Author Topic: The Skinner Box and Gaming  (Read 2924 times)

Offline sol-alpha

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The Skinner Box and Gaming
« on: February 12, 2016, 02:25:45 AM »
I guess I'm bored since I have a lot of time on my hands. I wanted to make a thread on puzzle games I like however, I guess I'll just post it in the other games thread.

To probably make things easier to explain I'll segment it.
  • The Skinner Box
  • Examples of Puzzle games that do not use a Skinner Box mechanism
  • Examples of Puzzle games that do use a Skinner Box mechanism
  • Why I think Point 3. > Point 2. when it comes to revenue made
  • Conclusion

Keep in mind I am not an authority on this matter and I definitely could have some things mentioned being wrong.

This is a discussion on Skinner Box mechanism used mainly in Puzzle games and the impact it has on the genre in relation to the gaming industry at the moment although this mechanism is not exclusive to Puzzle games as it can be found in other genres, mainly games with loot-based systems such as RPGs and MMORPGS.

1. The Skinner Box

To start off with, I would have posted a youtube video that I saw months ago which explained this well because it was in relation to poker machines. The documentary was called Ka-Ching: Pokie Nation, however it looks the full video was taken off youtube since it wasn't uploaded from the network it was from. So I'm just going to have to explain from memory.

The Skinner Box is an experiment where an animal such as a rat/mouse or pigeon is placed into a box that has a lever (or for the pigeon some switch it can apply force to with its beak). When the rat "pulls" the lever we'll just say a mechanical door opens and food appears inside the box. So the next thing is that the rat learns this behaviour that when he pulls the lever, food comes out. After a few times that the lever has been pulled and food has appeared, the design of the experiment changes. Keep in mind that the lever actually doesn't control the door, just that the people observing the rat opens the door when it happens such that the rat isn't aware.

So the next phase occurs that the rat will pull the lever and food will not appear. The rat will do this for hours and what will happen in that time is that food will appear at irregular intervals that it cannot be predicted because there is no pattern.
I'm forgetting to mention where the dopamine comes in. When the rat learned the behaviour that pulling the lever gives food, it stimulated the reward mechanism releasing dopamine into the brain which gives pleasure. Although I should state that I can't say if dopamine and pleasure are intricately linked with each other as it happens to be in dispute. I'll just post footnotes with sources.

I can't explain much about dopamine because I'm not that good with chemistry, generally dopamine is released when having "pleasurable experiences" such as food, sex and video games.
Getting back to the rat pulling the lever, it was observed that rats would pull the lever many times for hours per day even though the occurrence of food appearing is we''ll say once or twice per day. I can't jump to the conclusion here with regards to addiction so I have switch to what was observed in gambling addicts, this is all in reference to that documentary I watched and they showed a segment which I guessed correctly when the dopamine would get released. They were observing a person's brain activity when he went to use a poker machine, when he played a game of it, his brain activity jumped when he was in anticipation of winning. (Dopamine acts as a neuro-transmitter)
Hence he was obtaining the reward from the anticipation of winning a game and not when he wins. There was even a scene where one of the psychologists (or was it neurologist?) recounted how a gambling addict was upset when she won a jackpot (probably because the effect is greatest it looks like you're going to win).

So to now correlate this with the rat, its addictive behaviour of pulling the lever many times per day wasn't because it wanted food, it wanted to receive the sensation it gets when it pulls the lever in anticipation of food. When you think about it, if it wasn't addicted and only wanted to have food when it was hungry it would have only done it when it was hungry and not constantly after it had already eaten. (Again I need to pull up sources to show that was its activity recorded)

2. Examples of Puzzle games that do not use a Skinner Box mechanism

Now I have to preface this with the idea that you could still obtain dopamine from playing video games that do not have a Skinner Box mechanism although the effect may not be as great as that compared to using a Skinner Box mechanism.

