As massively multiplayer online (MMO) games grow, so too does the part of the population afflicted with gaming addictions. A new study suggests that developers could take a more active role in preventing game addiction by shortening quests.
"Whilst conventional videogames have an ending, or may become boring and repetitive, MMORPGs are an inexhaustible system of goals and success in which the character becomes stronger and richer by moving to new levels while accumulating treasures, power and weaponry," write the paper's authors, who hail from the Cardiff Business School, the University of Derby and Nottingham Trent University, in the United Kingdom.
Quests are familiar gameplay tropes to anyone who’s played a role-playing video game in the last 30 years or so. A non-player character gives the protagonist a set of conditions (“Kill five wolves”) and grants a reward upon completion. In MMOs, quests are the primary way that players level up and gather new equipment. They range from the simple (“Deliver a letter,” which may take a few minutes) to the hopelessly complex (“Defeat a difficult villain at the end of a perilous dungeon,” which could take hours).
The writers cite numerous pieces of literature that offer conflicting opinions on the addictive nature of online games, but do not weigh in on whether game addiction is its own issue, or a manifestation of an addictive personality type. "While academic debate is likely to continue for a while, it is clear that for a small minority of gamers, pathological gaming leads to negative life consequences," the authors assert.
Even so, they point out that MMOs themselves rarely dissuade players from binge sessions. A loading screen in "World of Warcraft" urges players to "Take everything in moderation (even 'World of Warcraft')," while Final Fantasy XI reminds players that "We have no desire to see your real life suffer as a consequence. Don't forget your family, your friends, your school or your work."
The problem with designing less addictive MMO systems is that the tactic of crafting habit-forming games is what made developers like "World of Warcraft"'s Blizzard very successful in the past. Nowadays, "World of Warcraft" is hemorrhaging subscribers; asking Blizzard to purposely make its game less gripping seems likely to exacerbate its financial woes.