Mobile Games - The Addictive Time Sink

Say the word addiction and what comes to mind? Drugs. Cigerettes. Gambling. Everybody knows about these. And how dangerous they can be.

Well, they've been around for decades and we've had a chance to see the repercussions on a large scale. Everybody either knows, or is addicted to one of these things. And we've all experienced first hand, or heard stories of just how destructive they can be. 

Here's something that you probably won't often find in that category.

Candy Crush.

Ok so sure you might hear somebody say "Omg I'm like, so addicted to Candy Crush
right now
". But its not REALLY addiction right?

As of November 2017 Candy Crush currently has 293 million active users

That's more people than the entire populations of Canada, Australia, The UK, France and Spain combined. 

This game must really be something incredible. It must have an incredibly compelling story line, or state of the art graphics or the most exciting thrilling game play you could ever imagine. Right?

Here's a screenshot of Candy Crush in action. 

Candy Cruch.jpg

Wow uh.. This looks.. Great...?

The graphics are..quite basic. The gameplay is, somewhat like tetris, but different. And instead of blocks, we have pieces of fucking candy. The storyline? Candy (That is crushed).

Today we have video game graphics becoming incredibly realistic. Gameplay is becoming more immersive than ever. And virtual reality gaming is starting to take us into Matrix-like simulations

And THIS is one of the most popular games in the world? 

You cant be serious.

And it gets even more crazy.

Candy Crush brings in $230 million in revenue every single year. 

How can such a simple game be so popular and so incredible profitable?

And come on, a childrens game like this can't honestly be compared to drugs and cigarettes. Don't be silly.

 

DOPAMINE

 

You've probably heard of dopamine by now. It's one of those rare scientific words that sneaks it's way into mainstream culture. 

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. What this means is that it sends messages between nerve cells in the brain. Dopamine is the brain's reward system. As the human brain evolved a reward mechanism evolved to help humans survive. Dopamine feels good. Somebody sitting around being lazy is not going be rewarded with dopamine. If he gets off his ass goes and hunts down a wild boar and brings it home for dinner for his family, his brain will reward him with an increase in dopamine. Which will make him feel fantastic. 

Dopamine tells your brain that you've succeeded in some way. It's like when you give your dog a little treat after its done a trick. Good boy! 

Any activity that is beneficial to survival will activate a dopamine response. Eating, sex, exercise or eliminating an angry bear that's attacking your camp. Over millions of years, the individuals who had a strong dopamine response would be more likely to survive. Millions of years later, we have the modern human. Most of us have a finely tuned dopamine response in our brain. 

In the modern world, dopamine can be manipulated. Cocaine forcefully increases dopamine, which leads to a euphoric feeling. As do cigarettes and masturbation. 

And then you have mobile games. 

 

THE DOPAMINE SHOT

 

The term "Dopamine shot" is a common phrase among game developers. They know that many of the most successful games will cause the player to experience a hit of dopamine. 

The game developers of Candy Crush have purposefully implemented this technique into the game 

Here's what happens when you do achieve something in Candy Crush.

Sweet.jpg

"Sweet!".

It may as well be saying "Good boy!"

At first glance this might seem like a querky little side-note of the game. A fun little phrase to make the game more enjoyable.

But it's so much more than that.

This is a "Dopamine Shot". 

And this was purposefully put into the game by the designers knowing that it would produce a dopamine spike in the brain.

As well as the game giving you compliments, they're also sure to include numbers appearing each time you "crush" a candy. Numbers that are accompanied by an extremely satisfying sound effect. All designed to give you a nice dopamine shot. 

 

THE ADDICTION

 

"Dopamine shots" are highly addictive. Here's why.

 

Your brain is neuroplastic. This means that throughout your entire life it is constantly creating new synaptic pathways. AKA. Habits. 

Keep doing the same action over and over and it becomes a habit.

Now if every time Candy Crush compliments you "Delicious!", you get a nice dopamine hit, your brain is going to create a synaptic pathway to play Candy Crush. The more you play the game, the more entrenched this synaptic pathway becomes. Very quickly, playing Candy Crush becomes a habit. 

Your brain now expects you to be playing Candy Crush. And expects the dopamine shots that the game gives you. So begins the cravings. 

Now this is no joke. Just because the game seems innocent that doesn't make it so.

There are serious reports of mothers ignoring their children to play Candy Crush. People spending their savings on the in-game purchases. Which we will get onto later. 

Now to be sure, it's not that Candy Crush just HAPPENS to be highly addictive. No. The game designers PURPOSEFULLY designed it that way. 

They know that the dopamine shots they build into the game are highly addictive. That's why they include them.

 

THE MONEY SINK

 

Then you have the waiting times.

Candy Crush gives you a limited amount of lives. Once they run out, the game makes you wait for a certain amount of time before you can play. Either you wait, or you pay an innocent little fee of $0.99.

CC waiting times.jpg

This is just cruel.

And yet it's going to produce a massive amount of income.

People are going to pay the fee because their brain is craving for the next dopamine shot that the game provides. 

The price of $0.99 chosen very carefully. 1 cent less than a whole dollar yet it seems so much less doesn't it. You can be sure if they asked players to pay a full $1 that a huge amount of players would stop paying. You can buy more time with a single press of that button. The payment doesn't even feel real. 

This may as well be a psychological experiment. Except to be a participant you have to pay for the privilege. You're like the lab rat sucking on the bottle of cocaine. 

Game designers have found the perfect business model. Rather than charging players a one off payment to buy the game up front, they make the game "free" to get as many players onto the game as possible and then hook them into an addictive cycle. All while hiding this sick psychological trick under a cute name and bright innocent colours. 

Then you have the next piece of the addictive puzzle. The game is social. Allow players to compare scores and communicate. Now there is the added incentive of beating your friends, raising your global rank and maybe even being at the top of the high score league one day. On top of that, Candy Crush can be played within Facebook and allows them to share their progress with Facebook friends. 

And the final nail in the coffin? Its on your phone. Its accessible anytime and anywhere.

Now Candy Crush isn't the only game of it's kind. It's not even the most popular. There's Clash of Clans, Subway Surfers, Clash Royale and countless others, most of which using similar addictive techniques. 

Flappy Bird, a game that was previously making $50,000 a day in advertising revenue was taken off the market when the creator Dong Nguyen could no longer take the guilt of the addictions it was causing. When he took the game down he received a large number of death threats and players threatening to commit suicide. And again, this was Flappy Bird:

Flappy Bird Gameplay.jpg

People became suicidial over losing this? Really?

After the game was taken off the market it was quickly made available on the black market. Phones with Flappy Bird installed began selling for thousands of dollars. 

At this point you have to ask yourself, what is the difference between mobile games and drugs?

Not as big a difference as it would seem on the surface.

As the gaming industry continues to grow, people need to be aware of the the techniques game designers purposefully use to get players hooked. 

Don't pour hundreds of hours of your time into one of these addictive time sinks.