«According to the studies, the two things that consistently correlate with enjoyment and long-term engagement were the extent to which a game supported a player’s feelings of autonomy and competence.
To put it another way, players stick with games that allow them to overcome obstacles, acquire mastery, feel effective and have choice about the actions and strategies they take. This may not seem like news to game designers, but the fact that violence isn’t an additional factor fostering enjoyment, certainly is».
In short, engagement boils down to the fulfillment of what are called the three basic psychological needs (ie. pillars of motivation identified by Self-determination Theory: autonomy, competence and relatedness). While studies to date have only targeted two of the three basic needs (autonomy and competence), it’s easy to see how the third one, relatedness, would account for some of the stickiness of social and multiplayer games. Stay tuned for research on that.
What we need is new creativity and innovation in game writing and design combined with game mechanics that foster the heck out of a player’s sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness.