Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

What Sets Off Your “Just One More Turn / Level / Match” Reflex?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 17, 2013

GalCiv2_DigitalCrackI’ve decided it’s not the same for everybody. Maybe it doesn’t exist for some people. But for the rest of us (maybe just those of us with low willpower – like the ones who keep buying games from the Steam Sale even though we have more games than we could play in a year of weekends), there are certain types of gameplay experiences that just keep encouraging us to play one more turn… one more level… one more match… whatever. Often until way past our self-imposed bedtimes or voluntarily applied session limits.

Some people talk about games like Battlefield <Whatever> or Team Fortress or fighting games or whatnot as just hooking them in for another match. You know, for those games, I am a rock. A bastion of willpower. Maybe it’s just that while I like those games, I don’t love them. I don’t know.

But I look back at how late I used to play Wing Commander games – pretty much up until the point where I failed a mission. That was usually the event that forced me to look at the clock, realize I was up way too late and it was time to go to bed.  Any game with relatively short missions and big storylines.

The ones that hit me the worst are the so-called “4x” style strategy games. As far as I’m concerned – those kinds of games are digital crack. I’m pretty sure that Rip Van Winkle was actually seduced by a beta version of Civilization.

I think for me, the things that will set me off and convince me to play through just one more turn or one more level or one more dungeon comes down to this:

1. It’ll be quick, I promise! 

If I am convinced the “just one more” won’t take much time, I can easily be hooked. If I don’t think it’ll take more than 5 minutes, I’ll convince myself that it won’t hurt. The problem is, I’ll end up playing a dozen more instead of just one more, and an hour will have gone by. But if I know the next level will be an ordeal, it’s easy for my logical brain to tell my lizard brain to shut the hell up, ‘cuz we do not have twenty more minutes to spare.

This may be why many modern RPGs don’t do it for me… but the old-school dungeons, where you would often make a “quick foray” and return, do it for me. So do the modern “Diablo-likes,” for the same reasons. Or a game like Knights of the Chalice, where every combat was a relatively quick but challenging tactical ordeal that formed a natural “stopping point” (since you could save anywhere), and the prizes were sometimes packed into a room like a piñata.

2. Unfinished Business.

The trick with the Wing Commander games as much as Galactic Civilizations II was the storyline – or the knowledge that there’d be progression of events at the end of the mission / turn. In Wing Commander, it was a constant set of cut-scenes advancing the story. They were the reward for completing a mission, and it was fun to see what happened next. In a 4x game, there’s likely several things happening at once, and you are frequently just a turn or two away from researching a new technology, or conquering a city / planet, or fully repulsing an attack. My mind, at least, is fully occupied with solving the tactical and strategic puzzles on the board, and I don’t want to wait another day to see how they resolve.

Incidentally, I’m the same way with TV shows. I prefer watching an entire season at once.

3. A Constant Trickle of Rewards

While story progression can be a very compelling reward, a constant trickle of small, progressive rewards (especially when they are not a perfectly known quantity) can be equally compelling to just push a little bit further. In that next chest, there could be an even better shield or rocket launcher. In one more turn, this planet will finish building my new Dreadnaught-class ship… but in two turns, my troop transports will land on the enemy planet and I may be able to take possession of it. And then on the third turn I should be done building this wonder on my home planet, and on the fourth turn I should finally finish research on Terraforming…

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that can and often will set me off, and leave me playing far into the wee hours of the night.  What about you? Do the same factors apply to you, or are there other aspects that make it very hard to put a game down?

Filed Under: Design, Geek Life, Strategy Games - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    Goddamn #2, “Oh… you’ve finally reached a good stopping point at the end of the chapter. SUPRISE! You’re girlfriend is being held hostage… are you really gonna leave her to suffer the bad guys devious ways?” How am I suppose to put down that controller after that?

    #3 is also effective to me.

    The other thing’s that tend to be effective for me are:

    New Experiences:
    If I’ve just played an hour of shooting and I’ve reached a motorcycle stage… I’m riding that motorcycle.
    The same goes for unique power-ups. If I unlock a fancy new cyclone kick I can’t put down the game until try it out.

    Progress Bars and Timers:
    Bars and timers are the killer for me. If a bar is nearly full or I know a timed event is coming up… I CAN’T stop until it occurs.
    Saint’s row was crack to me because you receive income every 15 minutes.

    “It’s only another five minutes to get paid.”
    “Hey, I can afford this new power! Let’s try it out.”
    “Oh, it’s only another five minutes…”

    That ****ing game.

    Short Scenes:
    If a level takes less than 5 minutes, I’m likely to say “Just one more level”… over and over and over. Rock Band was awful for me.

