Elements of Addiction

Guys, guess what? Steve Yegge has committed a blog post again! Sound the trumpets!

If you don’t know who Steve Yegge is, shame on you. Actually, I guess you could be excused because he tends to regularly fall of the face of the internet for months on end. I keep his blog in my RSS reader because his once-a-year posts are definitely worth waiting for. And he has usually really interesting things to say: he has worked at Amazon, now he works at Google and he has all kinds of opinions about programming languages, development practices and emacs. The other day however he wrote a post about, of all things Borderlands.

Yeah, remember that game that I hated? The game that could only be described as NMMO (Non-Massive Multiplayer Online)? It turns out that Steve Yegge liked it quite a bit. In fact, he liked it so much that he wrote what can only be called a dissertation about building addictive game play using Borderlands as an example.

Like most Yegge articles, this one is very long and quite detailed. It’s one of those things you save using Instantpaper, ReadItLater and enjoy over the course of two or three internet sessions. But it is definitely worth reading. Yegge digs deep into the “token economies” that drive most of the successful games out there, and analyzes what exactly makes them tick. But his toughs on the subject don’t just apply to video game design. He is analyzing human behavioral patterns and how they can be exploited to build any kind of communities. The same principles that made Yegge keep returning to Borderlands 4 years after it’s release are the same principles that keep people contributing to Reddit, or StackOverflow or countless other online communities. Virtual fucking bannana stickers:

Borderlands hands out randomly generated guns, Reddit hands out karma, StackOverflow sites hand out reputation, MMO’s hand out levels, skills and gear upgrades – collectible tokens that have no intrinsic real world value but can be a source of pride and accomplishment. If you build in a token system into your community, people may get addicted to it.

The most interesting part is that we are all affected by this strange attraction to worthless tokens. Personally, I couldn’t give two shits about Borderlands guns, or Epic Gear in WoW. I have never actually found a game that would suck me in – I get bored with virtual worlds quite quickly. Sometimes I will get enamored by a game (like Skyrim for example) but that usually only lasts a few weeks – maybe months. Sooner or later I always get bored. But I’m not immune to this strange affliction outside of video games.

For example, I have been thinking about creating a more witty/cool Reddit account and ditching my old one because it is not anonymous enough but I can’t bring myself to do it. Why? Because, dude, I have karma on that account. Worthless virtual points, I know – but starting back from zero would totally suck.

Similarly I may pretend like I don’t care about the number of followers I have on Twitter but I secretly do. Every once in a while I log into Klout and get upset when my score is fell since the last time I visited. I know I shouldn’t care. I know it doesn’t matter. But will still I sit there, scratch my head and think about the stuff I tweeted and wonder what kind of tweets get traction, and which get ignored or cause un-follows.

Hell, even this blog can be considered a token addiction. Every comment I get on a post is direct positive feedback – virtual karma if you will. A measurement of my success at being a blogger or something. It’s irrational especially since this blog was never about becoming e-famous or stroking my e-ego. It was about chronicling my adventures in technology and about geeking out. If I wanted to be e-famous I definitely wouldn’t be blogging about Vim, Git or obscure Polish science fiction novels. I would be blogging about… I don’t know… What the devil do norms blog about? Hmmm… Let me check Twitter trends – that usually does the trick. Here this is what I probably would be blogging and tweeting about – one of them things on this here list:

Twitter Trends

Twitter Trends

Honestly, I don’t even know what most of these things are. Damn, being normal is quite boring. I have no clue how these people do it. I mean it must like take actual effort to be that dull…

Anyways, anyone who has ever considered building an online community or a multiplayer game should go and read that post and take notes. Which makes me wonder if I should add some kind of karma system into /code and /fun. Or to comments here on this blog. But this is not a trivial task seeing how there are no persistent log-ins here, making any karma/point system shaky at best, and wide open to abuse at worst.

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8 Responses to Elements of Addiction

  1. astine UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    If I wanted to be e-famous I definitely wouldn’t be blogging about Vim, Git or obscure Polish science fiction novels.

    That depends on amongst whom you want to be famous. I noticed that that Vim article got you HNed.

