Not Us, But UsLet's start with a few excerpts:
"So I started asking gamers how frequently they would like to play this or that, trying to figure out which games they would find boring," he said. The answers he got were inconsistent. "They liked unique games, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane games would never get them too excited, but they could play lots and lots without feeling they'd had enough."
This contradiction would come to be known as "sensory-specific satiety." In lay terms, this is the tendency for innovation to overwhelm the brain, which responds by making you feel satiated really fast...The biggest hits--owe their success to gameplay that piques enough to be alluring but doesn't have enough distinction that says to the brain: Enough already!
Are these excerpts from an exciting new book about gaming? Well, not exactly. They're modified excerpts from a book about food. Here are the actual excerpts:
"So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring," he said. The answers he got were inconsistent. "They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they'd had enough."
This contradiction would come to be known as "sensory-specific satiety." In lay terms, this is the tendency for big distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by making you feel full, or satiated, really fast...The biggest hits--be they Coca-Cola or Doritos or Kraft's Velveeta Cheesy Skillets dinner kits--owe their success to formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don't have a distinct overriding single flavor that says to the brain: Enough already!
It's titled Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, and it is an absolutely fascinating, meticulous researched book. As I read it, though, I realized that the author was describing the present and future of gaming as much as he was describing the history of food. All it takes are a few edits here and there, and he's talking about what gaming is becoming.
He's also describing FTP games perfectly, because they're not a big experience. Like food, they're one bite at a time, and the only purpose of the present bite is to get you to want the next one. At no point does an FTP game want you to be fully satisfied.
Another concept in the book is the "bliss point":
...Moskowitz initially set out to learn how to maximize the power of sugar in foods, conducting the same kind of taste tests he designed at Harvard. With the resulting data he created graphs that, he noticed, looked like an inverted U. They showed that our liking of food rose as the amount of sugar was increased, but only to a point; after that peak, adding more sugar was not only a waste, it diminished the allure of the food.
So much of modern food research, by individual product, is finding the bliss point.
This gave me a scary thought (at least, it's scary to me). Ten years from now (hell, maybe five), there will be an FTP game that tracks how we play and dynamically adjusts gameplay for each of us based on what it calculates as our bliss point--in gaming terms, the level at which we buy the maximum amount of content.
That's done on an aggregate level now, but the knife is fairly blunt. Just wait --that knife is going to get very, very sharp.
This book also made me realize how closely related tobacco, food, and gaming really are in terms of behavioral modification, particularly for FTP games. Philip Morris bought Kraft and General Foods in the 1980s (Christ, that was practically money laundering, wasn't it?), and is it really impossible to imagine them buying Activision someday? What better platform to influence the eating habits and behavior of young consumers?
By the way, if you're interested in human behavior and/or food, "Salt Sugar Fat" is phenomenal. It's a mandatory read.