A phrase you should know: “ludic loop”

By Adam Tinworth

20/03/2017 | What is a ludic loop? It's that circle of doing the same thing again and again because you get just enough reward to keep you trying for it:

Slot machines are designed to lock you into a "ludic loop" -- doing something over and over again because every once in a while you get a reward.

Sound familiar? Sound like checking your phone for e-mails or Facebook updates?

Bingo.

This is both the source of the success of many services on our phones, and of innumerable piece of advice on how to escape the loop:

When you don’t absolutely have to have your phone by your side, put it somewhere you can’t easily reach it. Across the room is a good option. (France may be a better option but let’s keep it simple for now.)

Here's an interesting question: could a compelling service offering of the future work by helping us achieve things without getting stuck in a ludic loop? It would require a different model of monetisation from the current attention-based models - but could it work?

(It's worth re-watching Natalie's talk from NEXT16 in this context…)

UPDATE

The term "ludic loop" has its origins in the work of Natasha Schüll, who coined it to:

describe the way that digital interactions are designed across a variety of formats (slot machines, Facebook photo-clicking, candy crush, text checking, and the like)

Here's an interesting piece about her research.

Image by Victor Casale and used under a Creative Commons licence

2 Comments

| natasha schull

Hi Adam,

Just a note that "ludic loop" is not a game design term; it's a concept that I coined to describe the way that digital interactions are designed across a variety of formats (slot machines, Facebook photo-clicking, candy crush, text checking, and the like). Would be nice if you could attribute it to me, since this is an idea I talk and write about a lot in my professional work.

Thanks!
Natasha Schüll, NYU
author of : Addiction by Design (Princeton University Press 2012)

| Adam Tinworth

Hello, Natasha.

It's certainly become a game design term - I've heard it use repeatedly in those circles. I'll update the post to reflect its origins with you, though.