MMO developers must tackle player addiction or face Western government intervention, say researchers

Warlords of Draenor

Researchers at Cardiff, Derby and Nottingham Trent universities have called for online game developers to take responsibility for player addiction, warning that failure to do some could result in Western usage regulation in line with Asia.

The authors of the joint study, published in the Addiction Research and Theory journal, claim that some players indulge in 90 hour sessions, developing “pathological” dependencies. 

MMORPGs are the listed culprit, unsurprisingly, described as “inexhaustible systems of goals and success”.

The researchers say evidence suggests that around seven to 11% of MMO gamers could be considered “pathological”, engaging in uninterrupted sessions of up to 40, 60 or, yes, 90 hours. That’s nearly four days. What on Earth were they playing? Super Desert Bus?

Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University and director of the International Gaming Research Unit told the BBC: “The proportion of gamers who develop problems and/or become addicts may stay roughly constant but as online games get better and better and increasing numbers of people discover them, the number of addicts is most probably going to rise.”

The researchers noted the existence of in-game warning messages, but suggested they merely represented an implicit acknowledgement by developers of “how high the percentage of over-users is”. I think that bears repeating: these researchers believe a safety measure introduced freely by developers to be a possible sign of guilt.

University of Derby cyber psychologist Dr Zaheer Hussain said more needed to be done.

“As a first step online game developers and publishers need to look into the structural features of the game design, for example the character development, rapid absorption rate, and multi-player features which could make them addictive and or problematic for some gamers,” he said.

He added: “One idea could be to shorten long quests to minimise the time spent in the game obtaining a certain prized item.” Which is an odd one, given that the longest raids in WoW rarely top five hours.

The report points out that while single player games have endings, MMOs do not – instead encouraging players to progress perpetually. Which, while someway true, seems like an ill-advised point of comparison. If the credit sequence was the first natural full stop in a gaming session, I’d never start.

Nobody plays single player games from start to finish, in one sitting, do they? Unless you’re playing Limbo, an episode of the Walking Dead or something similarly brief?