How Video Games Are Getting Inside Your Head — And Wallet
October 29, 2013
The first commercially successfully video game, Pong, invaded Americans’ living rooms 38 years ago. Since then, the industry has evolved from a simple bouncing ball in the Atari original to games with astounding graphics and sound
“I hate it. I really do,” she says. “He could play Xbox for 12 straight hours. [He has] friends in Mexico City and friends in England.”
Vanessa says Max is addicted to video games.
“When I took it away, he started to cry,” she says. “My God, I am offering you to go play tennis or go play golf … and I am making you shut this down, and you’re crying about it.”
They make you feel good. And it’s no accident, says Ramin Shokrizade, the game economist for Wargaming America.
“The technology for this has gotten quite sophisticated,” says Shokrizade, who began his career in neuroscience and behavioral economics.
“At this point, every major gaming company worldwide either has in place a fully developed business intelligence unit, or they’re in the process of building one.”
Today’s game design is dominated by research, he says. As we play games, game developers are tracking every click, running tests and analyzing data.
They are trying to find out: What can they tweak to make us play just a bit longer?
What would make the game more fun?
What can get us to spend some money inside a game and buy something?
So as millions of people play, designers introduce little changes and get answers to all of these questions in real time. And games evolve.
For example, most games today sell virtual goods right inside the game — like a new gun in Call of Duty or a cow in FarmVille. Shokrizade’s job is to get people to buy them.
One of the tricks of the trade is something developers at Zynga — which created FarmVille — used to call “fun pain” or “the pinch.” The idea is to make gamers uncomfortable, frustrate them, take away their powers, crush their forts — and then, at the last second, offer them a way out for a price.