Five Psychological Tactics that Make an Indie Games Addictive

Video games are often criticised as being “addictive”, but it really boils down to the individual gamer’s willpower and willingness to set limits for themselves. However, there are certain mechanics that can tempt even the most strong-willed gamer to play “just one more round”, which inevitably leads to an all-night gaming session until the morning sun is peeking up.

In this article, we’re going to look at five of those highly addictive game mechanics that are notorious for keeping players not only coming back for more, but quite difficult to even turn the games off! Making indie games addictive.

Five Psychological Tactics that Make an Indie Games Addictive

Ramping difficulty curve

Also known as the “Easy to Learn – Hard to Master” theory. The gameplay will initially appear to be quite easy, giving new players a sense of “I’ve got this, no sweat, piece of cake” as they quickly clear through the first few levels of a game.

But just before the player quits the game out of boredom, the game suddenly spikes up the difficulty level, presenting a challenge that Nicholas Cage in National Treasure would be hard-pressed to solve.

Sometimes the spike in difficulty isn’t so drastic, it’s just a sudden contrast in difficulty that throws the gamer for a loop. The developer is presenting you with a sudden challenge to test your skills and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Other times it’s a clear case of the developer getting you hooked with a few easy levels, then milking you for “one more try?” video ad rewards. Or selling you in-game items for real money to make the level “easier” (games like Candy Crush are notorious for this).

In casual puzzle mobile games, it’s almost always the latter, but overall the mechanic is widely used in indie games, paid or freemium.

Retro nostalgia with modern features

Indie game studios typically don’t have the budget for AAA-level game graphics, so many tend towards pixelated, retro style graphics and gameplay. This actually works in their favour though, as it tends to appeal to many gamers’ nostalgia for older console generations, particularly gamers who grew up on classic Nintendo and Sega titles.

In fact, some of the most addictive games can be remakes of classic titles, such as modern spins on the snake game genre. If you play, you’ll notice how it draws you in with the old school Nokia Snake gameplay, but with enhanced graphics and modern features like massively multiplayer gameplay.

Another popular game that harkens back to Snake-like mechanics is Paper.IO 2, which you can also try on CrazyGames. While having similar controls to the Snake genre, it revolves more around capturing territory by completing loops around areas you want to capture, and blocking in other players.

Indie Games Addictive

Unique game mechanics and niche appeal

Because indie developers don’t typically need to answer to investors, boardroom meetings, and publishers, they have virtually unlimited freedom in designing their games.

This has allowed indie developers to introduce game mechanic and concepts that AAA studios would’ve never dreamed of developing, such as the open-world sandbox survival gameplay of Minecraft (which has become the best-selling game of all time), and the resurgence of indie roguelike titles like The Binding of Isaac and Dungeons of Dredmor.

Many indie developers also closely communicate with their fanbase, taking feature and mechanic suggestions from the community a bit more seriously than larger studios.

Hamster wheel rewards

Hamster wheel mechanics, also known as “Idle growth”, can be one of the most addictive gameplay mechanics. It’s mostly found in the “clicker” genre of browser and mobile indie games, and the basic premise is that players multiply their output or build speed by….building other things.

It’s basically 2+2=4+4=8+8=16+16=32+32=64 (and so on, and so on) gameplay, which somehow, for reasons beyond us, leaves players absolutely addicted for months on end.

The hilarious thing is that often in these idle clicker / growth games, there really is no “end goal”. Players just strategize how to maximize their growth and output speed, with no end in sight. As Buzz Lightyear said, “To infinity…and beyond!”.

Buck Bradley The Sand and the Pyramid - Character

One more turn

I don’t necessarily mean the “one more try?” / video ad reward after failing a level in some games, I’m referring more specifically to the highly addictive mechanics of turn-based games, especially tile-based builders and strategy games. Games like Sid Meier’s Civilization are the kings of this, but some indie games can really suck you in with similar gameplay mechanics.

These kinds of games’ addictiveness rely on the fact that some players simply cannot draw themselves away from the game, as each click of the “Next Turn” button provides a sort of instant gratification in seeing the results of whatever strategic choices you made during your turn.

Thanks for reading our article all about what makes indie games addictive. For more Indie Game Developer features visit our features pages.

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This Article was written by: Katie Green

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