Tetris, Puzzle League/Panel de Pon and Magical Drop. These are my examples, all three can be considered action puzzle games, the first is also defined as a tile-matching puzzle game and the other two are also defined as match-three games.
I have an anecdote (which is not a good thing for arguing stuff), as a side-effect from learning university-level mathematics i.e. calculus, partial differential equations. I had the want to play some puzzle games due to how my problem solving skills have been affected from learning mathematics. So some time back then and even recently I have been playing Panel de Pon and Magical Drop III, they are match-three games although funnily enough not the kind you may be thinking of such as Candy Crush Saga and Puzzle & Dragons.
The two games I played are similar to Tetris in that coloured pieces appear on one screen and that you have to match three or more pieces to clear them with the ability to go in-depth by clearing more at once by performing chain combos however, I mention that it is similar to Tetris where if the screen overflows with pieces then you lose. To get good at these games requires you to pull off combos however they require a lot of skill. (Even another game requiring a lot of skill is Puyo Puyo which I am not so good at.)

To get to the point, one of the modes both Panel de Pon and Magical Drop III share is a vs. mode where you would win by pulling off combos to overflow the opponents screen with pieces so that he/she loses.
So I'd need to be hooked up to an nMRI machine to determine whether I'd be getting dopamine because of the enjoyment of being able to skillfully win at a game.

3. Examples of Puzzle games that do use a Skinner Box mechanism

Again I would have to go with an anecdote which is not good for arguing stuff.

I haven't played Candy Crush so the only examples I have are Puzzle Quest and Puzzle & Dragons

I'll start with Puzzle Quest because it is the earliest example and one I was experiencing recently. The three examples listed here are all match-three games. In Puzzle Quest it is a Puzzle/RPG game set in a typical fantasy setting, you get to choose a class eg. Druid, Warrior etc. You then go about fighting enemies in a match-three style of gameplay where the screen is filled with pieces or coloured orbs in this case and you only lose from getting 0 HP as opposed to overflowing the screen with orbs. There are a number of different coloured orbs which represent elements and then there is purple stars, gold coins and skulls. The orbs give you mana so you can use abilities, the stars give EXP, the gold coins give you gold, and the skulls damage the opponent. All those occur when you can match three or higher.

When I played this game on the Nintendo DS years ago, I and others that have played this would call it addicting. As even now playing the steam version I ended up playing for hours on end without noticing the time pass by. When compared to the games in Point 2, I would get tired after some time from playing those games however, with Puzzle Quest it would take hours before that same feeling would occur.

There is some level of skill involved with regards to obtaining combos however, you can only chain combo what you can see on the screen. To get more combos to occur is a matter of chance, when you match three orbs they fall off and the rows of orbs fall down to fill the space and new ones appear from the top. A chain combo could occur when new orbs appear and match in three or more with other coloured orbs.

I am claiming that even though you would enjoy winning at this game, the pleasure factor occurs from doing these chain combos because it is a matter of chance to get more combos and I even saw this from watching a gameplay video of Candy Crush Saga. Even getting a chain combo rewards you in Puzzle Quest, actually its a little more than that, two things could occur. You can get a bonus turn if you match-four or more, if you match-five you get a bonus turn and a wildcard which multiplies the amount of mana you get from a match. If you can pull off I think it was a 5-chain combo you get a huge bonus of amount of EXP.

For Puzzle & Dragons, there is the similar occurrence that the level of skill you have is pulling a combo from what you can see on screen, to maintain that combo only occurs from the chance of the new coloured orbs that appear.
In Puzzle & Dragons you'll have a team of "Dragons" and you fight other "Dragons" and reduce their HP to 0 by matching orbs, there may be more than one enemy on screen, so if you match-five you can hit multiple enemies at once, match-three or four will just hit one enemy. If you pull of a chain combo, a damage multiplier is added and you will deal more damage the more you chain combo.

I would be claiming the same thing in this as with Puzzle Quest in that the gameplay is addicting from pulling off combos rather than the enjoyment from winning.

