Compulsion loop

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A compulsion loop or core loop is a habitual chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward such as the release of dopamine.[1] Compulsion loops are deliberately used in video game design as an extrinsic motivation for players, but may also result from other activities that unintentionally create such loops.

In game design[edit]

Compulsion loops can be used as a replacement for game content, especially in grinding and freemium game experience models. The opposite of rewarding predictable, tedious and repetitive tasks are reward action contingency based systems, where players overcome game challenges with clear signals of progress.[2]

Players perform an action, are rewarded, another possibility opens and the cycle repeats.[3] The positive reinforcement effect can be strengthened by adding a variable ratio schedule, where each response has a chance of producing a reward. Another strategy is an avoidance schedule, where the players work to postpone a negative consequence.[4]

A well-known example of a compulsion loop in video games is the Monster Hunter series by Capcom. Players take the role of a monster hunter, using a variety of weapons and armor to slay or trap the creatures. By doing so, they gain monster parts and other loot that can be used to craft new weapons and equipment. The loop presents itself that players use their current equipment to hunt monsters with a given difficulty level that provide parts that can be used to craft improved equipment. This then lets them face more difficult monsters that provide parts for even better gear. This is aided by the random nature of the drops, sometimes requiring players to repeat quests several times to get the right parts.[5][6]

Another type of compulsion loop are offered through many games in the form of a loot box or similar term, depending on the game. Loot boxes are earned progressively by continuing to play the game; this may be as a reward for winning a match, purchasable through in-game currency that one earns in game, or through microtransactions with real-world funds. Loot boxes contain a fixed number of randomly chosen in-game items, with at least one guaranteed to be of a higher rarity than the others. For many games, these items are simply customization options for the player's avatar that has no direct impact on gameplay, but they may also include gameplay-related items, or additional in-game currency. Loot boxes work under the psychology principle of variable rate reinforcement, which causes dopamine production at higher rates due to the unpredictable nature of the reward in contrast to fixed rewards.[7] In many games, opening a loot box is accompanied by visuals and audios to heighten the excitement and further this response. Overall, a loot box system can encourage the player to continue to play the game, and potentially spend real-world funds to gain loot boxes immediately.[7]

Psychological effects[edit]

Encouraging players to return to the game world can lead to video game addiction.[8][unreliable medical source?] Internet addiction disorder can also result from a compulsion loop created by users in checking email, websites, and social media to see the results of their actions.[9][unreliable medical source?]


  1. ^ Joseph Kim: The Compulsion Loop Explained, Gamasutra, 03/23/14
  2. ^ Brock, Dubbels (2016-11-23). Transforming Gaming and Computer Simulation Technologies across Industries. IGI Global. ISBN 9781522518181.
  3. ^ Keith Stuart: My favourite waste of time: why Candy Crush and Angry Birds are so compulsive, The Guardian, 21 May 2014
  4. ^ John Hopson: Behavioral Game Design, Gamasutra, April 27, 2001
  5. ^ Busby, James (December 2, 2016). "The First Monster Hunters". Kotaku UK. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  6. ^ Stranton, Rich (July 15, 2016). "Monster Hunter Generations review – fantastic beast hunt hits new heights". The Guardian. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Wiltshire, Alex (September 28, 2017). "Behind the addictive psychology and seductive art of loot boxes". PC Gamer. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  8. ^ Mez Breeze: A quiet killer: Why video games are so addictive, TNW, Jan 12, 2013
  9. ^ Schwartz, Tony (November 29, 2015). "Addicted to Distraction". The New York Times. Retrieved March 20, 2017.