Technology is designed to be addictive, offering gratification that’s similar to that of drug abuse or gambling. Author Adam Alter talks about his new book, Irresistible, with Fresh Air’s Dave Davies.
Alter on how World of Warcraft game designers make it to be more addictive
One hundred million, roughly, have played the game, and by many measures, about half of them have developed an addiction, at least temporarily. So that to me suggests that it’s a weaponized game; it’s an experience that’s very, very hard to resist.
Part of the reason for that is, I think, that these large game companies have access to an incredible trove of data. So one thing that a lot of the designers do is they’ll release different versions of missions … to different people, sort of A/B test these different missions. They’ll look at how long you play, whether you return to the game, and generally how engaged you are. They generally call this “time on device,” which is a term that’s borrowed from the gambling world — how long are you on the slot machine.
What they’ll find is, for example, when you have to save [rescue] something, you spend more time playing than say, when you have to kill or find something. So what they’ll do is they’ll take the missions that aren’t as successful and they’ll cast them aside, and now they’ll form three new versions of saving missions. … They’ll continue that process through generation after generation after generation. So what you’re left with after, say, 20 generations is this weaponized evolved version of the game, or a weaponized evolved mission, that is maximally addictive.