Dangerous games

Firstly: I’m loving 10000000 , a retro-styled iOS puzzle RPG hybrid. It plays like Tetris Attack with RPG mechanics - on the top of your screen you trudge through an eternal dungeon, and you match keys on the bottom screen to open chests or swords to slay monsters, for example. You’ll die a lot; each gameplay session only lasts a few minutes, which is perfect for iPhone gaming.

I have to wonder a bit about the RPG mechanics, though. As you progress, you earn money via quests and resources by matching wood and stone, which lets you strengthen your player briefly, though you soon end up fighting stronger monsters anyway. It’s a very effective hook to keep me playing, but I feel it’s important to step back and wonder what exactly this adds to the game experience.

If a feature serves only to make a game more addicting, but adds nothing else to the actual experience, is that ethical? Reviews often refer to the addicting nature of a game as a good thing, and in some ways that’s a pretty odd way to look at things. Nobody would suggest the addicting nature of slot machines is a good thing.

I’m picking on RPG mechanics because I’ve felt that hook before, and because they seem to be permeating out into other genres pretty successfully. First person shooters, racers, open world games, even puzzle games have XP to fill bars with. Usually they’ll have some kind of gameplay effect (unlock a new car or ability) but when I play it seems their real purpose is to hook me into coming back. That sense of progress is alluring; I remember playing Modern Warfare 2 at times just because I wasn’t doing anything else, and so I may as well play to ensure I’m not losing XP.

Developers are going to implement features that make people want to play their game. I think they should ask as they do if the feature adds anything to the game itself, rather than serving as a pure hook to come back for more.