All posts tagged gambling


“Thank you for clicking’ – Thoughts on gambling mechanics in MMORPGs and Social Games


So I finally managed to wrap my mind around an abstract for a statement I would like to make at this years F.R.O.G. in Vienna. This year’s topic will be the benefits and drawbacks caused by digital games for the lifes of the players. For the sake of the argument I will concentrate on MMORPGs and Social Games, since I feel they are the genres getting the most media attention when it comes to video game addiction.

Here are some wild thoughts, some of which I would like to incorporate into the statement and the following paper, they are still quite rough on the edges and surely need some refinement and research. Feedback is very welcome!

The points I would like to make are:

  1. the study of video game addiction is still a very interesting and necessary field of study, even more since gambling is known to eventually cause compulsive behaviour and since a lot of games use mechanics similar to gambling
  2. in order to understand compulsive gaming behaviour games should be analyzed also from the mechanics level,
  3. some of the industry’s stance towards addiction (such as: ‘Players have to decide for themselves how much they play’; ‘Please don’t overdo it’; ‘You have an underlying condition, that’s why you became addicted in the first place’) is short-sighted for sure and maybe even unethical. Plus it reminds me of the movie ‘Thank you for smoking‘, hence the image in the header,
  4. there seems to be a grey area in MMORPGs where in one aspect or the other the game will move towards gambling mechanics (read: large parts of the so-called ‘Endgame’)

Here are some more thought fragments:

Defining and diagnosing video game addiction is a difficult task due to the wide field of possible implications and the, to my knowledge, still missing diagnostical standards. Could an in depth study of the underlying mechanics in games that people supposedly are more prone to get addicted to help to clear things up?

Which aspects of the MMORPG ‘Endgame’ give it the widely quoted ‘Skinner Box’ qualities? How and when exactly does the reward engine change? Is it the repetitiveness? Is it the imposing of playtime? What are the similarities to gambling? Does the content in ‘Endgame’ really ‘flatten’ out? Is the player held by something else that what brought him/her there? Is Endgame meant to be fun? Does compulsory use happen most at this stage?

Through which mechanics is the game’s ‘pull’, which can start to transform playing the game into an obligation, introduced?

Is there something as unethical game design? Designing an ‘addictive game’ is nothing that is understood as being unethical, it is actually something desireable – why is that so?

What drives compulsory gamers in comparison to compulsory gamblers? Apart from the dopamine shots, is it (in game) social status?

Are Social Games such as Farmville (or any other Zynga product) or Bogost’s great satirical game ‘Cow Clicker‘ the epitome of what is wrong with MMORPGs? Is it really necessary to give (all) players the boring, repetitive, time consuming and possibly dangerous ‘Endgame” treatment, just because the content gets ‘thinner’?

Don’t get me wrong, I love MMORPGs. I have been there.  Raiding, farming and camping. Making friends. Not sleeping. And I loved it. I also had a hard time stopping. I also think that gambling is not necessarily a bad thing. It is first of all legal (in most countries) and has been around pretty much since the beginning of civilization (not the game). But gambling also faces a lot of legal constraints.

I simply feel that there are not enough mechanics to counter those possibly addiction invoking ones. Simply asking players not to play too much or rewarding players with extra EXP when they don’t log in for some time doesn’t seem to do the trick. I fear that if (big) publishers will not move away from these features, the legislation will sooner or later make them do it.

Which will on the one hand censor games in a certain kind of way and on the other hand give video games even more bad publicity on top of the old ‘killer game’ argument, both are things that can and should be avoided.

What do you think? Let me know! Thx!