How video games trigger extreme user engagement –

9 elements to build immersive user experiences

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I bought FIFA 18 the day it was released, got very impatient during download and install, then spent the rest of my weekend in front the screen. 
I slept — a bit — ate and I also took a shower. That is it. A good 30 hours pressing buttons on the controller and grinding my teeth.

How did I get hooked?

I’m a Football fan, a gaming enthusiast, fair enough, but how did they do that?

Below is the receipt to turn a user into an addict.

1. Freedom

“Space. Space. I’m in space. SPAAAAAAACE!” — Space Core, Portal 2

There is no such thing as absolute freedom in the real world. We have to stick to the rules in order to maintain social order.

In video games, we find complaisance and/or absence of rules ; virtual worlds can be customised to wish.

  • No one will judge you
  • Failing has no consequences in real life
  • Dreams and aspirations are easily achievable
  • You can break the law

In FIFA 18 you can create a player that looks like you (or not) and spend time improving his skills and control it, him, you, whoever!

In video games, the sky is not the limit.

Look, I’m like 20 year old again (I know, I look better in real life)! ?

Me, celebrating a goal ? — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

2. Aesthetics & Atmosphere

“It’s super effective!” — Pokemon series

Realistic graphics, accurate — yet repetitive — sound design, music and a detailed environment will loop you in and absorb you into the game.

Video games are more realistic than ever and sometimes even better than reality…

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Fifa 18 — Image credit:
  • More “life” through pixel perfect characters and surroundings (stadiums, lights, fans, managers,… )
  • Alternate pace through short cinematic transitions
  • Live and well timed crowd reactions add emotions

Avoiding bugs or unrealistic movements is a huge challenge, as they would interrupt the the player’s flow and make him loose faith in the game.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow concept:

People are happiest in a state of flow — concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand.[…] It is a state in which we are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.

3. Challenge

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.” — Chief, Animal Crossing

Real or virtual games satisfy some desire deep inside us. Succeeding at something is fulfilling and makes us happy. The goal of every video game is to keep a balance: challenge vs. ease of Mastery to keep you in the zone.

Too hard and you’ll give up, too easy and you’ll get bored. That’s the only rule.

Goals and milestones to complete are all over the place in FIFA 18, managers set monthly goals to achieve, board members indicate their expectations and you will climb up online leagues by beating people around the world.

FIFA 18 manages a smart mix of challenges:

  • Micro challenges: training sessions, skills to hone, items to unlock
  • Main challenges: win championships, move to a better team, get awards
  • Long term challenge: be the best player among your peers
My Career accomplishments, Fifa 18 — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

4. Rewards — plenty of it

“Thank you Mario! But our Princess is in another castle!” — Toad, Super Mario Bros.

Video games are “tricking” our brains by challenging them, then rewarding them with celebrations and intrinsic rewards, probably way more often than we can achieve in real life.

As for the challenges, FIFA 18 runs a smart mix of rewards:

  • Regular: win points by completing mini-games to improve your skills
  • Event based: score 3 goals and make it to the front page! Me in the news?
  • Random: unexpected prizes popping up on a special actions
  • Easter eggs: hidden rewards that will only be found by the most tenacious players
My career news, Fifa18 — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

5. Choice

“We all make choices in life, but in the end our choices make us.” — Andrew Ryan, Bioshock

Interesting games create drama and suspense thru decision-making processes, the more important they are, the more exciting the game becomes.

The more we play, the better we get at making choices in a specific environment, that’s why most players pick the same teams when playing online. They notice they have higher chances of winning.

Most common types of decisions:

  • Inconsequential: no impact on the game (e.g. choosing a jersey or boots)
  • Necessary & important: might increase the difficulty level or change the outcomes (e.g. team selection, starting line-up)
  • Key & critical: could influence characters life ( e.g. decide to play with light injury)
The Journey, FIFA 18 — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

6. Change

“No matter how dark the night, morning always comes, and our journey begins anew.” — Lulu, Final Fantasy X

Change within a game is what provides content and prevent player from being bored. 
Every fixture in FIFA should be different, that’s what makes it realistic.
The longer a game can provide change and new content the longer we will play.

EA Sports smartly added very realistic AI triggered events, injuries and transfers that make the environment evolve throughout time.

  • Different game modes, career, story, online, etc
  • Different content, teams, leagues, stadiums, players, etc
  • Choices and events will trigger storyline changes during ‘The Journey” mode.
The Journey, Fifa 18 — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

7. Chance

Wanting something does not give you the right to have it.” — Ezio Auditore, Assassin’s Creed 2

Not everything should go after a plan! You might miss an important penalty in a cup final or your favourite player might get injured during the first game of the season.

Recreating chance and uncertainty in video games are critical to make them realistic.

  • Skills are tested by unplanned events
  • Human errors create chance, AI has to trigger errors to make it look real
  • A game without chance is a puzzle, there’s only one solution
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8. Storytelling

“The ending isn’t any more important than any of the moments leading to it.” — Dr Rosalene, To The Moon

Humans love stories, in books, movies, TV series and, of course, video games. Those are no exception. Technology is adding one more layer. Stories are now interactive and respond to your actions.

Why our brain love stories?

  • Effective way to transmit information
  • Personal and emotional
  • Easier to understand
  • Easier to remember

EA Sports recently added storytelling to some of their sports games. Back in FIFA 16, the series didn’t had any story mode. You can now play the life journey of Alex Hunter.

The Journey, Fifa 18 — Image credit: Screenshot EA Sports Fifa 18

9. Hanging out

“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum… and I’m all outta gum.” Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem 3D

Yes, it’s surprising — to some of us — but video games are a way to socialize. Video games are a new form of board games or social activities like darts or billiard.

Research showed that most players search some kind of social interactions with offline friends or complete strangers. Below is why:

  • Joy of competition: challenge other humans
  • Be part of a community, while playing, and on forums or meet-ups (e.g. Lan parties, offline competitions)
  • Tell stories or watch stories happening live on Twitch streams


“I was an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee” — The town guard, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I‘ll keep is short. Video games trigger different level of emotions, challenge us and get us in a flow. It’s hard to switch off when you’re having a good time.

Let’s admit it, it’s a lot of fun! ?

Let me know what you think!

I am curious to know what you guys think about video games and engagement. Ideas and suggestions of bolt and bits to add to my post are more than welcome.

If you enjoyed the article, hit ? as many times as you want!

Author: Hugo Campanella

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