    Speaking of which, karma systems on forums is another example of this.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ astine:

    Heh, very true. To tell you the truth, I wrote this post before my server got knocked out by HN so I actually did not expect it to be as popular as it was. :)

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  3. So many things to respond to.

    It’s one of those things you save using Instantpaper, ReadItLater

    I want to check those out later, but I don’t know how to remember to do that …

    Just kidding, I use Diigo for that at the moment, but I’m always looking for something better. Instapaper looks promising.

    Virtual fucking bannana stickers

    So that’s where the comments banana icon thing comes from!

    Hell, even this blog can be considered a token addiction. Every comment I get on a post is direct positive feedback – virtual karma if you will.

    I feel dirty leaving a comment now.

    Similarly I may pretend like I don’t care about the number of followers I have on Twitter but I secretly do.

    It’s like that for me, too, but on GitHub. The number of people following me on GitHub has been growing lately, which has me unreasonably excited. Though, there is a practical side to it: I’ve had a couple of companies contact me, interested in recruiting me, because of my minor GitHub success.

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  4. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    They got me too – I’m ashamed to admit that I glance at my HN karma rather frequently. Although it’s not so much about the number, but the social validation (?) of having people agreeing with my posts.

    Every comment I get on a post is direct positive feedback – virtual karma if you will.

    I don’t blog, but from my side as a reader, I often feel bad about not giving bloggers (including you) some feedback when I like the post. The problem is that I don’t always have something even vaguely interesting to add, and I strongly dislike those empty “great post!!1” comments.

    I guess that’s why upvotes/likes/+1 are so successful. Feedback with low effort and little noise.

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  5. http://tuebl.com recieves around 20K unique visitors a day… lol considering my most popular site before that recieved 500 a day and before that 2 a day… I am very pleased. I love keeping analytics on my sites and make sure to check them often. I blog for http://falkvinge.net as well and when I check his stats I am blown away by how many people are reading my posts… that blog is always making the front page of a subreddit or even sometimes reddit itself.

    The other day a post I did got to #2 on /r/technology I was very pleased with myself.

    So I know the feeling about the e-ego being stroked by people reading what you have to say.

    Also I was on a blog recently that did a karma system to get real feedback of who was actively reading his posts:
    There was a circular button next to the post, if you hovered over it for 2 seconds it would give the post a point. No upvote downvote or anything like that just straight forward: hover over it to let me know you read my post and liked it.

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  6. Something else to boost your ego http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/terminally-incoherent.com

    To give you an idea a baseline site travismccrea.com is 5,000,000+ ranking I get my fair share of viewers.

    TUEBL.com my 20K unique hits a day site is actually a lower rank than yours too. Though TUEBL requires less work so I am fine :P

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    I’ve been using Google Bookmarks ever since I sort of fell out of love with Delicioous. I used to used Google Notepad a lot but they discontinued it. I tried Evernote – even imported my GNotepad into it, but somehow it never was the same. So I hardly ever use it…

    @ IceBrain:

    My current HN karma is 3 so I’m not really addicted to that yet. I have more on reddit and suddenly I care about it. :P

    @ Travis McCrea:

    Hey, tuebl is nice! You are doing all kinds of cool things I see. :)

    Oh, and that blog you mentioned – it’s Dan Curtis. A lot of his stuff is absolutely brilliant, though he is been getting a lot of flack on HN lately for precisely that button. :P It’s a neat idea but a lot of people think that by not explaining that it submits on hover rather than on click it weasels out kudos from people who are merely being curious.

    He also got shit for making a lengthy blog post about opening up his custom made blogging platform, and in the final paragraph instead of link to Github there is a blurb about how it’s an invitation only exclusive thing that he is doing for select people he likes.

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  8. Honestly though, it’s just an artificial karma button, he could give himself 1000 points for every post he does if he wants to, and it’s not like it affects anything (unless it is submitting a request to some other site?). As we both know, the people who comment on blogs and click links and stuff are close to 1:100 readers. So having a quick “hover over this if you liked my post” seems logical to help get a feel for what your readers are liking even if they don’t want to comment or click any buttons.

    …. plus it’s a cool unique effect :)

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