Dev Blog #3: How to get the player hooked

In this blog post, I would like to shed some light on the process of capturing the players attention and motivation to play your game again. As an indie developer, it is hard enough to get people to try your game, even with intense marketing effort. It is, however, likely as difficult to keep a player playing once he or she started.

Too many games struggle with this exact issue. Thus, I decided to write about that topic, bringing mostly personal experience to the table, not theoretical knowledge.

 

The good and the bad

This whole blog is somewhat a necessary step in developing your own game, but many companies tend to abuse these psychological tricks. The most recent outrage regarding loot boxes came from the community of Apex Legends, a Battle Royale title from Respawn Entertainment.
Each new level, you would get a loot box as a reward for playing. But at some point, you would no longer get one loot box each level, but rather had to gain two levels to get one.
This gives the player the need to get more loot boxes, because of the feeling that something is missing and thus, he or she would buy them with real money, so-called “micro-transactions”.

Don’t worry, even though loot boxes are actually a good (and working) method to reward the player in a psychological way, this post is not focused around loot boxes.

 

Hooks

For this part of the post, let’s assume the role of the player at first (italicized), then the role of the developer.
As a player, the things that keep the game interesting are progressional satisfaction, visually pleasing gameplay and a sense of becoming better at the game. And this is why:

Progressional satisfaction

First of all, as a player, I need to know if I am making progress in the game. When I upgrade a building, I want to see that it is now upgraded. I want the feeling that my city is expanding and therefore I build more houses to shelter more people. 

The difficult part of this hook is not to implement progress bars, achievement popups with cool sounds, a fanfare and some confetti raining from the sky, but rather to offer a challenge in gameplay and yet reward the player for his progress and thus, giving him or her an advantage.

For example, the player just defeated the first boss. It is super important, that he or she is rewarded with something, anything really. It doesn’t even matter if the fight was hard or not:

  • maybe a new weapon, dropped from the boss
  • an achievement unlocked
  • generally new things unlocked, like a skin or a new playable character race
  • etc

Given that the player is rewarded for his actions, he or she will (almost certainly) feel a satisfaction for making progress and therefore, is more likely to try and progress further.

Visually pleasing gameplay

As a player, I don’t know everything that is going on in the game I’m playing. Not that I need to, but information can be delivered not only in textual form. I want to see certain things without clicking my way through menus and  text popups.

Both visual and acoustic feedback are extremely important, regardless of the game’s genre. Especially visual feedback can give away information and knowledge about the game or the game’s state without flooding the screen with text.

Image a iron mine worker in a strategy game. The worker has to walk to the iron mine/ore, start mining, and the return with the minerals to the stockpile.

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To be honest, there is a bit much going on in this gif, but this is not even alpha yet, so don’t mind the chaos.
The important part is, that when you follow one single worker, you always know what he is doing just by his visual state. You know he is headed for the iron ore, then he is mining, and finally he is carrying the minerals back to a building.
But there is more:

  • it is daytime, because I can see a passing cloud.
  • a lot of “+2 iron” pop up whenever a worker reaches a building, which indicates that I’m collecting resources. It’s a visual feedback and gives me a sense of progression.

To summarize, animations are key to improve visual feedback and provide information on a non-text basis. Keep your UI clean and don’t clutter it with too many menus and buttons.

Sense of becoming better

Last but definitely not least, a sense of becoming better. In some ways, this comes naturally, like:

  • improving your aim in shooter games
  • getting used to game mechanics
  • getting to know techniques and methods to succeed in a game (like which way to go in a labyrinth)

But as a developer, you can contribute to this sense in an additional way: Reward the player with bonuses that give him actual advantages. A good way to represent that is with a talent tree.
Each time the player reaches the end of a level, he or she gets to spend one talent point in the talent tree. Possible talents for a shooter game are “faster reload”, “a small shield when being hit”, etc. For a strategy game like CuCumbersome Life, they could be something like “faster cucumber growth”, “more yield when harvesting”, “faster moving units”.

Additionally, the player should get the feel that he or she gains superiority to his or her opponents. For example, your weapons would deal more damage or you would have more health points.

 

If you sticked around until the end, thank you for reading! Please comment below if you have any other suggestions or if you disagree with a point.

 

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