Games have only become increasingly adept at reeling in players and keeping them playing for long enough to buy at least the first round of DLC. Time was that games that racked up over one hundred hours play times were epic story-laden RPGs. Today it would be a fair assumption to make that most of the most played games are not very long to complete, but simply very addictive. Enter the concept of the Loop. It is not a new concept, by any stretch, but to me it is a new term. Otherwise known as a hook or something similar, a game’s loop is its ability to keep the player playing, but not doing new things. It often involves the RPG concept of “grinding” and in many ways is quite identical. However I would never call an RPG grind addictive, it is perhaps necessary but it is not the element that keeps me enticed. The loop includes the grind as well as the pay off and the final step in the cycle: the escalation. In order that a loop be completed and made to continue, the game material needs to get bigger in some way, usually just numerically in terms of enemy HP or gear requirements, so therefore the grind gets longer and the pay off potentially more exciting, and so on.
One of the absolute masters of the loop is Blizzard’s Diablo series. The most recent entry, Diablo III, had to undergo various changes to its loot system, the pay off system, to preserve that loop. Initially Diablo III included public auction houses for in game and real world money, which largely turned end game content into a test of bid snipping and price watching. Fun maybe for a few savvy Ebay users, but it ultimately hampered the experience. Once the two houses were shut down the end game content became more about playing the game to progress, and as more people did so the developers could react to make the experience more ideal (addictive) based on player patterns and comments. The end game loop of Diablo III was firmly in place by the time the first major expansion hit along with the new character class. The loot drops and methods for grinding were both made more satisfying which lead to a strong uptake of the premium expansion.
Not letting the loot drop hunt be a Blizzard lock-down, Gearbox got into the action with their own Borderlands. The popularity of these titles, especially around a site like this, probably precludes any need to explain them, but the exact similarities should still be worth pointing out. Both titles sprinkle small amounts of weapon and gear drops from common or rare enemies, but the really exciting aspect comes from both game’s loot chests. Both Borderlands games have the red gun chests and Diablo III has the resplendent chest. Usually placed in difficult areas as rewards, their odds for good loot and sometimes even the volume of it are increased over normal loot repositories or enemy drops. Both games color code their loot with a distinct preference for orange to represent one of the highest tiers of items. Both games have ample opportunity to gamble either standard game money or some kind of rarer game currency on a chance at better stuff, and in the case of Borderlands 2 this is done at a literal slot machine. And finally, both games have supremely hard post game content designed to leave the player with something to aim for with all that amazing gear. Ultimately there is an end to every loop, and usually this comes well before the content runs dry but the player’s patience or time runs out. But these games have the uncanny ability to get picked up again long after being put down, even if this was precluded with a vow “never to return”.
Enter the newest best example of a game loop that cuts away as much fat and presentation as possible leaving only the addicting qualities: Clicker Heroes. Much like the ubiquitous Cookie Clicker and others before it, Clicker Heroes attempts to keep the player involved by consistently dangling a carrot inches from their reach. Even if the window is closed for this free to play browser game, it will tally how much progress is made and give that credit back if (when) the game is reopened later. The concept is simple. RPG-like enemies must be clicked on to reduce their HP. Upon death, they drop gold. Gold is used to hire and level-up Heroes that increase the player’s click damage as well as auto attack damage. As more world levels are traversed the enemies get more HP (they do not attack) and drop more gold. There is, of course, a reset function that sets the player back to world one but with a few carried over abilities to increase damage and general progression speed. In practice I kept it open in a seperate window and would pay attention to it long enough to run out all my ten minute long damage boosting cool downs, then minimize it and come back again later. Rinse and repeat for several weeks until I had reset twice and was approaching over a septillion (it goes much much higher than this) gold and finally closed the browser window for good. (?)
So that about covers it, my loopy readers. Did you ever get caught up in a game loop as simplistic as Clicker Heroes or Cookie Clicker? I know our own Lusi has enjoyed a good round of Diablo and certainly Borderlands with yours truly. In the process have you ever felt like you were somehow duped into playing for longer or has it always been something you were fully on board with? If you or someone you know has an gambling problem, call Ethos’s cell phone number at 1-800-inthebackend.