I remember a time when I was a kid where I would go to Toys ‘R Us once in a blue moon and pick up a game, whatever looked like would be fun, meaning something Mario, something Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, something Kirby, etc… I would go home, pop the cartridge into the console and play. Then the next day comes by and I’d keep playing. Weeks may go by without touching the thing, but I’d come back to playing it at some point. I’d even go back to games rented from Blockbuster. If the game seemed like fun at the time and they had a copy in stock, I’d pick it up again and keep playing it. After some time, my game collection kept getting bigger, games kept getting longer, and my time to play them kept getting cut due to the “responsible” things I needed to get done. Because of this, there arrived a time when I would stop revisiting old games. Games that were good got revisted more often than others, but even bad games were revisited in the past. Maybe because my selection is too vast, spending time on shitty games isn’t worth the time, and the mentality of “why replay something when I have another game waiting to be played” started to become the norm. I know if I had to spend $60 on a game in my early teens, I would have kept the game in my roster continuously until I accumulated at least 20+ hours for the game, unless the game was really just horrendous. But at what point do we start to abandon the games that we buy? And why would we abandon playing the game after only completing the game once or not even finishing the game at all?

A Brief Personal Account (Where my youth went)

There are a few games that I can recall growing up on that could answer some of this. Until I was about 12-13 years old, I would replay/revisit games for on a heavily influenced impulse. SNES era had games like Mickey’s Magical Quest, Super Mario World, TMNT: Turtles in Time, games that I would keep revisiting without question. Other games like Animaniacs and Earthwork Jim were games that I kept picking up (rentals mainly), but sometimes were just so frustratingly hard that I up and abandoned them after a half dozen or so tries. When the Playstation/N64 era started, I tried every game I could get my hands on. The games that were extraordinarily long, I would only play once, e.g. Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy 7, Majora’s Mask. But if they were good enough, I would revisit them at some point because of how I remembered the game and how much that memory still affects me today. Call this a Nostalgia bias, but when a game does something right, you can still appreciate it when newer games still get it wrong. I just never revisted them during the consoles lifetime. I did play games like Grand Theft Auto, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark constantly, possibly accumulating several hundred hours combined on these games alone. That being said, this is the era that I started to see my persistence begin to wane, with games like Mission Impossible for the N64 and Spyro for the Playstation taking up too much time, being too difficult or losing its appeal rather quickly. After this era, I started to see my attention become absorbed more and more by only the good games, spending either all my time completing and over achieving in a game, or not giving it the time of day after giving it a try. I either gave all my shits or no shits about a game at this point. Games like Katamari Damacy and Metal Gear Solid, games that I view with high regard, sometimes to an almost unfair degree, I never spent a lot of time replaying even though games that were possibly lesser, I spent countlessly more hours playing, even though they gave me less joy from. Games like Diablo 2, Counter Strike, Soul Caliber 2 and DDR became the games that I would obsess over on my gaming hours and games outside of this would only get ancillary time, like Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, Devil May Cry, and Metal Gear Solid. The big difference between this time in my life was that I developed a community around the games that I devoted the majority of my time. I had friends dedicating their time to Diablo 2, Counter Strike and DDR; and with that community, we helped perpetuate each other to get better, gave us something to talk about and work towards in order to strengthen ourselves and our relationship together. A bond that was harder to formulate before this communal era which might have gotten me to stick with a game longer than I normally would have.

But games come and go, newer games get released and people move on. The community dissolves at some point. Anyone who has played World of Warcraft or been in a Call of Duty/CounterStrike guild can tell you the same thing. But all of this is just anecdotal, and doesn’t show a trend in anything yet. The only anecdotes are either “youth generates persistence”, “lack of diversity generates persistence” or “communities generate persistence”. That or some combination of the three generate persistence. This, aside from the fact that if you have a good game, and you’re more likely to keep the player’s interest in playing the game.

