What’s the difference between a “core loop” and a “compulsion loop”?

Joseph Kim on Gamasutra has one of the better articles about “compulsion loops” in games.

Edit: see also my article on motivation loops.

I’m inclined to think that there’s something useful in the concept of a compulsion loop. But whether and how this concept differs from “core loops” I’m not sure.

Here’s Kim’s definition:

Compulsion loop: A habitual, designed chain of activities that will be repeated to gain a neurochemical reward: a feeling of pleasure and/or a relief from pain.

That sounds pretty good. I suspect it can be tightened up if someone were to put a more robust theory behind it, but it serves.

Here’s Kim’s definition of a “core loop”, which he says is different from a compulsion loop even though the two are often confused:

Core loop: The chain of activities associated with the primary user flow. What is the user primarily doing over and over again?

Hmm. So the differences are…

  • Compulsion loops are “habitual” and “designed” but core loops…aren’t?
  • Core loops are associated with the primary user flow and compulsion loops aren’t?
  • Users complete the activities in a compulsion loop to gain a neurochemical reward, but they complete the activities in a core loop to gain… something else?

I’m open to the possibility that there’s a useful distinction to be made here, but I don’t think Kim has yet satisfactorily made it.


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