“Developers Have a Responsibility to Gamers”: Navigating Addiction with CCP Games

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Gaming can be amazing, but developers have some responsibility to keep it that way, says Tryggvi Hjaltason, Senior Strategist at CCP Games.

In the ever-evolving landscape of video games, the issue of addiction has always been a critical intersection point between psychology and the gaming industry.

In an exclusive interview with Techopedia, Tryggvi Hjaltason, Senior Strategist at CCP Games and a seasoned gamer, delved into the nuances of video game addiction, shedding light on the responsibilities of game developers and the role of science in understanding and mitigating potential risks.

The Psychology of Gaming

Tryggvi Hjaltason

Tryggvi, with a background in behavioral science, emphasized the intricate design of gaming systems. He articulated how games, at their core, are systems created to produce enjoyable outcomes. These systems encompass competition, collaboration, and incentive structures that can influence player behavior.

Drawing from his personal experience as a father of four, he stressed the importance of scrutinizing the type of games players engage with, especially when considering the potential impact on younger audiences.

Tryggvi explained:

“A lot of mobile games are structured around a hook model that’s essentially a gambling model [at] its core, where it relies a lot on collecting something.

 

“There is a variable reward system where you unlock packages, open up crates, chests, or something like that, or there’s a roulette spinning or something.”

According to Tryggvi, these systems are not healthy, particularly for young children and people prone to gambling addiction.

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On the other hand, games like Minecraft encourage players to collaborate and work with each other can be productive.

“Those can be super healthy for people, and I would encourage people, especially if lonely or if they want to challenge their mind etcetera, can be a really healthy space to interact in.”

Game Design and Responsibility

Tryggvi argues that developers are responsible for recognizing and rectifying elements that may lead to unhealthy behavior, especially among vulnerable populations.

“I think when you’re building a product, and you’re familiar with the incentive system, you’re using the marketing model, all these tools, you always have a responsibility to a degree.

 

“If you recognize that you’ve created something that, for the majority of your player base, is probably leading to unhealthy behavior, you have a responsibility to think like: ‘Okay, how can I improve?'”

Nevertheless, Tryggvi acknowledged that in recent years, numerous instances have arisen where game developers have recognized issues with their products.

These issues range from a toxic online community and gambling-related problems to an inappropriate player base comprising individuals too young for a game not designed for an immature audience, and so on.

“[In most cases, devs] have attempted to step in and rectify, and famous examples are like with League of Legends where they were trying to make healthier online communities, and so I think there is a responsibility there, but it’s not a sole responsibility.”

Balancing Act: Player Responsibility

Indeed, the senior strategist added that it is not healthy to completely absolve the player of all responsibility.

Tryggvi explained that, in numerous community discussions, instances have been extensively debated where individuals exhibit toxic behavior, such as using racial slurs or systematically targeting inexperienced players. In such cases, the responsibility falls squarely on the individual displaying such conduct.

Still, Tryggvi said he believes game developers should establish systems capable of filtering and addressing such behavior through measures like bans, consequences, or support to guide individuals toward more positive actions.

“There is a mixture of responsibilities for sure. I don’t know where the percentage lies, but I would hope both the player and the developer in this case would attempt to alleviate it.”

A Potential Solution

According to the Senior Strategist, a critical lesson learned by CCP Games over the last few years is that fostering extremely addictive negative behavior among players isn’t conducive for either the company or the community in the long term.

While it might lead to a short-term revenue spike, intentionally designed for repetitive, gambling, grinding behaviors that consume people’s lives tends to be unhealthy for all parties involved over time.

As a result, the company’s approach has been to actively steer clear of such mechanisms and system building, particularly since CCP Games’ main product EVE Online has been running since 2003.

“Over such a long time, you learn that being able to build a system that players find meaning in, that helps them connect with others, that allows them to build something together where you feel like you’re seen, where you feel like your contribution matters, you’re put in a position where you can help others.”

Because of this, Tryggvi believes that the ultimate long-term longevity for games lies in building on principles that are healthy across the board. Such principles not only benefit the player and the community but also prove advantageous for the developer, leading to improved revenue and overall business success.

“I’m a romantic in this view, that overall the gaming community, the gaming world is moving more towards this, because that’s where the lessons point at.”

Trends and Initiatives

Discussing wider industry trends, Tryggvi then identified various initiatives aimed at fostering positive gaming environments, directly mentioning CCP Games’ Council of Stellar Management.

“We allow players to run for office basically, and they’re voted in by other players, and then they become a representative of the player community to the developers.

 

“We have meetings with them, and there, they have an official venue to reach out to us and flag stuff to us.”

Tryggvi highlighted that, through this initiative, players have frequently raised concerns in the past, noting instances of unhealthy behavior emerging due to certain systems or promotions.

“Since we did this, I don’t know if we were the first in the world, but I do believe so. This has happened in a lot of major MMO games where they have this kind of player democracy in place; that’s one element of it.”

Tryggvi also mentioned the rising prominence of female developers and gamers, which seems to point to a concerted effort within the industry to address toxicity and enhance inclusivity.

“If you would just contrast the average [online gaming] session today to then years ago, I honestly think you would be like: ‘Wow, this is a huge difference in just how healthy the dialogue is, how helpful players are being, and just how generally people reach out to each other, etcetera.'”

Building Healthy Connections

Tryggvi shared his vision for the future of gaming technologies. He passionately advocated for games to become platforms that facilitate healthy, meaningful connections among players.

“Reddit and Twitch stream communities are excellent platforms for this, and increasingly, developers are reaching out to these communities,” he said.

Tryggvi noted that in the last couple of years, whenever considerations for something new in EVE arose, either he or other developers have participated in various Twitch streams to discuss the ideas.

They then received a plethora of feedback and comments, which were then taken back to their teams for thorough review and analysis.

Collaboration with higher education institutions is also a great avenue to foster healthier connections in the games industry. Back in 2021, CCP Games partnered with the University of Iceland to offer courses studying the science of friendship and video games.

The Bottom Line

“I think games are an excellent, excellent tool and the perfect platform to build interesting, engaging, meaningful connections with other humans,” Tryggvi said.

Players possess agency in determining the pace at which they engage in connections when playing games. This includes the extent to which they reveal themselves, including vulnerability. It allows them to decide how far and how meaningful they want their interactions to be.

“Games have the capacity to do this in a much more fine-tuned way than almost any other human connection you can find,” Tryggvi concluded.

“That’s where I’m investing my time and my strength because I do believe there’s a lot of exciting fruits that we haven’t harvested yet on that journey.”

About Tryggvi Hjaltason

Tryggvi Hjaltason is a Senior Strategist for CCP Games and runs product for the Homefront Initiative in EVE Online, which has a long-term goal of onboarding and connecting players so that all EVE players can have opportunities to play and progress together in an environment of purposeful friendship.

He joined CCP in 2015 and, among other things, led Team Genesis in re-vamping the New Player Experience (NPE).

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Alessandro Mascellino

Alessandro is a multimedia journalist who has spent five years freelancing for several publications, including Techopedia, Infosecurity Magazine, The Independent, and Android Police. Specializing in the realms of emerging technology and video games, he has recently established his own game studio. As a narrative designer, he specializes in creating games where your choices shape the unfolding story, and is is currently working on a game project.