Colours, Psychology and the Subconscious: What Makes Mobile Games Addictive?

Following hot on the heels of Angry Birds, Candy Crush Saga, and Flappy Bird, Desert Golfing is the new hottest mobile app around. Dubbed ‘the best worst game in the world’, the game has the player aim golf balls at holes on a rolling golf course that goes on forever. The game tallies your score as you progress, and eventually the score will improve as the player learns how to use the environment to their advantage. However, there’s no way for the player to start over with their new found knowledge, meaning they’re stuck with their meagre early scores forever.

Game dev Justin Smith says he prevented allowing the player to start over, as it ‘would sap the fun out of it.’ He also created an algorithm that created random courses infinitely, allowing players to keep going and going, even though Smith has asserted that there isn’t ‘anything of interest’ past the 3000th hole.

Reviews online show that players have become addicted to Desert Golfing, just a they became addicted other mobile games in the past. As the game isn’t free to play (an upfront fee of £1.19 on Android and £1.49 on iOS is required to play), it probably won’t see the same level of success as it’s peers. However, it displays some of the same characteristics that make these games so addictive.

So, why are these games just so popular? Dr. Simon Moore attempted to answer why this way by isolating six qualities the games have that inspire the ‘just one more go’ mentality.

One: You won’t have the gamer’s full attention.

Nic Williams of Lumo Developments explained that the developer must accept that the gamer won’t be giving their full attention to the game. They could be on the bus, cooking dinner, or playing with one eye on their favourite TV show. Therefore, the game should be playable with one hand, and playable even when you’re not paying full attention to it.

Two: Colours are everything

Almost all popular mobile games are an explosion of bright, primary colours, but they are always used carefully. Psychological research has shown that certain colours affect people in certain ways (i.e. people are often rated as more attractive when they’re placed against a red wall), so developers will use this to their advantage.

Three: They’re not too exciting

Moore notes that casual gamers aren’t looking for the same things from their games as console or PC gamers. More ‘hardcore’ gamers are looking for an intense emotional connection to their games, which leads to stress and withdrawal when the play session is over. Mobile app games, on the other hand, create ‘low positive emotion’, which doesn’t create such emotional highs and lows, leading the player being invested in the game for longer.

Four: Instant gratification

In traditional games, players are given a task and then rewarded when they complete it. In mobile gaming however, the player only games in short bursts, so the reward is given first and the task must be carried out first. It’s a quick way to get a casual player invested in the game at hand.

Five: Tapping into the conscious and subconscious

Any game worth it’s salt will get it’s players to make decisions on two levels. The first level is the ‘fight or flight’ response, where the player will decide to run or stand and fight, for example. The second taps into, essentially, how impatient a player is. Can they wait and save up the in game cash for better items and equipment?

Six: Cultural differences

Studies have shown that there are clear differences in way certain cultures play video games, and developers will use this to their advantage. There are also differences in the way we play based on anonymity. Anyone who’s spent time on Xbox Live will know that often anonymous players are much more aggressive than in real life. It’s also been found that female players will be more aggressive in team games if they are not identifiable as female.

And you thought you were just playing a match three game! Keep this in mind the next time you boot up Flappy Bird.

Posted in Blog & News.