The Evolution of WoW’s Behavioral Psychology

lh_wow_dailies_behavioural_psychologyWorld of Warcraft launched a shade over ten years ago with typical game design motives of RPGs and MMORPGs. The reason we players kept returning to Azeroth was the simple desire to continuing progressing the development of our character. For days of play time that tended to mean squashing quests and mobs to collect more and more experience. Upon reaching the end goal of level 60 progress morphed to become gear, often by way of reputation grinds later in vanilla WoW. This core design remains, yet has been supplanted by gameplay features designed from the ideas of behavioral psychology. More specifically, radical behaviourism.

There’s no need for a doctorate in psychology to understand the idea. It’s to keep us coming back to our avatars, sinking more and more time, ultimately making players less likely to cut ties with WoW. And the business reason should be frankly obvious, staying connected means we keep playing and keep paying. What we players may overlook is how simple, and somewhat defenseless, we can be to these mechanics. By no means is WoW the only game to include such mechanics, but it was one of the earliest AAA titles to heavily leverage them.

Radical behaviourism in WoW:

  • Daily Quests – Introduced in The Burning Crusade dailies enabled players to earned gold at a time when it was difficult to come by. These eventually expanded to professions and reputation assignments.
  • Daily Dungeons & Raids – Wrath of the Lich King brought an even bigger reason for players to return to Northrend often. These quests enabled players to always be working towards additional loot and remain an incredibly popular feature.
  • Timeless Isle – The Timeless Isle for Mists of Pandaria was the next evolution of the Isle of Quel’Danas, which largely introduced the concept of dailies. This let players play catch up later in the expansion’s life.
  • Garrisons – After calls for player housing since the game’s release Blizzard finally made it a reality in Warlords of Draenor. The entire garrison feature includes various repetitive daily tasks, from Lunarfall mining to assigning missions to Followers every few hours.

Designers employing radical behaviourism isn’t inherently bad. Sure, it appears that Blizzard has only continued to add more and more examples of it to WoW, but these additions are far from the core tenants of this expansion or any other. The features are new to the game and well received. The stories told in raids and dungeons, through quests and scenarios and the combat of PvP and gear accumulation remain the focus. I just found it interesting that each expansion has also expanded the role of psychology in my MMORPG past time. Did I miss any examples?