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What Makes Simulation Games So Addictive?

Posted on Jul 7, 2016 | Articles & Reviews
The Sims is one of the most popular simulation games out there.

It’s 2:00 a.m., and I’m only a few turns from conquering France with a sweeping cultural victory, thanks to the tireless labor of my country’s artists and writers. Or I’m cleaning up the aftermath of yet another house fire thanks to a poorly placed rug near a fireplace, hoping my Sim’s hygiene won’t present a problem for her upcoming workday. “One more turn,” I say to myself for what feels like the thirtieth time, the all-too-familiar refrain for fans of simulation games.

With massive franchises like The Sims and Civilization leading the way, simulation games are easily some of the most popular in the market. How they remain popular is as much about the quality of many of these major franchises as it is about their addictive gameplay. Simulation games use a few tricky techniques to keep us hooked, combining fun with psychology for a genre that’s hard to quit playing.

Open-Ended Gameplay Lets Players Choose Their Stopping Point

One of the easiest ways to get players hooked is to let them determine their own win conditions. Unlike games that progress linearly to a final conclusion, simulation games typically allow you to determine when you’ve reached the end, either because win conditions aren’t defined or because the game remains open after meeting (or failing) them.

Civilization has win conditions, but you can choose to continue past them, giving the player control over what truly constitutes a win. Image Source: Civilization5.com.

The Sid Meier’s Civilization series uses this approach, in part, to keep players seeking victory to such an extent that they launched their own viral marketing campaign based on how addictive it is. While open-ended gameplay is not the only thing the game does to keep you interested in playing, it’s a big part of the equation. It’s important to note that Civilization does have a win condition–you can achieve victory through numerous paths, including dominating the opposition through superior culture or military prowess. But that doesn’t have to be the end of the game. You can keep playing even after a win or a defeat, conquering the world or seeking control of natural resources for your own purposes.

There’s an unlimited amount of things to do, making each game a new experience. No two military victories are the same, and the numerous countries and paths to pursue make it difficult to get sick of the gameplay. By leaving the win condition up to the player, there’s no definitive endpoint. You can play as long as you like, changing the idea of what beating a game is.

Multiple Routes To Success Encourage Creativity

The Sims is easily one of the most popular sim games out there. It’s one of the best-selling games of all time, having sold over 175 million copies, and anybody who has played it can testify to the obsession-inducing gameplay.

The Sims doesn’t dictate what winning is, so players can devise their own interesting challenges to overcome, giving the game more staying power. Image Source: TheSims.com.

As in Civilization, there are multiple ways to succeed, and that’s where the fun lies. There is no win condition for the core Sims games—but they do provide you with several different goals to pursue, such as reaching the top of a career, having a successful family, or meeting any number of other relationship or life goals.

What’s especially engrossing about this series is that there are so many potential paths and actions in every moment. You have total control over the game’s progression, with just enough random events to keep things interesting. Add in fan-made challenges, and you truly never run out of things to do in the game.

Each iteration of The Sims includes new features, keeping players hooked through technological advancements, changes to mechanics, and even controversial changes like the removal of toddlers. Players enjoy the gameplay and keep playing, always enjoying the godlike feeling of navigating the lives of others.

Repetition Creates a Soothing, Rewarding Atmosphere

In many genres, repetition is a bad thing. We like our games (especially genres like action-adventure games and shooters) to feel fresh and exciting from moment to moment, but the simulation genre is unique in that repetition, patience, and strategy are the most interesting elements.

Farming Simulator 15 allows you to reap the rewards of your hard work through relaxing repetition.

In Farming Simulator 15, repetition means planting and harvesting your crops, purchasing farming equipment, and managing livestock. That repetition lulls you into a sense of rhythm, which is often relaxing for players–while some sim games take the more high-stakes approaches of war or other settings, games like Farming Simulator and its more simplistic free-to-play cousins (remember Farmville?) are addictive not for the adrenaline high, but for the sense of calm and relaxation you get from developing a successful cycle.

Especially in a game where you’re producing things and harvesting the results of that production–games like Farming Simulator, or the more cartoony Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing–the repeated moments of success are the drive that encourages players to stay with the game. You’re not racking up kills or progressing the story, in most cases, but rather finding satisfaction in reaping the rewards of your hard work. And with repetition being such a soothing process, players happily sink hours into these kinds of games for stress relief and relaxation.

Simulation Games Encourage Seeking Just One More Turn

Simulation games are famed for their ability to inspire players to say “one more turn.” They’re addictive because they give us a sense of calm achievement, as well as letting us decide what the win conditions are. Rather than overcoming a goal the game sets as ideal, we set and reset our own, giving us more control over how we have fun in-game.

Though they vary in quality and complexity, there’s a reason the genre is so popular. That sense of achievement and the openness of design, which allows us to do what we want, are offerings that differ significantly from many other popular genres. While sim games aren’t for everybody, their unique qualities hook players through great quality, consistent rewards, and the fun of designing your own style of play.

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Lead Image Source: TheSims.com.