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This is why collecting is a powerful mechanic for game developers

by AppLovin on May 23, 2019

The collection mechanic is popular in a wide range of games across genres and platforms. From collecting weapons to rare cars, players seem instinctively drawn to building collections within games. Understanding the psychology behind collecting behavior can help developers find innovative ways to attract, satisfy, and retain players while generating more revenue.

People are hardwired to collect and seek new stimuli

Psychologists haven’t reached consensus about why humans collect, but many believe it is a continuation of our hunting-gathering instincts. Today, it’s not necessary to gather resources to survive, so our instinctual drive to collect finds other expressions—such as gaming. Others argue that collecting comforts existential anxieties by allowing people to live on in the objects they collect. For gamers, building a collection of in-game items could simply be for bragging rights or the satisfaction of completing a goal.

The quest for new stimuli is another reason people collect. This evolutionary strategy once helped our ancestors survive by acquiring new information about an environment—such as the sights and sounds of potentially dangerous animals.

In gaming, new stimuli keeps players engaged with the element of surprise. An increasing number of developers are bringing novelty to collecting by letting gamers win unexpected items, called gacha, named after the capsule-toy vending machines.

Gamers want a sense of achievement throughout their gaming journey

Game developers use the collection mechanic to keep players engaged on their way to a bigger achievement like unlocking a new level or reaching a plot point. For example, players can collect weapons in a Role-Playing Game (RPG) to help their characters get ready for an upcoming boss battle.

Casual games often use metagaming (a game within a game), to add an extra layer of depth and accomplishment to their games beyond the core gameplay. For example, the main goal of the popular mobile game Drive and Park is to park as many cars as possible, but gamers also collect different cars with different abilities throughout the journey. This adds complexity and challenge, which keeps players coming back for more as they strive for the highest score.

Gamers value what they own

Another powerful way to keep players engaged is by leveraging the endowment effect, our impulse to value what we own. By collecting items in a game, players are given a sense of increased personal worth that fuels deeper engagement with a game. Nintendo cleverly makes collecting an in-game and physical experience with its Amiibo toys, allowing players to import special characters into their games via a near field communication (NFC) chip built into the figurines.

A win for players is a win for developers

By increasing motivation and rewarding players with additional layers of accomplishment,  the collection mechanic helps increase engagement and retention. With a loyal customer base comes increased revenue as players complete in-app purchases and consume ads on the path to growing their treasured collections.