I don’t have a lot of time to play video games anymore. I know, that must sound strange coming from the person writing for a video game news site, but it’s true. I’m a junior in an engineering curriculum in college; my free time in general is limited, my free time to play games is far slimmer. What this means for me—somebody who clearly loves games and the communities surrounding them—is that I have to pick the games I play wisely. While The Witcher might be perfect for the player looking for the most bang for buck, I would view it as an incredibly lengthy journey that I’d get about halfway through by the end of a semester.

I only came to grips with this fact last year, when I realized that most of my anticipated, huge open-world games had been left largely unplayed, gathering dust on my shelf. Don’t get me wrong; those games were wonderful experiences based on the little time I had with them, but I just didn’t have enough of it. The time I spent playing them made me want more, but that was actually a detriment: I didn’t have more time.

That was when I discovered Hearthstone. It was a simple to learn, free-to-play card game that I could play in tiny burst here and there or marathon for a few hours, getting packs and experience. I realized that what I had been looking for was a type of game in which I could play using my limited time, but still get the satisfaction I used to get from playing every game that struck my fancy.

In typical Blizzard fashion, playing their one game naturally made me go to another one of their games: Diablo 3. After constantly seeing it displayed on my Battle.net sidebar, I decided to check it out. I studied up a bit before playing—I’m a science guy, after all, I do a lot of research—and then got the complete package for PS4. Within hours, I was hooked. You see, Diablo 3 does a lot right for the player who only pops in now and then. I never felt punished, because frankly the game is quite easy on the first run-through. On top of that, the game doesn’t need to explain too much because its systems are so streamlined: this piece of loot is better than that piece of loot because the number is bigger and it has magic, so you should use it. That’s what my time in Diablo has often boiled down to.

Let’s hold on a minute. Loot. I mentioned loot. Loot is the satisfaction I had been looking for. Loot is the one thing that makes me go to bed at 4 in the morning instead of 3. Loot leaves me feeling accomplished, rather than making me feel like there’s something more only if I play thirty more hours. Even when I only played an hour at a time, I was always assured loot. I would see those colored bubbles and a devilish smile would cross my face. I felt like I had pulled one over on the game. “Heh, I’ve only played ten minutes and I already got three pieces of gear. Stupid game. Doesn’t even know I’m logging off in twenty.”

Loot-based games are clearly meant to hook the player with the promise of more loot. It’s a clever tactic that clearly works—not a criticism, it certainly worked on me—but it also does more than that. If the game is fun, I often forget that my “main” purpose is getting loot. Instead I just enjoy the game. I play when I can and that loot always comes as a surprise, that little reward for playing. It makes me feel accomplished when I shut it down and excited when I turn it on. And it makes me crave more loot.

After getting knee-deep into Diablo, I decided to purchase Destiny. The same effect has taken hold. I’ll wind up playing three story missions before I realize that I should go to bed…but then I remember that patrols are shorter than actual missions. The cycle continues.

Loot games are the perfect bite-sized experiences for the gamers with little time but a need for feeling accomplished. Games like Diablo and Destiny constantly reward players for just playing the game. Whether that be for hours and hours or for twenty minutes at a time, I always feel like I’ve done something. And when you have only a precious few times for games, sometimes that’s the only thing you need.

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