Infinite Treadmill

Impossible to win or complete the game.

Many great games can be completed. You beat the final boss, the game is over and you get a feeling of satisfaction. A game with an Infinite Treadmill cannot be completed and never gives you that sense of satisfaction. You can play forever, constantly leveling up and improving, but never reaching the end. This is a very common pattern seen in multiplayer online games, and many people enjoy these types of games. However, for some people this can be a dark pattern, especially when combined with Recurring Fees or other types of In-App Purchases.

People have a psychological need to complete something that they have started. This is called Endowed Progress or the "Zeigarnik effect". The urge to complete something that can't be completed causes some people to play the game forever, even after they have become bored with the game.

Sometimes games are designed such that there is no way to complete them. You may beat an individual level, but you can play an infinite number of levels and keep earning benefits forever. For a game to fall into this category there must be some overarching progression that extends beyond individual levels. For example, a simple game of chess against the computer would not count as an Infinite Treadmill unless winning or losing an individual match had some reward or repercussion that carried over into the future matches. Many multiplayer combat games are designed like this. You can always start a new battle, and your success allows you to improve your character in future battles.

Another way that developers implement an Infinite Treadmill is by continually expanding the game and adding new content. It might be possible to complete everything in the game right now, but soon the developers will release new levels and extend the game. As long as the developers are still working on the game, new content will continually be added and the players will need to keep playing the game if they want to complete it. Nobody is saying that you have to complete it, but the Fear of Missing Out is a strong motivation to keep playing to see what happens.

Additionally, if someone is already bored with a game and a new event is announced, the player may stick around to see if the new event rekindles their enjoyment in the game in which they have already invested significant time and money.


Examples

The Battle Cats The Battle Cats
"The game is so large that it always expands faster than I can complete it"

War Robots Multiplayer Battles War Robots Multiplayer Battles
"the game puts 10 new super robots before you can complete blueprint of them, while money spending players can enjoy everything"

The Walking Dead: Survivors The Walking Dead: Survivors
"Non stop season after seasons of PvP focused content"

Temple Run Temple Run
"It's an endless runner game, maybe the earliest example of one. You run in place, and try to go farther than you did last time"

Life Makeover Life Makeover
"There are always new events with new clothes that can't be gained without paying"

Tap Away Tap Away
"I mean yeah I don't think the levels ever end"

Purrfect Tale Purrfect Tale
"There are tons of chapters in the storyline that you get invested in but it drags the storyline out with so much fluff it's crazy and infuriating"

Crush Crush Crush Crush
"New limited time events, characters, and outfits are constantly getting added to the game"

Geometry Dash Geometry Dash
"Is almost entirely a user generated content game. Levels are "rated" or officially recognised to give out rewards every day."

Last Fortress Last Fortress
"Only players paying tens of thousands of dollars are “strong” in the game. They are always adding new elements to pay for so it never ends"