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The Shame Game: An Interview With Jesse Schell
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The Shame Game: An Interview With Jesse Schell

July 16, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Jesse Schell is well known for his discussions of monetization, gamification, achievements, and generally the systems that connect or repel games and players. As many games trend toward free-to-play and social models, his words become even more poignant.

As a person who, like many who have played games for a very long time, is somewhat dismayed by some of the monetization tactics out there, I thought I'd try to coax some ideas for positive implementations of this out of Schell. He is neither particularly for nor against them (which time proves is generally the right approach). He just wants them to be done well. And when games in general are done well, they become very positive things.

Can games and their systems lead us to utopia? Jesse Schell thinks they might.

Let's talk about humiliation tactics in games. I really don't like those myself. Like your crops whither and die -- or going back to like the Tamagotchi, when you didn't feed it, it would be all sad and covered in filth. That's depressing. I don't like negative reinforcement for not doing something that I should be enjoying. Why do you think people are so focused on that right now?

JS: The thing is, it works. So in the free-to-play world, you've got to do anything that's going to keep people coming back. And some of those things are positive reinforcement, and some of them are negative reinforcement. Obviously if you have too much negative reinforcement, people leave. But if you have a certain amount of positive reinforcement, you can put some negative reinforcement, and people don't leave.

It's not so much that people leave; they'll stay, and now you'll have more reinforcement to return than ever. What it really comes down to is designers need to optimize, they need to optimize for maximum incentives for return. So that's why.

Yeah. I just don't like it.

JS: Nope. But the thing is, do you not like it enough to stop playing?

Yes. Yes for me, but not for many others, it seems. I was talking yesterday with Phil Larsen of Halfbrick, in regard to energy systems, when there are some games that will just completely lock you out of playing it until you have paid a little bit, or you wait a long time. Some people don't seem to mind, and those people are traditionally thought of as being the folks who haven't played games really before. They are a new audience... they are the folks that haven't grown up with games. And this is really their first game experience.

JS: I think it's wrong to paint the picture that, "Oh, people are willing to tolerate this because they're naive." I think rather it's a question of how they want to play. It's hard for hardcore gamers to understand how more casual gamers want to play.


JS: Hardcore gamers want to be like "I'm spending the weekend for 90 hours," right? Then it's like, "This is what I'm going to do." This idea of games being like, "Why don't you come back in 30 minutes?" it's repulsive to them.

But for a lot of people who are just like, "You know, I'm going to play a few minutes, I'm going to play a little bit here," and the game's like, "Hey, why don't you stop and come back later?"

That's there for two reasons. One is it's better for monetization in a free-to-play model to have people playing in little bits over a long period of time. The game wants to incentivize that. Secondly, for people who are playing kind of casually, they often appreciate it. They want a point where they can say, "oh, I should stop now. I shouldn't be doing too much of this anyway." Some people actually view it as a positive thing. They feel like it gives them a certain sense of completion. Right? "I couldn't play more now if I wanted to. And so, I'm completed. I'm stopped." But if you have the mindset that I'm going to grind through and bust this game, then it's frustrating.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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