Ludic Loops: what you need to know

Is there a business opportunity is swimming against the tide of attention-based addictive business models?

What is a ludic loop and what does it have to do with digital experience design? The first part of that question is easier to answer: 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?


Making digital service addictive

That answers the second part of our question. It is a central part of how people build digital services that are not just seductive, bot actually addictive. This design the pattern 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 help us achieve tasks without trapping us 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…)


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.

Photo by Oskar Smethurst on Unsplash