4. Why I think Point 3. > Point 2. when it comes to revenue made

I would need to pull up data from I believe earnings calls/investor meetings where you would often hear how Puzzle & Dragons or Candy Crush Saga makes say a few million per month in revenue.
Some of you would know that even though these games are "free-to-play" they are filled with microtransactions where you would spend money for virtual currency just to obtain something from the game, mainly like playing an arcade machine you would put in money to be able to play more. I'm not too familiar with Candy Crush however popular Japanese mobile games such as Puzzle & Dragons and Monster Strike also employ Gachapon mechanics in which, you use it to obtain stronger characters to be able to beat harder stages, you spend money on a Gachapon machine that dispenses eggs containing a character and, there is a probability you could get a rare one. The more currency you spend the higher the probability you have of obtaining a rare one.

Since you would not know what would come out of the egg, this is where the parallel comes in where I mention the gambling addict that plays poker machines except, instead of being called gambling addicts, they are called whales because they are the ones who are most susceptible to spending money on Gachapon or other related microtransactions.

For the games mentioned in Point 2. they would have to become "free-to-play" and have Skinner Box mechanisms implemented via microtransactions to have some possibility of obtaining large revenue from whales. The main reason to make it "free-to-play" is that it makes it the easiest point of access so that a person would become susceptible to put in money after being affected by a Skinner Box mechanism.

5. Conclusion

Technically, there's nothing wrong with having dopamine. The problem occurs when you are addicted to it, some people are more susceptible to it than others. Certain drugs actually increase your dopamine intake more than food, sex and video games. e.g. Cocaine and Crystallised Methamphetamines which are more likely to cause addiction and the effects of cravings when suffering from withdrawal. When it comes to the video game industry in the mobile gaming sector for the future, the current prediction would be that skill-based puzzle games will become "more" niche and/or smaller earners in revenue compared to the more "dopamine-inducing" puzzle games that are popular now. The industry has changed a lot when the biggest puzzle game in the 1980s was Tetris and the current biggest puzzle games in terms of revenue are the likes of Candy Crush Saga and Puzzle & Dragons.

Ka-Ching documentary: (You'd have to be in Australia to still be able to find any screenings apparently since it was removed from online viewing from the network it was from from November 2015)
Dopamine: Functions (Reward)
Experimentally related: Brain Stimulation reward
Candy Crush Saga financial report first quarter 2014:
Puzzle & Dragons financial and statistical information:
Tetris has been downloaded 425 million times but, I couldn't find what the revenue of it is:
(Keep in mind the above link, although Tetris is still popular, you would want to find out say the mean revenue from a random sample of skill based puzzle games in one group and then compare with a random sample of the "dopamine-inducing puzzle games" and determine a hypothesis and perform well maybe a two-sample t-test, although it depends on what the hypothesis is really.)


I may have missed some things so I can edit those in if needed, feel free to discuss. Also, I forgot to mention that there was recently a Puzzle Quest - Magic the Gathering crossover that is on mobile now, which is great because it's a great match although I stopped playing it after the initial tutorial because I would have to use microtransactions to get good cards and I just don't have the money to play it nor the patience to just play it in intervals every day.

Offline sol-alpha

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Re: The Skinner Box and Gaming
« Reply #1 on: May 30, 2016, 09:22:16 AM »
I decided to just throw some ideas in here since I already discussed about Skinner boxes. I haven't played Overwatch yet but, that's where the discussion is coming from because of loot boxes that give randomised loot and allows microtransactions or so I've heard. I haven't followed it 100%

Edit: I've learned that the loot boxes only contain cosmetic items so I can't argue much about banning those because some people argue that this is done to give revenue to the game so that it lasts for many years, I can see this when looking at Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 as examples. So the following is just referring to Gacha mechanics in general especially for games where you need it to win in a sense so this is arguing against Pay to win mechanics.

So now I am thinking ideas where, we could have microtransactions but, make it less exploitative for players.

Poker machines are regulated as mentioned in that documentary I watched in the above post. It is required that for every $1 put into a poker machine, that 85 cents will come back out. (Keep in mind it is a ratio, so over time that ratio will be fulfilled. Eg. The poker machine is programmed to make sure $8500 of the $10000 it makes is paid back by the time it is supposed to reach a particular period which is set by however the regulation works.)

