|Skinner's box diagram|
The internet has given game developers the means to create games with a similar concept to Skinner's experiment. These games are designed to be as addictive (and expensive) as possible, because developers realize that compelling a player to subscribe to the game (and thus pay for a lifetime) is much better than selling the game just once. In addition, the tricks that Skinner's Box games use to make their games addictive are easy to create, much easier than creating quality entertainment in their games. Therefore, games are both easier to produce and are more profitable than they ever were before.
They use the Skinner's Box psychology to keep players engaged and playing (and therefore, paying) for as long and often as possible, even if the game isn't really "fun". In a sense, they want players to "keep pushing the lever" over and over again. To accomplish this, they use a number of strategies:
- Use of collective items and virtual currency that satisfy human hoarding tendencies. Humans love to hoard and collect junk, and have the "best" that they can obtain. It's the same reason why people don't throw out the junk in their basement, garage, or attic that they never use - because they naturally want to horde items. In addition, just the knowledge that something exists that is better than we have drives us to desire it, whether we actually need it or not. It's the same reason why TVs keep getting larger and larger ... people want the "largest", best TV. And Skinner's Box games abuse this and creates virtual currency & items that players want and are willing to spend their time to obtain.
- Make one "press the lever" to gain rewards. To obtain these items and currency, they need to engage players to spend as much time as possible to obtain them. In a Skinner's Box game, "Pressing the lever" can take the form of many different things. It may be literally pressing a button.. or it may be killing 200 sheep to get that Tier 10 armor.
- Punishing players for "not pressing the lever". Likewise, a lot of Skinner's Box games punish players who don't "press the lever", or log in every day. Commonly, games have features or bonuses that expire with time, and players do not want to risk falling behind by "not pressing the lever".
- Creating a system of autonomy and complexity with a reward system more satisfying than real-life. They want players to get used to the game, make it is natural as real-life with rewards that are just as or more satisfied than rewards in real-life. In most people's real lives, rewards can be rather unsatisfying. But in virtual worlds, things are fair and rewards feel good.
|World of Warcraft is the largest example of a Skinner's Box Game.|
Skinner's Box games form a legitimate addiction similar to gambling. It's dangerous because it wastes the victim's time and money... it is unethical, dangerous, abusive, and borderline criminal. A lot of the time, the games aren't even fun anymore, but players keep paying anyway, trained to keep "pressing the lever". Not only does it hog player's time and money, but it is also lowering the quality of games on the market today. So next time you're about to renew your prescription to World of Warcraft or buy Facebook credits for real money, ask yourself this question: Is the game really fun? Or does the game developer have you trained to keep pressing the lever... over and over again?