Most of us would have heard of — and played — Candy Crush or Clash of Clans; they are two of the top grossing mobile games of 2015. But have you ever wondered how these free games manage to rake in around 1,004,840 USD a day, or why you can’t seem to put down your mobile phone (in class, at work, or on the MRT) whenever you’re playing those games?
As it turns out, there is a science behind your mobile gaming addiction. Here are some ways in which game developers appeal to you — and take your money along the way.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Imagine a game like, say, Halo 5. Once it releases and you get your hands on it, you immediately enter “The Zone”, completing the epic campaign in a mad marathon of over 24 hours. Soon, your mental endurance runs out; you put down your controller and crash.
But games like Candy Crush, Clash of Clans and even the infamous FarmVille have devised a little trick to keep you hooked — they make you wait. You long for the next chance to swipe at those mouth-watering sweets, collect your strawberries or train your soldiers. In Candy Crush, for example, you get five lives to blast away at your candy. Once you die, you must wait for 30 minutes before you can try again.
By forbidding you to play, you look forward to getting back to the game; you always end the game with the notion of “coming back later”. When you do, you are well-rested, ready to go, and in a prime state of mind to fully enjoy the game. This causes dopamine — a compound in your body that reinforces behaviour — to be released intermittently.
A Sweet Escape
Let’s face it, our generation has the attention span of a goldfish. Most of us can’t concentrate on given tasks for extended periods of time (at least that means we’re multi-taskers, right?).
We seek distraction in our monotonous lives: whether you are a student or a working adult, these little games give us intermittent breaks that aren’t too time-consuming, letting us have a short respite from our books and mind-numbing roles as keyboard warriors. What’s more, these games don’t require extreme concentration; they are easy to grasp and can be managed even as we work on other tasks.
The Social Experience
Nobody wants to do anything alone anymore. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, the urge to boast of our high scores or to compete with our peers is simply irresistible. Whether it’s about challenging your friends to a duel or sieging his base with barbarians, the ability to link up and interact with our friends online have become more appealing than meeting face-to-face.
Go out for coffee? Nah, let’s just sell carrots to each other on Farmville.
Most popular games are free-to-play. There are no upfront costs you need to pay; just dive right in…to a world of addiction. Of course, if you want to level up fast, beat your friends, or take the easy way out, all you have to do is fork out a minuscule amount of money. You’ll get to feel like the king of the world with you powerful boosts and speed ups, all while enjoying a reduced waiting time.
In this digital age where we crave immediacy above all else, time is money — quite literally.
It Never Ends
The most addictive games aren’t first person shooters or adventure games; they are massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Think MapleStory, World of Warcraft and so on. You don’t defeat the bad guy and live happily ever after. Instead, you level up continuously in a never-ending spiral. The harder it gets to level up, the more time you invest in collecting “experience points” to get to Level 141 to become a master of the game, but to what end? Oh wait, there is no end.
The next time you pick up that mobile device and start swiping away at jelly beans and gummy bears, think about how game developers are luring you to invest your most precious asset — time — into “building your barbarian empire” or becoming King of Candyland. That said, if you, like us, crave that intermittent burst of dopamine to saturate your neural receptors with happiness, swipe ahead.