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"Stickyness", "Purpose", (an Introduction with Diablo 3)

by Michael DeFazio on 07/07/12 02:39:00 am

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"what's the purpose of this game anyways?" 
...was going through my head when i had enough of Diablo 3.  for 20 hours i was entertained, but--thinking how things would be if i played another 20--my interest waned.
"back to Dark Souls" i thought;
"lemme start over with a depraved melee build this time". 

thing is...i've already beaten every challenge, collected every item and scoured every inch of the game world in Dark Souls, meanwhile the majority of content for Diablo 3 (new characters, skills, gear, challenges) lay ahead of me totally neglected/unexperienced.  it's not that i disliked Diablo 3 (on the contrary) i enjoyed my 20+ hours with it, and feel like i can walk away satisfied.  but after beating the game on "Normal" and playing a bit of "Nightmare", i realized there was nothing really "sticky" about it for me, so i quit...

...and this wasn't the first time this has happened (walking away from a game which i "enjoyed"; to replay a game i'd already 100%'ed.) Skyrim is another recent example of a game i loved but it just didn't stick (despite the fact most of the games' items, quests, story, locations, and perks lay ahead...unexperienced).   

stepping back for a moment i thought it would be interesting to analyze: 

  • what it is about games (you enjoy) that keep you playing ("stickyness") 
  • conversely what is it about games (you enjoy) that cause you to loose interest 

so "sticky" describes the capacity of continued enjoyment people get from games, i wanted to try to condense the concept of what makes games "sticky" in a more manageable form for the sake of discussion.  after struggling for a while, i decided on using the word "purpose"; which in the context of this post is made of a balance/combination of  these things with respect to games: 

  • game mechanics (it's fun to blow stuff up in Crackdown, or snipe in Skyrim,...)
  • rewards        (things you "earn" : perks, xp, gold, money, acheivments, gear,...)
  • challenge      (tough enemies or situations: "flamelurker",  "super meat boy"platforming, portal puzzles...) 
  • investment   (spent x hours on MY lvl 60 paladin...) 
  • creativity   (allow user to express themselves: a uss enterprise model in minecraft, custom paintjob in forza...) 
  • community   (all my friends play online there (CoD, WoW), leaderboards...)
  • variation      (new content: skyrim mods, LBP user created levels) 
  • (some others i can think of offhard: mystery, environment, "style", narrative...) 
in simple terms, we may describe our "purpose" as an "elevator speech" to describe why we keep coming back to some games. so, for  Diablo 3, it's "purpose" could be described as an "item hunt"... from Diablo 3's Community Manager Bashiok:

"we believed pre-release that the item hunt would be far more sustainable, and would work to be a proper end-game for quite a while. That didn’t turn out to be true, and we recognize that.  There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now."

... and herein lies the rub (for Diablo 3). if the driving "purpose" of Diablo 3 is the "item hunt" and the features and systems are built around the "item hunt", Blizzard might have a hard time getting players to "stick" if thier plan is deliver "more" as enunciated in this quote (same article):

"We aren’t going to be able to pump out tons of new systems and content every couple months. There needs to be something else that keeps people engaged, and we know it’s not there right now."

i can't speak for others, but here were MY reasons for quitting Diablo 3:
  • lack of investment- i did not feel "invested" in my character (a level 30 monk is a level 30 monk with the same stats and abilities) 
  • lack of interest in community- coop was an interesting diversion (but noone seemed incentivized to cooperate in my limited experience with it)...and got tired of spam messages when i opened the chatbox  
  • lack of variation- running through the same environments/story/quest and hearing the same dialog was tedious the second time around 
  • game mechanics - i enjoyed the "click, click, click" game mechanics on "Normal", but kiting around in circles was not fun at the harder difficulty levels (and I only played to "Nightmare"
  • lack of worthwhile rewards- the fact that you could circumvent playing the game and "buy" the best gear was dishearteneing, the (self-admitted) purpose/reason for playing the game was the "item hunt" ... but if those item drops were no better than what i could buy in the auction house, why play at all? 
so, just to be clear, this post is not about bashing Blizzard for Diablo 3, (as i said before, i am satisfied with my purchase, and I'm not telling them anything they don't already know).  i just wanted to illustrate first off what i mean by "sticky" and "purpose", and secondly describe how Blizzard built a game around this (rather narrow) "item hunt purpose" and misjudged how "sticky" this game was going to be.  

at this point, i just don't see an easy fix to get those who have abandoned to come back..., but perhaps (more "radical") things can be done:
  1. allow players to "invest" in skills or their character in a way that makes a substantive difference  
  2. figure out a way to incentivize people to play together as a team (build community)
  3. provide interesting and unique content or game modes (perhaps unique puzzles or challenges)  
  4. add excitement into loot drops (perhaps some powerful items could drop and be "bound/personalized" to your character and these "embuements" do not transfer (if the items goes to the auction house)) 
  5. world events or something completely unique and shocking (throw us a curveball or something unexpected to change the experience)
for my last point i would argue that the auction house feature greatly diminishes the "item hunt purpose" of the Diablo3  (adding features like these however cool or useful can be detrimental to the "stickyness" of a game.)

(up next:


  • why purpose > "more"
  • skyrim (fantastic; but a chore)
  • the multiple dimensions of "purpose"
  • pogo backgammon
  • what makes good dlc

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