Games and the not so evil skinner box hug

Skinner box for rat

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It’s been a while since I last posted anything. I really liked my last one but it got quite a bit of hate. I’ve been trying to develop my style and come up with a small, interesting, important topic. I also write more when I’m alone and this just happens to be today’s predicament. So today’s topic is on a physiological principle called a Skinner Box. I’ll explain exactly what one is shortly, but I should say, skinner boxes exist in every game, but they are vital parts of MMO’s because you have to dedicate your time to them and developers need to you play- or they don’t get paid and MMO dies. However they can be used in very evil ways to drain money out of your virgin soul or good which makes a MMO player feel rewarded and immersed.

Okay so what exactly is a skinner box? Well a scientist called B. F. Skinner was trying to get a pigeon to push a button. So he simply put it in a box and gave it button. Every time the pigeon pushed the button he got food. So it learned “Hey when I push the button I get food- my life is set!” Of course as soon as it stopped being hungry it stopped. So B. F. Skinner took this idea and said “Well if the bird is conditioned to push the button when it’s hungry and food comes out. What if food only appears randomly, what happens?” What happened was the bird went crazy, obsessively pushing the button to make food come out, even after it had reached its biological limit. So what does this mean? Well for starters it means that animals- even pigeons could be conditioned to repeat an action for the thought of a reward. Almost like a game- except it’s not.

These kinds of techniques are used in all games to simulate fun. This is why it’s evil. Say you have to kill magic unicorns for an item with a 40% drop rate. You sit there killing every unicorn you can find. You could go off- do another quest but the reward of the quest keeps you at it. Many, even single player RPGs build off these techniques.                You’ll find it more often in a multiplayer experience because you’re paying for the time spent on a game. The company needs you to spend all your time on it, or they don’t make money. In a way you can justify using evil techniques, MMO’s and MMORPG’s are expensive to make. Millions or even billions of dollars to get it up to the standard players expect. If you’re not spending every waking moment on the game then the developers, publishers, investors don’t get paid and have to shut down the MMO. I could talk about the ‘free-to-play’ model, but at the moment I’m just talking subscriptions.

However evil these techniques are they have a positive side. Rewarding players for what they would do anyway is like giving them a big hug. For example, say if you use the auction house in a game a lot you could get less fees when selling expensive items. Or if you spend a lot of time doing PVP you get a boost to your experience you gain. This encourages people to play games for longer, feel rewarded for doing something more than the usual player- almost complementing their play style and doesn’t artificially extend a games playability. Another way these techniques can be positive is a reward for achievements. World of Warcraft (shut up, I know), which gives players a cool tabard for travelling the world. It’s not a lot, and I’m sure many of its users want more for doing this. I have all the achievements in the game RUSH on Steam and my reward is “You’ve unlocked every single achievement. Congratulations!” I would of loved extra levels or a new style of play. Even just for vanity it’s a step in the right direction. You want your players to feel a nice developer hug, not the sound of the golden, money palace door being slammed in your face

Simple ‘hug’ techniques can be used in any game or edited into any gameserver. People should always be rewarded for doing something anyway, or for using the world the way you want it to be used. Achievements are good, but not great. Just having a vanity item or being able to show off your shiny 100% completion is a step in the right direction. The best version will always be rewards for things a player would have done normally, encourages a different style of play or encourages players to interact with the features you give them. In short I’m saying, game developers, MMO studios, private server creators, use these techniques to enhance your game, make it more immersive. Don’t artificially length games or make people lose their life over your MMO. Don’t be evil.


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