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How free mobile games are designed to make money

July 21,2016 18:05

The "freemium" business model allows us to use an app for free with the option to purchase additional features. In the case of games, that model can fundamentally alter the user experience, from gaming to getting gamed.



by Joss Fong and Dion Lee on July 21, 2016

The "freemium" business model allows us to use an app for free with the option to purchase additional features. In the case of games, that model can fundamentally alter the user experience, from gaming to getting gamed.

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I never understood why anyone would spend real money on virtual goods in a video game. Apps like Candy Crush looked to me like slot machines, except without any hope of a payout.
So I downloaded Candy Crush while researching this video. It's a simple puzzle game with annoying music, bright colors, and lots of jarring sound effects. It wasn't especially fun. But within 24 hours:

I got stuck on level 22 and didn't want to wait the half-hour that it takes for a life to regenerate. Suddenly $4.99 seemed like a great deal for 50 gold bars. What else would I spend that money on? A couple packs of gum? Aren't lives worth more than gum?
So I get it now.
By collecting troves of data on how users play their games, developers have mastered the science of applied addiction. And with the rise of "freemium" games that rely on micro-transactions, they have good reason to deploy the tools of behavioral psychology to inspire purchases.
In the video above, I spoke to Jamie Madigan, author of a blog, podcast, and book about the psychology of video games. We take a look at some of the mind tricks that some of these games use to convert players into payers.

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