What makes you stay up all night playing a game, attempting the same level over and over, until, finally at 3am, you succeed in butchering all the pigs in one try? You know the feeling when you yelp in delight, rousing half the neighborhood from their sleep, and sending dogs barking in frenzy. And then you take a well-deserved breather before having a go at the next level.

Regime of Competence. Although many excellent game developers may not be acquainted with this term, they have always known its secret that offers a heroin-like addiction to games employing it.

temple-runThe Regime of Competence principle is commonly used in games to make them addictive. Source: play.google.com

Games developed with this mind-altering principle hover just outside the player’s competency level, seeking at every point to be difficult, but attainable. After many tries of course. What exactly is the objective of regime of competence? Its goal is to fire up simultaneous feelings of frustration and pleasure. Frustration in failing to achieve one’s targets in a game’s specific complexity. Pleasure in finally pulling it off after many hours and attempts. One learns, adapts and masters the difficulty level. Then one watches their mastery being wiped off with the introduction of a more difficult level. These cycles of frustration and pleasure are what drive the player to engage with the game.

Why restrain the regime of competence to only gaming apps? The very principle that gives gamers sore thumbs can be applied to other app categories – especially educational and productivity apps that are designed to improve a person’s aptitude – to make them addictive. And these apps are guaranteed to sell like hotcakes simply because they are not a chore to consume anymore. By golly, they have become games!

An educational app with gameplay exploits Artificial Intelligence methods coupled with well-designed content and quizzes to determine the student’s aptitude, and then challenge him with a slightly more difficult level. A productivity app can leverage on social media to turn it into an enjoyable, addictive game. When a user thinks she has done her best for the day, up pops an alert saying another user has outdone her. A gut-wrenching howl echoes through the room. She won’t sleep soundly until she outdoes her contender the very next day.

Gratification. Frustration. A combination leading to addiction. That’s the name of the game.

Featured image source: www.leebrimelow.com

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