces of lettuce, which they like to eat. After doing this for a while, one pull is rewarded with a grape, which they really love to eat. On the next pull, the chimp is given lettuce again and they get very upset, throwing the lettuce at the experimenter. They were perfectly happy with lettuce before, but the presentation of the grape creates new expectations and when those expectations aren't met, frustration and anger invariably results."

Reading Hopson's article, I feel like my experiences with games like World of Warcraft and Runescape are being aptly recreated. The amount of time I spent in each game accomplishing menial, silly tasks could have been better spent actually doing something meaningful. I'm disappointed in myself for not seeing that I was living in a veritable 'Skinner Box' for so long, but I can't deny that I had some really good times inside these faux worlds. I'm just not comfortable that 'user research' is essentially fancy talk for 'behavior manipulation.'

Check out our Destiny review, where Gameranx writer Phil Owen advises you to steer clear.