Games Shouldn’t Be Skinner Boxes

I read a great article the other day, titled “The Philosophy of Game Development By The Numbers“.  Great more for what it says about the current state of game development for the philosophy espoused.  Mr. Baig, who runs a mobile game development studio called White Rabbit, breaks down the science of user acquisition, retention, and monetization.  This should give you the overview:

Game development continues to have a bright future, but only for those who can develop profitable titles. Pursuing such profitability is an exact science now, with monitoring analytics and continuous A/B testing having become the staple of game development. In fact, Zynga – the gaming company to have popularized (if not introduced) the use of analytics – has beenoftencategorized as a big data company.

It’s taken me a while to figure out what I find so repellent about Zynga and its ilk, but the metrics Baig lay out make it pretty clear: their games are colorful cartoon Skinner Boxes. Baig does espouse a philosophy in his article, but it’s not an aesthetic philosophy.  There are those who claim that games should be art – not necessarily that they are, but that there is the possibility.  Then there’s the idea that games should just be fun.  While it might not seem that way, that’s an aesthetic philosophy too.  Both are focused on the idea of arousing emotions in their audience and getting them to feel something, whether trivial or powerful.

On the other hand, the games of Zynga and others aren’t meant to make people feel anything.  They do, but that’s a tactic rather than a goal – Zynga doesn’t care what you think about the game, just that you put in money and keep pressing the buttons.  Their goal is to move the needle on things like viral spread, depletion curves, and monetization success.  It’s a philosophy alright, but one more akin to natural resource mining than anything I’d think of as “making games”.


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