Sid Meier’s “One More Move” Phenomenon

Civilization games are turn-based historical strategy games in which the player controls the development of civilization over the millennia from the Stone Age to the Space Age. The user explores the world, builds international relations, makes scientific discoveries, conducts military operations. Civilization is associated with the “one more move” phenomenon. Games are so addictive that many users spend a lot of time in them, being late for work meetings and forgetting about sleep. Under the cut, we will analyze what made the Civilization games so exciting.

What is another phenomenon?

Sid Meier, the game’s developer, didn’t expect Civilization to be this fun. Already after the release of the game, letters began to come to the studio. In them, the players said that they could spend the whole night behind the strategy without noticing it.

The developers decided to figure out what is the reason for this effect. It turned out that in Civilization there is always some kind of cliffhanger. The very passage of the campaign in Civilization can be imagined as a long timeline, which consists of many microstories. These plots are not written by the writers – they naturally arise due to the sandbox gameplay. Anything can be such microhistory: a war between states, the construction of a road between cities, the conclusion of a peaceful alliance. And people most often strive to complete the story, close the gestalt and get a holistic experience.

But the peculiarity of Civilization is that microstories unfold in parallel to each other. As soon as the player gets to the middle of one, another begins. Because of this, there is never a good moment in Civilization to stop. Something is bound to happen every few turns, so the player doesn’t want to end the playthrough until they know how the story ends.

Another feature of Civilization is that these microstories vary greatly in length. Due to the fact that game goals vary significantly in scope, they take different amounts of time to achieve. It may take several turns to complete one task and complete the microstory, while achieving another goal may take the whole game.

Short term goals are small and insignificant accomplishments that have no long-term consequences. This is the creation and movement of a unit, the construction of a section of the road, and so on. Such actions lead to medium term goals: the foundation of the city, the development of technology, the study of the surrounding lands.

Largest and most significant – long term goals. They have lasting consequences that affect the overall course of history. This is the end of the war, the capture of the continent or the passage of the campaign.

Since all events in the game occur in parallel, the player’s focus and aspirations are constantly moving from one goal to another. Founded a new city → you have to go to protect the previous one from attack. Decided to explore the area → found a neighbor who sells a useful resource. Just finished the war → it’s time to transfer forces to another front to defend against a new threat.

All this happens at the same time, the player’s attention is constantly jumping from one event to another. There is no pause in Civilization after completing a stage, because the whole process is continuous.

The player sets his own goals

Another distinguishing feature of Civilization is that the world in the game is a giant “sandbox” – the player can freely interact with systems and often get unpredictable results. The game has an ultimate goal – to win in one of several ways. Otherwise, Civilization does not tell the player what to do – he decides what goals to achieve, what to strive for and how to play.

The peculiarity of human psychology lies in the fact that it is more interesting for him to fulfill the tasks that he has set for himself than those imposed. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

At external motivation a person achieves a goal due to external factors such as receiving a reward. At work, a person performs the task that was assigned to him, and then acquires something of value. The problem with the approach is that motivation lasts as long as there is a reward. If it disappears, then the desire to complete the task will also disappear.

At intrinsic motivation a person tries to achieve the goal because of his own desire. It might just be fun. Hobbies interest us due to intrinsic motivation. Compared to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation is much stronger and lasts longer. It is less dependent on external factors, therefore it remains constant.

Civilization focuses on the intrinsic motivation of the player. He decides what to do: attack the nearest neighbor and try to destroy his empire, establish a city in a place he likes, or occupy an important sea channel. Everything comes from the desires and goals of the user himself.

If the player is limited and given clear instructions for passing, then he stops experimenting with mechanics. If you remove the instructions, then the user will have to play with the systems on their own and try to understand how the game world works.

This approach has a side effect. If there are no clear goals and instructions in the sandbox, then the player is lost. In this case, the Civilization series has internal clues. It’s a gentle way to push players to complete certain tasks while still keeping them intrinsically motivated.

There are still some elements in Civilization that work on the external motivation of the player. A technology tree through which the player gradually unlocks important inventions of civilization. The tree, despite its branching, is a rigid structure, it resembles a series of classical tasks. This is a necessary measure so that the player’s progress is balanced, without being skewed into separate branches of technology development.

Meyer said that the idea to represent the development of human technology in the form of a tree came to him when he was reading a book about the achievements of civilization. The developer used this system to show how technology and human history are connected. Also, using this approach, players plan in which direction their civilization will move.

Different approach to problem solving

There are different ways to win in the Civilization series. If the user goes through the campaign again, he can try a different path and get a new experience.

This approach also opens up an additional opportunity for the player’s self-expression. He chooses the type of passage that best reflects his preferences.

There are six ways to win in Civilization VI:

  • military – you need to capture the capitals of other states;

  • scientific – you need to build the first colony on another planet;

  • cultural – it is necessary to ensure that the total number of international tourists in the empire exceeds the number of domestic tourists;

  • religious – the religion of the empire should become dominant for all major states;

  • diplomatic – it is reached by the leader at the World Congress;

  • by points – occurs if no other civilization has achieved any other victory by 2050.

The choice of the player reflects his personal desires, goals and needs. The choice of the way of passing is connected with the psychotype of the player – depending on it, the behavior in the game itself also changes.

Sociologists and psychologists are trying to formulate a correct classification of players’ psychotypes. The most common is the Bartle classification, which divided the players into “Careerists”, “Socialists”, “Killers”, “Researchers” (the essence of each psychotype is easily guessed by the name). This system was designed primarily for MUDthe forerunner of modern MMORPGs, and was not intended for widespread use.

In the context of Civilization, it is more interesting to consider theory of self-determination. It is based on three basic needs:

  • autonomy – the desire to control one’s own behavior,

  • competence – the desire to be effective in something,

  • connection with other people – the need to establish strong relationships.

Theorists Scott Rigby and Richard Ryan argued that these attributes are basic human needs that lead to motivation, growth, and purpose.

The Need for Competence associated with the desire to show their effectiveness and skill and gradually improve skills. Since people want to improve, in-game rewards are a testament to the effort put in.

Autonomy determines a person’s choice. People have a need for self-expression, so variety helps them express themselves.

The Need for Connectivity with other people is manifested in social games where users can interact with each other. But it can also manifest itself in single player games, if the user influences the game world, interacts with NPCs, determines the story.

Civilization allows the player to choose the style of passing and prove himself, act in accordance with internal settings. Without this, the user would experience frustration, and the severe restrictions imposed by the developers would only demotivate the players.


The Civilization series is addictive. The developers have found a unique formula for a truly exciting game, because of which the audience is ready to stay up at night. And the secret of “one more move” is quite simple: in Civilization, short-term, medium-term and long-term goals are cleverly combined, and the user himself determines the style of the game, based on his own preferences. All this works in such a way that the player wants to experiment with mechanics and can think through tactics dozens of moves ahead.

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