Youth Generates Persistence

Kids waste their time on anything remotely fun

Looking at the first anecdote, “youth generates persistence,” why could this be the case? Well, it has been shown that younger people experience time slower than older people do. [1] In the study, children ranging in age up to young adults and adults were set in a room with nothing in it and were asked to specify when X minutes had gone by. The results indicated that the younger you are, the longer X minutes seems. This is important because when kids are playing games, their lack-attention makes it less likely to play for several hours. Not only that but games that would seem short for the older crowd, the younger crowd perceives the game as taking much longer to play. This is important when taking the following graphs into consideration:

[2] Media Attention Ages 4-6
[2] Media Attention Ages 4-6

[3] Time on The Vidya Age 6-9/12-13
[3] Time on The Vidya Age 6-9/12-13
[4] Time on the Vidya 8-18 from 1999 - 2009
[4] Time on the Vidya 8-18 from 1999 – 2009
[5] Time on the Vidya Ages 8-18
[5] Time on the Vidya Ages 8-18
[6] Time on the Vidya Males 18-24, 2006-2009
[6] Time on the Vidya Males 18-24, 2006-2009
Across all graphs, we see a trend of rising gameplay usage. Not significantly, but on average about 10-20 minute differences between the age groups of 4-6 and 11-14. Looking at graph [5], there is a drop off, but that is partially due to higher need for developing social and academic goals since this is the age that school, dating, and social status begins to matter heavily in a developing person’s life. I will agree that this seems like Confirmation Bias since there is no way to be sure and it seems like I’m explaining away the discrepancy, with my hypothesis of personal focus shifting, but I’m only applying what I know from my own gaming habits as well as my friends during this point in our lives, and it did seem like my gaming took a significant decline in priority around this time of my life as well.

But this idea is important because if a game seems longer when we played it at a younger age. It means that the longer a game was, the less likely we would have played to completion. Games that were four, five or even six hours long would feel like an eternity at that age and while this is extremely short by today’s standards, if the game didn’t keep our attention for the full play length, we would be forced to come back on a different play session to finish it. This seems a bit trivial because of course you’d have to come back later to play the game, but we come back to games because we are looking to complete something new. If when we come back to a game that we haven’t completed yet and it still feels fresh, then we’re willing to devote more time to milk all of the mechanics and get all of the novelty out of it as possible. This is from the fact that the younger you are, the less of gaming that you’ve experienced so more of gaming will seem novel. Mix this increased novelty with an elongated sense of time perception and you’ll want to keep coming back more frequently than someone older since you’re still getting enjoyment out of the game.

It’s easier to think of it like how fun it is to play with a new toy. If it’s still fun and I’m getting something new out of it, then I’m going to keep playing with it. If this toy doesn’t feel too much like another ones that I have and know about, I’ll want to keep playing with this one. If there’s a toy that I like more than this and have more fun with another toy, then I’m going to want to play with the other toy more.

Lack of Diversity Generates Persistence

If I don’t know what fun is, crappy things still seem fun

As for the second anecdote, “lack of diversity generates persistence,” I suppose I already answered part of this during the last analysis. Novelty breeds persistence because it’s something new to experience. We tend to spend our time with activities that we either get novelty out of and/or those that we get enjoyment out of. If I start to hate playing the game, there better be something new to it or else I’m just wasting my time playing a shitty game and getting nothing out of it. There needs to be some payoff that requires us to keep playing the game, either by being invested in the story, invested in the gameplay, or invested in the novelty of the mechanics. This leads us to the idea that the longer we extend our gaming experiences and grow our gaming library, the less novelty we see coming out of the industry. So, like in the previous analysis, the less novelty we get as we progress in our gaming careers, the more a game needs to knock out knickers off of us to warrant us to keep us playing the game. Sometimes that warranty isn’t based on the game, but our lack of options. If I can only pick up a game once every few months, I’m going to be replaying the games in my collection much more than those who have the luxury of picking up a new game every few weeks or have games in their backlog. Other times, the warranty does come from the game. If the game has a compelling story, fun or new gameplay, or things novelties a similar nature, I’m definitely going to devote more time to it, and give it the extra play sessions required to beat the game and to get as much as I need to out of the game.

Another idea that lends credence to my anecdote is the idea of the “Hedonic Treadmill,” or our excitement/dread of an event becoming the new baseline of expectation making us seek out the more excitement and getting less from what we have. Even though you have excitement or stress from whatever you pursue, people are meant to quickly adapt to new environments and the level of comfort or stress that you’re in becomes the new norm for you. This leads to the enjoyment that you might have once had becoming non-existent when you go back after experiencing more, much like the fear and anxiety that you may have experienced during stressful times dissipating when similar events occur because you’ve experienced much worse.

