Game developers are really good at influencing your behavior. They have become masters at using behavioral psychology and data to change how you spend your time and money. If your kids plays any mobile or console games, you need to teach them how to deal with these influences. If you don’t, you may find it has a real world cost.
One thing parents need to understand is that the way game developers make money has changed dramatically in the last five years. As a kid, I remember vividly going to Walmart and shelling out $45 that I saved for a Nintendo game. In doing this, I got a game that I could use for forever without investing another dollar. Today’s economics of gaming are not this way. Almost all games have adopted the Freemium model.
The Freemium model is where it costs you nothing to start playing a game, but to progress in the game you will need to pay money to either unlock areas or capabilities of the game. In most cases, game developers make much more money this way. In this approach, they drive revenue in-app purchases along with ad revenue. Another approach is where players can use in-app purchases to advance in the game without having to play to earn specific achievements or items. While this can provide a sense of achievement, users who take advantage of this almost always make additional purchases.
Development organizations maximize their revenue by relying on intense analytics and testing of features to let your behavior determine what is the most profitable. Every time you are playing one of these games, you are probably having multiple “tests” run on your behavior.
Driving Daily Use
While this change in approach by game developers isn’t an unethical one, some developers are pushing the limits of what is reasonable.
To illustrate this concept, I wanted to show you one particular game that has been popular in our home. Angry Birds 2 is one of the Top 50 grossing games currently on the iOS app store. One of the reasons I want to highlight this game is that they have utilized most every tactic to drive daily engagement. While my kids seemed immune at most of these approaches, their most recent edition challenged their resistance.
In a recent release, they added the concept of a “hatchling”. This is a bird that needs to be fed with “apples” (which can be earned by playing the game). If the bird isn’t fed, its condition worsens, and it will eventually leave your flock. You can see our hatchling’s sad face in the image below. This approach certainly elicits more of an emotional response than their other attempts, and it seems to be focused at younger audiences.
The increasing challenge here is that unless you play the game extremely often, you won’t find enough apples to feed your bird. This means you’ll either play more (increasing ad revenue) or purchase the needed apples (in-app purchase). In both cases, this change is designed to have you (and this particular approach seems to be focused at kids) investing in the game at a much deeper level.
In our family, we had to have a discussion about how it wouldn’t make sense for us to spend real money to support our “digital” hatchling. It opened up the door for us to have a great discussion around how we (as a family) spend our money and whether it is a good investment to spend it on “digital” items.
Why should this matter to you? It matters because especially younger kids can fall victim to these tricks of behavioral psychology. If your kids regularly play games that have in-app purchases, we recommend setting a monthly entertainment budget (of a very modest amount) that your kids can use in pre-approved ways. There isn’t anything wrong with supporting the game developers that build games you play regularly, but for many kids they simply don’t correlate the dollars spent on digital items with their real world cost.
Much of this can be solved by playing games alongside your kid. If they are presented with an opportunity to purchase something or watch an online ad for some aspect of the game, you can help them understand what is happening behind the scenes.
In an article later this week we’ll be tackling another gaming approach that you need to be aware of: loot boxes.