There are two different kinds of pleasures we experience every day, we have anticipatory pleasure or ‘wanting’ and consummatory pleasure or ‘liking’. While ‘wanting’ is pleasure for looking forward to future events, ‘liking’ is pleasure for things in the moment.
Think of it this way: when you play a game right now and enjoy it, you experience consummatory pleasure (liking). You might experience anticipatory pleasure when you are at your day job or school but can’t wait to be home this evening so you can play your favorite game. It might surprise you, it certainly surprised me, but these two pleasures are very different from each other and even have their own neural system in the brain. This means that according to your brain, liking and wanting aren’t the same thing. The wanting-type pleasure relies on the dopamine system. Dopamine is released each time you’re looking forwards to something. The liking-type pleasure relies on your reward-driven system. When you do something you enjoy doing, opiates such as endorphins are released as a reward. These chemicals in the brain make you feel good. While wanting and liking are very different, it’s good to realize that you have to like or enjoy the thing before the wanting system for that same thing kicks in. However, you can have liking without wanting and wanting without liking. Think about a party you are dreading to go to. You really don’t ‘want’ to go but you know that you will ‘like’ being there once you get to the party. Addiction is probably the best example of wanting without liking. An addict will ‘want’ his drug but he doesn’t ‘like’ the effect of the drug anymore.
So be careful with too much wanting, this can create addiction (Berridge & Robinson, 1998). I realize it’s an ethical debate whether you as a designer are responsible for a player being addicted to your game. In most cases you simply want people to enjoy your game on a regular basis and a healthy player shouldn’t become seriously addicted (where gaming becomes a problem for their daily lives). While not everyone is equally susceptible for addiction it’s important never to design for it.
The difference between ‘liking’ and ‘wanting’ doesn’t seem to be very logical and not much research has been done. It’s only logical that I couldn’t find many games that apply this theory. The closest application of the wanting-system to a game I could find was Candy Crush.
Candy Crush and other similar mobile games want their players to come back every day. The design of these games is driven by retention and that’s why they often have a lives-system and short levels. The short levels encourage the player to try another level. Once the player fails too many levels and runs out of lives, he or she has to wait before they are restored. Most games with such a lives-system have cycles of about 20 hours. This means that if a player runs out of lives it will take about 20 hours for all lives to be fully restored. Both the wanting- and liking-systems can be applied to all types of games. However, mobile games can probably benefit most from these different neural-systems. Chances are that you aim for high retention when you design a mobile game. The wanting system is important here, your players should look forward to play your game every day. Of course they should ‘like’ playing your game as well, especially the first time they play.
Games with micromanagement can also benefit from the wanting-system, especially if the player has to use a limited resource that replenished over time. Imagine that you have people as a resource and you can use them to build stuff. Of course building stuff isn’t instant, it takes time. There is nothing for the player left to do after a while because all people are building things. The player will than leave the game with the intention to come back when his people are finished building his stuff. The player won’t be annoyed or dislike the game because there is nothing left to do since it’s the nature of the game.