The more I've done, the more it takes for me to care
The more I’ve done, the more it takes for me to care

 

Communities generate persistence

If we both play it, then we bond over crappy things

[7] Time on the Vidya 2006-2009
[7] Time on the Vidya 2006-2009
[8] Time on Consoles Age 13+
[8] Time on Consoles Age 13+
[10] Time on the Vidya 2002-2012
[10] Time on the Vidya 2002-2012
[6] Time on the Vidya Males 18-24, 2006-2009
[6] Time on the Vidya Males 18-24, 2006-2009
It’s not a surprise that the more people you play with, the more likely you are to play. This trend has been going on and perpetuated the lifespans of games well beyond their initial enjoyment. Kids hanging out at the arcade, wasting their long weekend days crowding an arcade cabinet, watching one of the locals get their ass handed to them as cheers fill the background, mixed with the blaring noise of 8-bit chip noises. And when home consoles gained popularity, the crowding moved from the arcade to the living room. Stuck in front of a TV, sharing screen space with 3 other friends, running through corridors and hoping they aren’t sneaking up behind you, or shouting obscenities at one another because they took the lead from a poorly timed blue shell just as you dash over a ramp with only an abyss and a man in a cloud to keep you company. Once again this moved to the LAN party when games like Halo came out for the Xbox. This meant 16 people could play at a time, all with their own screen, given there was enough space for TVs and Xboxes. And once more when the multiplayer got moved to the online realm.

This is a rather crude synopsis of the history of big-time multiplayer for console gaming. PC gaming had enjoyed and expanded the sense of multiplayer long before, but development shifted heavily to the Console scene since this was where the money was, so much innovation in the PC space was stifled.

But the point for me pontificating and nostalgiating about the past when multiplayer communities formed and prolonged the life of games beyond the first few months was because having a communities to interact with gave you something to work towards. If you developed your skills in a game, you would feel unstoppable amongst your friends. If they got better, it forced you to get better, and vice versa. Soon, the group would plateau, stagnating the one another and making the experience less beneficial, though still fun for a time. So the game would either die out amongst the group, or you’d look for new people to play with. Either way, keeping a community of people that rallied on for you to play, and a having a group that you had fun playing a game with, restores your interest in the game and causes you to come back more and more.
Looking at the above graphs presented, I’m arguing that when gaming moved to the online space, the persistence to play many games increased, and the implication of this result is that a community of gamers (the community developed by such an online space for example) increases ones persistence to play. Looking at the data from [6] – [10], it shows a clear trend from 2006 to 2009 of the rise in play time in gaming. Why is this timeframe important? Well, Halo 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released in 2007, two of the first biggest online console games to be released on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. And every year after this, there has been another Call of Duty, every few years a new Halo, and every year a new Battlefield since 2008. So, any rise in playtime can at least be partially correlated to these games. The best graph, however, is from graph [7] and [10] showing a clear trend of playtime increasing from 2002 to 2012. It shows play times stay relatively stable, around the 80 hour per year range up until 2007, when those numbers start to climb. And since 2007, the numbers have climbed between 5-10 hours per year of addition playtime on average. 2007 being our magic year of online console gameplay, there was clearly something about these years that caused people to pick up a controller and become more involved in their games than choosing other media as their escapism of choice.

Other games have started toting their own online-multiplayer in order to capitalize on the extended lifetime of games, also including their own philosophy on how the multiplayer setting should be handled but all the while taking away from that chunk of user-base that Call of Duty had been building for several years in the late 2000’s. With the above in mind, we can at the very least draw the conclusion that people are choosing gaming more often than before as their escapism of choice, the activity that they choose to occupy the hours devoted to relaxing from the day. But I think the parallel that you can choose is that of the games that we decide to play, we tend towards games that have a community of people behind it, people who continue having fun with the game and getting better at the game as time passes, and keeps us persistent with our return to such games when the original novelty has long gone.

 

Feel free to discuss the matter. This is just an idea, not proof of anything.

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