So what I am proposing takes inspiration from that and the scandals related to Granblue fantasy where players spent Hundreds of thousands of Yen to get a particular Character or whatever from the Gacha machine and never ended up getting that character. This is problematic because it is definitely exploitative.

So a couple of things I'd want implemented would be:
Scenario: You spend money to play the Gacha machine, you pull the lever and a Gacha comes out. The Gacha you receive will display details of its probability of being obtained, the current probability it is being obtained at (The idea here is to show the real time results of success and by Central Limit Theorem, if many Gacha pulls have been made, it should show that it is approaching that probability mentioned.), and each item must have a monetary value assigned to it, this would actually require that I get to choose what I am rolling for, if I am wanting the "shiny Gacha" I should get to choose it, see its probabilities of winning and current real time probabilities of winning, then after rolling for it many times, if the amount of money you spent rolling matches the value of the item, you receive it then.

The downside to this idea is that, if you get to choose for a particular item to roll for, you may not get a substitute prize if the developers choose as such.

Hence why I propose a system to deal with this, (just an idea)
So let's say a common item is worth $1.
If I roll for an uncommon item, it will be worth the equivalent of having 2 rolls for a common item. Hence, if I didn't win the uncommon item, I would get 2 random common items as a substitute prize.
If I roll for a rare item, it will be worth 3 times the rolls of 1 common item. If I lose, I should get to have 1 random common item and 1 random uncommon item as a substitute prize as their total value is worth $3.
If I roll for a Super rare item, it will be worth 4 times the rolls of 1 common item. If I lose, I should get to choose what would be equivalent in worth of $4 total for a random chance of winning common/uncommon/rare cards etc etc
And so on, you get the idea.

Now of course, people hate duplicates. So the idea for this is easy and comes from Terra Battle, in that game if you maxed the level of a character you have, it will stop giving duplicates when you are rolling for other cards.
There are other ways this can be implemented to stop duplicates but that is one example.

One of the reasons I am coming up with these ideas is because I just saw a few posts where people have said they like rolling for stuff like a Gacha because it is fun, they claim it is boring if they can choose what they want to buy to fill the collection.

I don't really agree with it because it definitely sounds like the symptoms of a gambling addict in which they can only get their enjoyment by having a chance at winning something and I explained how that works in relation to Skinner boxes.

Understand that it might not be so simple trying to ban Skinner Box mechanics because it makes a lot of money and there are powerful people that would keep it that way. So I am trying to propose ways it can be regulated so that players are not exploited since this system doesn't even give money back like actual gambling. (Even so, poker machines aren't a good idea to spend your money on because you'd have better odds playing games that aren't controlled by a machine. Black Jack is a good one if you can count cards, its just unfortunate they use a Shoe which prevents the deck from being reshuffled so you can't have the probability of winning being reset until after a few games or so.)

Edit: I did this on my phone so I won't get to fix up a few things until later.

I should reiterate that I don't like Gacha mechanics in games where real money is used. Hence why I made these ideas so at least this could be regulated assuming Gachas never get banned.

I should also elaborate why I wasn't suggesting ideas to ban it. As mentioned, if you can get it banned I congratulate you. That's how hard it was to get poker machines banned (which it didn't happen) in Australia according to that documentary because the lobbying groups were very powerful seeing as they were backed by the poker machine companies.

Another factor is that even the NSW state government that wanted to stop poker machines looked at the revenue they receive from it and decided they couldn't get rid of it because the revenue would help funding infrastructure.

So it ends up becoming a double-edged sword.

Even another example is that Japan is going to allow gambling in time for the... I believe it was 2020 Olympic games, it seems they really need another source of revenue seeing as how things are going economically for a country with a vastly ageing population and little birth rate to sustain it.

