One of the most infamous phrases in video games is “one more turn.” The scourge of many a Civilization player with a deadline the next day, the addictive quality of this dynamic is feared as much as it is praised. The question of how it works has long been demysitified, but a full breakdown is always worth doing.
The common explanation is that of overlapping tasks. Essentially, if making progress on one task also sees you make progress on a separate task, then when the first is done, the second is halfway through and so it becomes tempting to see that one complete as well, but once that has happened, task number three is just a few turns away and so on until the game itself is complete.
The Decision Making Hump
By generalizing the previous point, we can see that this FADT is built around carrying players through moments where the flow would otherwise break.
A natural stopping point in every game is when the player comes to a major decision point, something that takes some time and thought to solve. It’s then that it is natural for the player to take a break from the game and come back to the decision point with a fresh mind. However, if the player has something that they want to see done right after that decision, they’re much more willing to push their way over that hump. Removing natural stopping points does a lot to keep the player from ending a game session.
I find that this FADT is at its most effective when it keeps the player’s working memory engaged. When the next decision follows from the ones before, then the player is further pushed to keep playing so as to make that decision while all of the relevant information is ready in the mind.
In this way, you can keep some velocity going for the decision making process. You make the player a rolling weight instead of needing to spend the energy to start them up repeatedly. Using the momentum of previous decisions to roll over the bumps of future decisions keeps the game clipping along.
A plan that holds space in the working memory does a couple of important things for this. It’s natural for a player to want to see a plan to completion and so players are likely to just play a couple more turns to get there, which in turn sets them up for completing another plan. The other thing is that players are reluctant to discard the mental work of making a plan. It’s hard to remember exactly what you had planned between sessions and continuing the session means that you won’t have to. The twin desires of wanting to ensure that the plan is successfully concluded and wanting to avoid the mental effort of rebuilding the plan do a lot to push the player to continue playing.
Hypothetical Single-Track Game
A good hypothetical to demonstrate this is a single-track game. This hypothetical game has a meaningful reward always around the corner and always shows you the next goal automatically, which satsfies a lot of what I put down above. The hump of what to do next is completely eliminated and the game avoids a swampy period where it looks like no progress will be made for a while.
More than anything, this would just be a well-designed game. Making sure that the player cares about the rewards in the game, knows what to do next and doesn’t fall into a morass of low progress is just good game design. However, in itself, it seems clear that the game won’t achive the one more turn compulsion detainled here.
The end of every goal makes for a natural stopping point, and there’s no context here to worry about restructuring. While the player will easily fall into a flow with a game like this, it’s just as easy for the player to leave that flow when they feel like stopping, and one more turn is all about denying that.
You can definitely design a game to pull off the one more turn feeling without any of the components below, but all of them are things that can definitely help.
- Meaningful Rewards: Every turn, you want the player to see something that they want coming a few turns later, and something that they want tends to end up as a meaningful reward.
- Goals That Chain: Sometimes, completing a goal unlocks another one organically. When you finish a tech, it’s natural to want to build the unit you unlocked. When the unit is built, it’s natural to want to try it out. Once the war has started, it’s natural to want to take the capital. Things follow each other easily.
- Multi-step Plans: In the same way, multi-step plans are a good way to help enable this dynamic. They give the player something right in front of them and then have the next thing lined up cleanly.
- Multiple Reward Axes: Keeping multiple reward timers running makes it so that there’s always something imminent, keeping the ball rolling.
- Goals in the Short, Medium and Long Term: The need for short-term goals is obvious, but mixing in medium and long-term goals does a lot to keep the game from just feeling like a checklist. They also help fill the working memory. Additionally, they are fun to complete in a way that fits cleanly with the rest of the FADT.
The major effect of this FADT is compulsiveness. Engineering a game to avoid stopping points makes it very hard to put down and this is how you make it so that people are still playing your game hours after they intend to stop.
The classic example of this FADT will always be Civilization, the game that originated the term.
Researching techs, building wonders and even buildings and defeating units and capturing cities are all very meaningful rewards in the system. The tech system chains naturally into other things and the high endogenous value of the pieces makes multi-step plans natural.
Game Dev Story
This is probably the best distillation of the FADT that I have ever seen. This game pulls off a very simple trick to generate the dynamic, it simply defers telling you how your last game went until after your next game is already underway. In this way, it rolls the player over the speedbump of choosing what game to make next. Once the next game is in production, it doesn’t take that long for it to finish, so it’s tempting to stick around to see it complete, after which the cycle starts again.
Additionally, it has a second neat trick in having developers burn out if worked too hard. So, when you staff the next game, you need to remember which of your employees have had a full workload and rotate who is expected to step up for the next game. This small thing keeps the working memory engaged and so disincentivizes the player from quitting a session and so forgetting who is to be put on the next game.
It thus needs none of the above tools as it achieved the prerequisites of pushing players through the decision making hump and engaging the working memory without resorting to anything fancy. It doesn’t even need the overlapping tasks often associated with this FADT.
This FADT is easy to abstract and easy to see in all sorts of places. I’m currently playing Breath of the Wild and the game often keeps me playing for a while after I intended to quit and does so in a way that fits quite cleanly into this pattern.
The game pushes progress across multiple axes, including exploring, armor upgrades, quests and shrines. Even climbing a new mountain peak counts as a goal in the game. There are immediate goals like going up a mountain, medium goals like going to a new shrine and then completing it or a larger one like finishing a divine beast or getting the master sword.
What I like is that this is entirely spatial instead of time-based like in the previous two examples. You want to complete all of the tasks that are close to each other. It’s a completely different axis, but the same effect.
Do You Want Addiction?
I want to end this article with an important thinking point about this FADT. Just because you can implement it, that does not by any means imply that you should. Ask yourself if it benefits the game and if it benefits the player.
Does this addictiveness actually help the player? Does it help you get across what you want with the game? Just keeping the player hooked should not be an end in itself. It needs to be a means to one, or should not be used at all. It’s on the designer to respect the player’s time and this feature is a powerful way to take that time away.