Mobile gaming is a huge business – Tweaktown estimates the 2017 market size of the mobile game industry was over US$108 billion. Gaming has come a long way from the simple but hugely popular Snake game.
The increased sophistication, aesthetics and complexity have led to explosive growth of the gaming industry. And behind the huge success of epic games like Pokemon Go, PUBG or Angry Birds or even direct puzzle games like Hashstash’s Huerons is the fact that these game designers understand human psychology like few can imagine.
Here’s four ways game designers use psychology in mobile and video games:
1. Game designers play the loss aversion card
In his celebrated book Influence, Robert Cialdini notes “The tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses than to possible wins is one of the best-supported findings in social science.”
What loss aversion means:
It means exactly as the term suggests: people strongly dislike loss and try their best to avoid it. Loss of something of a certain quantum produces much stronger reactions than the gain of the same thing of equal quantum.
Imagine two situations: one in which you realize you’ve gained $20, while in the other you realize you’ve lost $20.
Ideally, since the value is the same ($20), both should produce equal reactions (though opposite in nature).
Research shows that is not the case.
Humans are impacted more deeply by loss than by a gain. So in the above case, the loss of $20 produces a much stronger feeling than the gain of $20. People actually try hard to avoid the loss.
How do game designers use loss aversion:
Loss aversion is arguably the most used psychology hack in game design and F2P (Free to Play) games are perhaps the best examples.
For example, games reward you for regularly playing the game with a Daily Bonus, which usually gets better with every day. If the player misses playing the game for a day, their Daily Bonus streak is reset and they lose the next exciting bonus items that they might have gotten. This fear of losing out on bonus items makes you play the game regularly (and begin making in-app purchases, sooner or later).
2. Game designers bank upon scarcity and exclusivity
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.” – Groucho Marx.
What scarcity and exclusivity means: Humans value stuff that is in short supply. Things that are scarce typically carry a higher value. If entrance to an event, a party or a club includes only a small number of people and excludes all others it is valuable (which is why it’s called exclusive!).
How game designers use scarcity and exclusivity: Who doesn’t remember the Witch, the Baby Dragon or the Giant Skeleton from Clash Royale?
That’s because these are parts of epic cards in Clash Royale. They’re available only to players who have spent a substantial time playing the game. And besides, they are unpredictable in their showing up. Which makes it exclusive. You want these cards too? Well, play more of Clash Royale!
3. Game designers exploit the desire for mastery
Instant gratification in gaming is also associated with adulation or praise from others. That message from the game saying “Congratulations! Your marksman skill have improved!” is instant gratification. It comes from someone other than the player.
A desire for mastery, on the other hand, is something more internal. The game doesn’t explicitly tell you that you’ve mastered a skill, but you realize it.
What desire for mastery means: Humans have come a long, long way, from the cave-dwelling half-man half-beast to today’s civilized, most evolved being. One of the key driving forces is the human desire for mastery.
In the pre-historic days, the desire to master the surroundings helped humans fight every odd, be it wild animals, inclement weather or harsh geographies. Today, we see it in everything we do – we want to master a coding language, an outdoor game, a sales pitch, or even the daily crossword challenge.
We all have that deep desire to improve, become better and ultimately be a master of whatever we choose to pursue.
How game designers use desire for mastery: Role-play games often do this beautifully. Consider The Legend of Zelda (LoZ), for instance.
The central task mostly consists of Link having to rescue the Princess Zelda. The game-play involves a lot of exploration, thrilling action and puzzle-solving for the player to be successful in their quest.
As the player proceeds in the game, they face various new challenges. Along with these new challenges, the player realizes their abilities increase too. Sometimes the player is rewarded with objects that will prove helpful down the line. At other times, the player sees an increase in Link’s abilities when they solve certain riddles.
To the player, this increase in abilities is the mastery they have developed. Every new armor, every new sword, every new charm signifies the player has mastered a certain level of a skill. It makes the player feel not just more efficient but also more in control, since they know they have better abilities to handle unforeseen dangers.
4. Game designers use appointment mechanics and create habits
As more and more games and app crowd play stores and markets, the real challenge isn’t just about creating an amazing game. The challenge is also about getting noticed by players and staying at the top of their mind. The biggest challenge is to keep players returning to your game not once, but regularly, week after week.
What is appointment mechanics: Appointment mechanics is making players remind themselves about playing the game. It’s about players themselves setting up a daily appointment with their devices so that they can come back to your game.
What are the alternatives? You could send them daily emails – if you have their email addresses and their permission. That’s not feasible. How about Google or Facebook ads? Sure, you should use them, but you don’t have unlimited funds to you quickly reach a limit on how much you can spend on ads.
How game designers use appointment mechanics: What’s the first thing you are likely to do when you get up in the morning? Check your mailbox, Facebook or Twitter notifications even as you get out of the bed?
Once you’re committed to the app, Gmail, Twitter or Facebook don’t have to remind you – you keep revisiting the app yourself. That’s appointment mechanics in action for you.
These were some of the many psychology tools game designers use. Sometimes, you can learn from what successful games have used and try and apply it to your games. Most other times, you’ll have to test and measure how players respond to these mechanics – always remember to respect the privacy rights of app users.
As the human mind continues to become sharper and more conscious, newer tools and fresh understanding will keep helping game designers craft more powerful, and addictive games.
Guest Post by Mayank Batavia
Mayank Batavia is a freelance content writer and a blogger. His areas of interest include email marketing, regulations that dictate the use of technology and gaming. He also runs a technology blog – Almostism. He loves Murphy’s laws, except the ones that are true.