Shamelog #020 - The Psychology of MMO's

The very basis of any video game, at it’s core, is to hook you with some repeating mechanic. Think about it - the 20 second loop of Halo, the competition driven from AI in Forza, the feedback from levelling up any skill in Skyrim. All games hook you with some repeatable action; with MMO’s doing it better than most, and in some cases, in increasingly insidious ways.

I’ve continued my not-as-brief-as-planned holiday through Runescape for the past week, and as much as I see the cracks through the surface - 3000 hours in a game will do that to you - I keep logging on. Every. Single. Day. Through the last two weeks of pumping time into this game, I’ve narrowed it down to three specific hooks Runescape has that so successfully grab a hold of it’s players.

The first is levelling system. Much like regular RPG’s, you perform “skills” in the game and gain “experience”, though in the case of Runescape it takes so little effort. Because the breadth of this game is so huge and there is a massive amount of room for growth in any particular area (a skill level maxes out at 99, roughly 13 million xp, but to do so takes weeks of “work”) that the game can throw xp/rewards at you no matter what you’re doing. You can simply perform any skill a multitude of ways, go on quests, play mini games, open treasure chests - the options for #content are endless - yet everything moves the needle forward, even just a little. Every level up (accompanied by your own little firework show) is another dopamine shot straight to the brain.

The second is what we’ll call the “random” element. No matter what you are doing, there’s always a random chance at a bonus. If you’re spending time in combat, you might get a rare drop from a monster. If you’re training a skill, you might get a rare pet drop. Most importantly, there’s the treasure chests - a set of random rewards you can receive once per day, as long as you log on to do so.

The final aspect of this game is the “progress” loop. This manifests in any number of ways, appealing to all manner of people. You can spend hours putting in the work to increase your skills, which allow you to do more things, which allow you to increase your skills. You can go all in on combat, slaying increasingly more difficult creatures for better rewards to slay better monsters. Then there’s the big one - monetary progress. Everything you do allows you to continue gaining wealth - higher skills means more money making opportunities, which mean making more money to increase further your skills.

Watching the developers of the game and seeing their hardcore passion for the world they’ve created, it’s amazing how just under the surface everything ha been refined to a pure numbers machine to keep you coming back again and again.

And again.


Games left to play: 115
Current game: Far Cry Primal, Runescape