Image author: Stefans02, retrieved from Flickr.
There’s something about video games that keeps us coming back for more. It’s never quite enough, right? You turn on your PlayStation or Xbox for ‘just an hour’, but somehow your entire afternoon is gone.
Video games are just far too enjoyable.
Why? Part of it has to do with how our brains work. We love solving quests and completing missions because of the reward we get at the end of it. That cut-scene that takes you to the next level, the unique item you’ve never seen before, the gold trophy you can show off to your friends.
Video game developers are increasingly understanding just what makes us tick. They’ve had an idea for decades, but it’s been fuzzy. Now it’s being fine-tuned, with scientists coming up with the explanations for why certain games keep us coming back for more.
Video Games and The Dopamine Effect
It all has to do with dopamine. It’s that hit that we crave, that makes video games so intoxicating fun. You can think of dopamine as a sort of messenger between our brain cells. It’s crucial in daily activities; without it, walking and eating would be difficult.
Dopamine from the ventral segmental part of the brain (one of two parts that produce it) basically gives you this message: give me more of this stuff. It’s why we love that ridiculously delicious burger, why that song makes us want to get up and just dance, and why rewards in video games leave you craving more.
Dopamine drives us to continue to seek things that are, in principle, good for us. We need food and water to survive, so our brains give us a wee hit of dopamine when we consume some of it. It also affects our mood; dopamine hits make us feel pretty darn nice. Reinforcement and reward, rinse and repeat.
How Games Implement Reward Systems
Gamers are obsessed with rewards. Just look at this IGN article on Cyberpunk 2077. It lists every single reward you can find in the game. People will often complete the story mode of a given title, only to go back and tick off every single reward available.
Gamers who are in the Witcher community also know all about this concept. The game is absolutely littered with rewards and items. Considering it’s a role-playing game, they’re incredibly important. Gamers often focus more on the type of rewards on offer after completing the mission, rather than the mission itself. The ‘enjoy the journey’ concept is often strange to them.
The same thing applies to the story mode options. Games often include different endings for games; it gives people that ‘choose your own adventure’ feeling. But included with each and every ending is a different reward, whether it’s a trophy or item. This keeps players coming back for more. They don’t just complete the game with one ending, but need to try every single combination possible.
A similar strategy has been applied by online casinos when playing some games. This principle is most visible when you stick with slots – the very simple tasks of choosing a game and spinning the reel, have been enriched with many bonuses and rewards. These traditional prizes happen at random, giving the player a unique feel of being lucky and satisfied while playing slots. And, depending on the game you choose, the more you play it, the more bonuses you will likely collect.
Newer games have built on this idea and as you can read about on websites like Casinos.co.za – created conditions such as the more money you spend, the more you get (or at least that’s the basic gist). It gives a verifiable reward to the player, ensuring something is won even if they’ve not managed to hit another bonus whilst playing. Combined with the free spins and cash back bonuses many casinos have on offer, it provides that reward-based value that keeps players engaged.
Rewards have also been monetized. Video game developers realize that gamers don’t have the time or will to find every single skin, weapon, or other type of reward. As the shortcut generation with little patience, gamers are given the option of being able to purchase items. It’s why companies now make more money from this secondary market than from selling the games themselves.
How Should We Approach Rewards Systems?
In principle, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a rewards-based video game system. It’s the core of what makes gaming fun. The problem is with execution and with developers taking advantage of how our brains work.
Companies know that dopamine will keep us coming back for more. And more. It’s why many mobile developers have changed how they monetize. They also know we don’t like waiting; complete part of the mission, pay and get the item. You still get that dopamine hit.
Gamers need to be equipped with the knowledge of how dopamine affects our behavior, and how it can quickly turn from a positive to something a little more sinister. It’ll help gamers know when to whip out their credit cards, when it’s time to put down that controller, and when the fun should stop.