  • Albert1 said,

    You know, I noted a strange thing: modern games tend to hook me a lot more than the ones from the 90s, even more than what the favourites of mine did back in the day. Basically, I spend the entire weekend with the game I’ve just bought until it’s finished. But then I can’t – I really can’t – replay most of them. Really, modern games have no replayability. Maybe it has something to do with that story about most AAA titles being like empty calories – BTW, if I remember correctly, it’s copyright(c) Psycochild.
    You know, after a couple of teaspons of pure sugar, you have enough of it! Anyway, the games that hook me are basically the ones that, like RPS wrote in the review of Torchlight, occupy only one half of the brain. But then, when I keep failing even the simpler task – f.e. a little goblin keeps killing my uber barbarian – it means that even that part of the brain is now thinking about work/money/women/politics/food, so I shut the thing down till the next day.

  • Galenloke said,

    Legend of Grimrock has done this to me several times. I think its trick is that each room is different enough that I never know what to expect, so I complete a puzzle and think “I wonder what the next one is, I’ll take a peak and then stop.” But of course, seeing the puzzle causes me to start thinking and solving, and once I’ve made progress I don’t want to leave it half done. Rinse and repeat.

  • Felix said,

    You’ve just reminded me of the New Year party I spent playing Civilization. No other game had that effect on me. A couple of books, yes, but no other game. Then again, I also grow bored of long-running TV series and the like. As a friend told me, I have the opposite of a tendency towards addictions. Lucky me, I guess.

  • Nachtfischer said,

    DISCLAIMER: The following post is written under the assumption that games are more than simply a pastime.

    You need to be really careful with these things. A good game should intrinsically motivate the player by making him learn, get better over time and allowing him to excel inside the specific system of rules that the game is. It should make very efficient use of the great gift that a player’s time is and give something back to the player.

    Talking about e.g. Diablo and the “trickle of rewards” in general though, we come awfully close to the world of Skinner box game design BASED around scheduled rewards to basically trigger addiction and nothing else. In times of “free to play” games this is obviously exploited more efficiently than ever before (i.e. they do not only waste time but also money), but F2P games are not at all the only ones guilty of using these methods. But obviously the problem is getting more and more important these days.

    For anyone interested in the issue, here’s a short video explaining the problem decently well (although the “How to do it better”-part later on is quite questionable): http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tWtvrPTbQ_c

    And to anyone wanting to dive deeper I recommend Jonathan Blow’s talk about games and the human condition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqFu5O-oPmU

    Also, there’s a really disturbing article by a game researcher at Microsoft that really shows how devs take advantage of the players’ psychology and make them “like” actually harmful things: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3085/behavioral_game_design.php?page=1

    And Cracked’s take on that one: http://www.cracked.com/article_18461_5-creepy-ways-video-games-are-trying-to-get-you-addicted.html

  • Dave LeCompte said,

    Diablo 2 and any number of 4X games seem to trap me with this “one more turn / round trip to town” thing. With the 4X games, I have several layers of plans (I just want to conquer this continent, finish this wonder, build this new kind of unit), which will often be several turns out, and I feel like I’m making good progress, so how can I leave while I still have stuff I’m so close to completing?

    With Diablo 2, I’d die somewhere in Hell and then I’d have to run back to my corpse to retrieve my stuff. And then I’d die. After a while, I just had to keep playing to clean up all my stuff.

  • Tom Willoughby said,

    The Sims, Runescape, and Minecraft all trap me because there is no strict goals implemented by the game. There are no levels, so there is no point where I’m taken out of the action, breaking the immersion. Without this break there’s no point where I realise that, in the real world, evening turned to night, then to early morning.

    A mobile app called Jetpack Joyride traps me with short games and quick restarts. Unlike the above games there is a screen between deaths, but it’s so quick to start a new game that it may as well not be there. The really popular mobile apps have learnt to reduce the barrier of play to almost nothing.

    Faster Than Light also makes it onto this list. Partly because it has the quick restart like Jetpack Joyride, but mainly because it beats me. Every time I fail to reach the last sector and beat the last boss I see as a time I wasn’t skilled enough. The truth, more often than not, is that the RNG is a tough master in that game, but I’m determined to keep going until I get lucky. However, I don’t often get trapped as deeply in FTL as in other games because it is so frustrating that I have to stop playing eventually. I expect this would be lessened if I played on Easy.

  • Xenovore said,

    D) All of the above.

  • Maklak said,

    Thanks for the links, Nachtfischer. They explained a lot. Myself, I tend to get hooked on (in order of most to least dangerous) MMOs (so long as I join an organisation in the first two months), open world RPGs (Morrowind took several months of my life) and 4X games. I also played Dwarf Fortress on an off.