Video Game Engagement vs. Addiction

You might be familiar with the term dark pattern, which describes a design that purposely tricks users into doing something that isn’t in their best interest, dark patterns exist in all sorts of interfaces. But today I want to focus on game interfaces. So think about the last video game that you couldn’t stop playing. Why was that? Would you consider it engaging or addicting?

But perhaps the better question is what’s the difference in game design? There’s a fine line between designing for engagement and addiction, which at some level have similar player behaviors. Dark patterns are used to manipulate players into an addiction for the game patterns that promote players coming back time after time. And sure, the players are technically engaged, but pure engagement would exist in the absence of these dark patterns. I want to give you a couple of examples of dark patterns in video games. But just like traditional UKCS context matters. So in terms of why dark patterns exist, there isn’t always a malicious intent. Oftentimes, dark patterns are implemented in an attempt to boost player retention or adoption. But these gains are often short sighted and aren’t in the best interest of the player. So with that in mind, let’s consider daily rewards and a lot of free games.

Designers will implement daily rewards in an attempt to get more players coming back now on their own. Daily rewards aren’t necessarily a dark pattern, but pair that with excessive push notifications that are difficult to turn off or any sort of punishment for missing a daily reward. And this component can quickly become a dark pattern, leading players down to pass, deleting the game or becoming addicted to the game. In another case, have you played a modern video game with a lot of levels, but the game didn’t allow you to pause or save your progress in the middle of a level that’s also a dark pattern.

The game wants you to finish the level and keep playing. And if you can’t pause the game, the hope is it’s more likely that you’ll continue playing. Just because a game has dark patterns doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable to play for a little while. But over time, these small annoyances can cause players to have a distaste for a game. And maybe that leads them away from being a promoter and on to being a detractor.

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