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What Makes Browser Games so Addictive?

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Browser games can be incredibly addictive, for various reasons which we are going to talk about in this article. They’re similar in addictive qualities as mobile games, or rather, mobile games are similar to browser games – many popular mobile games are in fact direct ports or clones of original browser games.

Browser game developers need to follow a few basic formulas that make games addictive, for a good reason. Browser game developers don’t sell their games to the players (although they may license their games to the various websites that host them), so the developers need to maximize the potential of returning players, and chances of going viral, to earn ad revenue.

Of course, none of this explains exactly what makes browser games addictive, we’re only giving an overview of how browser game development is approached differently than AAA console or PC game development. So without further ado, let’s discuss exactly what makes browser games so addictive.

Simple Design, Complex Gameplay

Many browser games appear simple on the surface. Some of the most popular browser games use 2D or sprite-based graphics, or 2.5D in some cases, and many place a particular emphasis on “cute” art style. If you look through lists of the most popular io games on CrazyGames, take notice of how many utilize “simple, cute graphics”. This is to appeal to a wide range of audience ages.

However, even though these games appear simple, the gameplay itself can be innately complex. Idle Breakout, for example, appears as simple as you can get, being a unique twist on the old Atari Breakout classic. But in Idle Breakout, there is a deeper strategy involved, wherein players must properly manage their point accumulation, spending points to release more balls into the game, with an increasing level of difficulty.

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This is classic browser game design – take a simple concept, and expand on the emergent complexity throughout gameplay, creating new sets of challenges that keep the player coming back for more. Gamers are notorious for not wanting to give up on a challenge, staying up all night until they’ve beaten the goal established by a game, so this approach to game design lends incredibly well to the addictive quality of browser games.

Task Lists and Checkpoints

When gamers are presented with a list of objectives to complete, they can’t help but feel compelled to complete these tasks. Even in AAA “free roam” games like Elder of Scrolls: Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto V, which present the player with huge, open worlds for sandbox-style exploration, the player still feels compelled to complete any missions they come across.

Browser game developers may not be able to create huge, immersive 3D worlds, but they can create exciting lists of objectives for players to complete. When we accomplish a task, even in the real world, such as finishing house chores, a surge of dopamine is released in our brain, a chemical reward for satisfaction at a job completed.

Dopamine has been blamed for addictive behaviors, which is mostly untrue, but it’s natural that humans are pleasure-seeking creatures. When gamers feel that dopamine surge at completing a set of goals, the dopamine does not necessarily create an addiction to the game, but it can explain why gamers come back for more.

The Gear and Power Feedback Loop

Perhaps the most addictive part of games is how players level up, increase their powers, and obtain more powerful equipment in the game. Game developers can approach this in several different ways, either in the classic “grind” approach where players must slog through objectives to earn higher rewards or in a “treasure hunt” style where players are able to discover powerful “loot’ hidden throughout the game world. Many developers combine these two approaches.

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In either case, it is the incremental, tangible improvement of a player’s character that motivates them to continue. As we described earlier, a surge of dopamine is released whenever a player completes an objective within the game, and this happy feeling is doubled when they’re given an exciting reward. It’s like washing the dishes, and then being given a box of ice cream for your efforts.

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