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Commitment in Games

April 23, 2008

Last night, like every night, I grabbed my iPhone and entered the day’s Dumb Word. I am being quite serious and literal here, too.

Dumb Words is game with a timed mechanic that requires you to show up once a day to fill in the blank. Yes, that’s it.  Depending on the answers of your fellow players, you are awarded points, double points if your answer is the most popular.

If you keep coming back for a month, you might actually make the leaderboard, a rolling high score of the last 30 days of play. I am on there now (you can probably guess which one). Until then, though – and it’ll probably take you 25 days to get there – the only one who’s interested in you playing is… you.

So why am I even posting on this game?

Because it got me thinking of commitment. Here, the commitment is as minimal as it gets while still training the player to incorporate the game as part of their routine. It’s so minimal it’s practically elegant. The design to do this daily was probably more a matter of pattern itself than of deliberate design (it just seemed like the logical thing to do).

We humans are already in a routine, and working with the one we have is a lot easier than trying to make us learn a new one.

You have to come back every day, too. You can’t just let that high score ride. Since the score is cumulative over a number of days, you’ll actually come back to a score that was lower than when you went away.

Many games require a commitment from players. Parking Wars, WoW and RPGs. Competitive gaming leagues require practice and a degree of devotion.

Commitment is not a dynamic that we talk about often, and in thinking about it, it makes me wonder about further applications of the mechanic. I’m planning to work on a non-digital installation this summer (my first), and I think this would be an interesting dynamic to add to it, not because it’s practical, though. Something about it just has me.

I encourage you to play the game.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2008 1:01 am

    Commitment is something I see as great but often outsiders see as terrible. When I say outsiders I mean people who don’t play the game in the discussion or perhaps even don’t consider themselves gamers. It is an extremely interesting topic of discussion.

    More often than any other aspect of gaming culture people tend to poke fun at the level of commitment certain gamers have to their favorite games. When a gamer’s commitment to a game reaches a certain point it ceases being a commitment and begins being an obsession in the eyes of some. Of course I can understand if you are playing a game and are so committed to the game you use soda cans as portable toilets but often this ‘obsession’ is exaggerated. But it seems many times people begin crying foul against someone that is simply being entertained by their favorite game.

    I honestly think many times people fail to realize that they too are committed to their favorite forms of entertainment and often I am not shy at all to point out how hypocritical they are being for making fun of a person for playing WoW when they spend similar amounts of time drinking, watching cable TV, reading or browsing through myspace/facebook/social networking websites. It is just a person’s choice of what they wish to be entertained by, but for whatever reasons games seem to be less acceptable to some.

    This commitment to games has also been translated into “gaming addiction” by the misinformed. Of course this is sad but I suppose it happens…

    I find that MTG has a high level of commitment and it almost requires it to be effective You kind of have to stay involved in the game otherwise your cards get outdated and your efficiency in tournaments decrease substantially. Not only because you don’t have the newest cards but also because you don’t know how to play against them. Civilization absolutely requires a huge amount commitment for a finished game(unless you get eliminated quickly.) Pokemon is another if you wish to collect them all. Many great games and successful games have the commitment factor down pretty well. You can’t demand too much from the player but at the same time you have to allow them to actually commit to the game to various degrees. An example of this is that I just don’t have the time to play WoW anymore, and I haven’t for well over a year and a half. It seems to have too much of a commitment factor for me to enjoy it in combination with my other favorite games.

  2. April 24, 2008 1:10 am

    Also, I think gamers like to feel rewarded by being committed. More money, a special item, new character, unlocked level, or maybe a spiffy page that displays all your records and stats to the world seem to be popular ways to award the player for their commitment to the game. Having accomplishments or achievements set up for the player is also an interesting way to award them for their commitment to the game.(X-Box Live does this pretty well)

  3. April 24, 2008 11:21 am

    Other games that use similar ‘commitment’ mechanics:

    * Animal Crossing. Seriously, the game makes you feel guilty if you neglect it for too long.

    * The Brain Age series. Tracks your progress by date, I think.

    * “BBS Door” style games (including the newfangled Web-based ones) that give you N actions to take per day. Normally they let you store up turns so you don’t have to play constantly, but there’s a cap (so you’d better log in at least every few days or so).

    Note that all of the above also have an “anti-obsession” mechanic: yes, you’re expected to make a commitment every day, but a small one, and the game will either penalize you or flat out prevent you from playing further if you play for too long. I think these mechanics are related; if a game worms its way into your routine and then starts taking over other parts of your life, that’s about the time when people dump it and go cold turkey. I suspect a game with a more modest, ongoing commitment could be more successful in the long run in terms of number of active players — a tradeoff, I guess, between a small core of dedicated fanatics and a large base of casual players.

  4. May 5, 2008 8:02 am

    I’ve recently run across a similar aspect of commitment in Taiko no Tatsujin DS 2, where there is a song chosen by the game that you can play through only once each day. The thing is that the difficulty ramps up with each successive song beaten, so you may get to a point where you can’t progress if you’re not at a certain skill level in the game by the time you get to day 10 or so. And the prizes are new drum outfits, drum sound effects, and songs instead of a leader board. I find myself fitting it into my schedule every day just to complete my drum’s hat collection!

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