As we mentioned in our previous article, 2010s is the decade where video game reigns supreme. From pre-pubescent kids playing the Lego Batman games to soccer moms glued to their smartphone screen trying to top the highscore in Candy Crush, video games truly boast a very broad audience. The US$152.1 billion industry is even expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 12.9% from 2020 to 2027, potentially earning a total of US$291.6 billion annual revenue in 2027.
With an obscure beginning dating back to the 1950s with Bertie the Brain to hosting an unprecedented and critically-acclaimed virtual concert by Travis Scott in 2020, video games have a truly diverse and rich history. The mass appeal of video games is unseen in other form of entertainment such as films, music, and television (of which its annual revenue is shown to be declining).
A great deal of success that led gaming to be head and shoulders above their entertainment industry peers could be attributed to the tried-and-true method of game design itself, through the arousal of basic human sensory faculties coupled with the feeling of satisfaction that gaming entices. The cycle of continually overcoming challenges to earn personal sense of reward has been the vocal point of gaming core loop. This, in turn led to a very high retention rate unmatched by other entertainment products and services.
Breaking Down the Loop
The aforementioned game core loop is an integral part to keeping a high rate of retention, ensuring users to come back time after time again to play the game. To understand the appeal of game designs, we have to break down each of the components of the game core loop. In doing so, we are splitting them into four distinct stages: Trigger, Action, Reward, and Progress.
The first stage of the loop is the Trigger, in which players are given an instruction of what to do – an objective or a goal. For example: go from point A to point B, defeat X amount of enemies, earn X amount of score, etc. During this stage, the players are given the basic idea on what they would be doing within the game. On to the second stage is the Action, where the players are performing the tasks that they were instructed to do. Based on the Trigger, the action that the player took would be a combination of physical (actually doing the Action), mental (the determination to do the Action), and emotional input that elicits the expectation of a reward.
The third stage is the Reward, where the players are given the fruits of their labor. The Reward that they receive in-game could be in the forms of points, a place in the leaderboard, a shiny piece of equipment, or whatever the kind of prize in appropriation to the type of game itself. Finally the final stage being Progress, in which the players are experiencing new gameplay aspects due to their achievements. This could mean unlocking a new skill, a visible growth in the player’s in-game avatars, or even new levels to play. After progressing through said four stages, a new Trigger is then given.
Game Loop: Case in Point
After breaking it down, the loop could be seen in every single video game. As an example of its implementation, we turn to the massively popular mobile game, Clash of Clans. At the start of the game, the players were given a few troops coupled with a Trigger: Attack the goblins. The players were then instructed to place their troops in a strategic position, with the actual Action being attacking the goblins. If the players won the battle, they are then treated with a slew of rewards – in Clash of Clans case being gold and elixirs. Afterwards the players spent the gold and elixirs that they earned to recruit more troops, upgrade their keep, or build new buildings for their village, naturally earning Progress in the game.
Other than in video games as a form of entertainment, the same kind of loop is also used within the designs of gamification. Within the context of gamified products, the established core loop is then modified into a new, distinct structure – the Gamification Core Loop. The aforementioned stages are more or less the same, but the means in which the stages are used is quite different. In a gamified instance, the main difference is tying the Action, Reward, and Progress into a real-life skill that could be gained or learned through the experience the players had during the game session.
Agate’s own Levio is the prime example of the Gamification Core Loop implementation. In Levio, the users are instructed to check their assigned missions at first, which are lessons that the user has to complete. The users would then access the learning materials that were provided, only finishing their assigned missions after they completed the series of material assessments. If they successfully completed the course, the users are given reward points and treated to new visuals of their in-game avatars to exemplify their growth as they then gain new skills and knowledge. The reward points could then be exchanged to buy a new course, triggering new missions that they could also accomplish.
Implementing the Gamification Core Loop
As explained by Jane McGonigal, the author behind Reality is Broken, there are four intertwining reasons on why we want to play – and keep playing games: 1. Games are giving you a clear goal, 2. Games are essentially low risk in nature, 3. Games gives you an immediate feedback for each of your actions, and 4. Playing games is voluntary.
One should also consider the theory of behaviorism as told by Charles Duhigg, in which our behavior is essentially molded by our routine. Said routine was formed by our personal sense of satisfaction that derives from doing a particular action, which then programmed us to do the same action, again and again.
In the framework of learning, the design of Gamification Core Loop is used to boost retention rate substantially. This is due to the addictive nature of games itself, as the loop is acting as a shortcut for the release of our “feel good” hormone; dopamine. This sense of satisfaction from playing games is daresay, weaponized, as a habit-forming tool that encourages multiple game play. Gamification is then a sure-fire way to ensure high rate of retention, such as in the case of learning. When learning itself is an act that could be considered addictive, then Gamification Core Loop is a testament on how game design holds a powerful potential in forming habitual behavior within our minds.