Links: - The Granblue Fantasy scandal and Japanese Social Games - The Granblue Fantasy Scandal's aftermath (and Japanese Social Games)
« Last Edit: May 31, 2016, 08:20:14 AM by sol-alpha »

Offline sol-alpha

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Re: The Skinner Box and Gaming
« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2016, 07:19:33 AM »
Seems that people are still talking about the loot boxes from Overwatch so I thought about putting up some examples again about microtransactions and let's judge whether it is okay or not.

So let's say I released a "free-to-play" game called Loot Box, it is a smartphone companion app for Overwatch that you use to get cosmetic items for your account.
Playing the game normally you open up boxes and when you open them up you have an extremely small chance of finding something inside the box. For most of the time opening boxes, they will be empty.

I will bring up 3 scenarios of microtransactions:

Scenario 1: I can only play 5 times every 3 hours and if I want to play more, I have to spend money to give me more plays without waiting. (This feels reminiscent of Arcade games except you never get free plays.)

Scenario 2: I can spend money to increase my chances of getting something from the loot box, however winning is not guaranteed so if I do not win loot, I end up getting junk as the consolation prize which is considered useless but if I collect enough junk, I can cash in the junk to get another roll at the loot box.

Scenario 3: There is a storefront where I can spend money to buy the loot I want directly without having to gamble or play the game normally.

All 3 scenarios involving spending money to get what you paid for, all 3 involve trying to get as much money out of you, depending on the type of game, the scenario that earns the game the most revenue varies.

For example, if the game Loot Box had only scenarios 1 and 2 for microtransactions, there is a highly likely chance that scenario 2 is what would be giving the most revenue. As mentioned in my earlier posts here, it is a game of chance and because it is not defined as gambling, scenario 2 is allowed to be played by people under the age of 18.

What example would there be for scenario 1 to be earning more revenue than scenario 2? As mentioned earlier in these posts, the games that would fit the bill would be low-skilled match 3 puzzle games such as Candy Crush Saga, Puzzle & Dragons etc
The gameplay of these games involve chance, hence they can trigger addiction to playing the game as mentioned in my earlier posts. People prone to addiction would spend money to continue playing after they have run out of free attempts, even though the game may not have monetary prizes, the addiction to the gameplay would allow one to spend money to continue playing.

What games would cause scenario 2 to be a big revenue earner? I've already mentioned in my earlier posts here about Gacha mechanics, so any games that use that are usually the case.

What would cause scenario 3 to be a big earner? I don't really have any examples but, it is assured that since buying items directly doesn't require a game of chance. People buying those items would have to be conditioned by how much they think something is worth. Mobile games alone are a good example of this, the free-to-play model is standard because most customers will look at an app and decide not to purchase it if it's cost is more than 99 cents. Which is due to the race to the bottom in cost of apps.

So I think I made things clear about these scenarios, if scenario 2 is defined as gambling then legally only people 18+ would be able to play scenario 2. (That's if gambling is even legal in the country they live in.)

Scenario 1 is more difficult to define as gambling because, although the game may cause the person to be addicted and spend more money to play, this would be similar to arcade machines and thus the transaction is spending money to get to play more of a game, not at playing a game of chance to win credits to play more of game.

There's really not much to say about scenario 3 as it is not a game of chance and is just a store.

This is why I was trying to bring this up before on Twitter, is it okay to exploit people's gambling addictions by having them pay money to obtain items that they only have a chance of winning? That's subjective.

Should it be legal? If it is defined as gambling then it would be and, it will most likely be legal to people 18+ years of age.

Would this affect games that have games of chance but, do not require you to spend real life money? No, as mentioned. Spending real life money on a game of chance is considered gambling.
(Although you can probably see the loophole here with how the virtual currency you buy is not considered real life money when spending it on games of chance because the mobile game can give you lots of virtual money but it is considered worthless. Hence, you spend real money on virtual currency which is worth nothing, to then spend it on a game of chance.)

So, that is all I wanted to bring up since I think some people are forgetting the issue at hand when discussing whether it is okay to have games of chance as microtransactions.