Video Games Addiction and Monetization

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22/03/19 Psychology Reference this

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Elements of Addiction and Monetization in Video Games: A look at what influences addiction in gamers

Summary

It is without question that gaming has become an addiction for millions of players around the world. The evolution of video game development and sales has changed much over its lifespan. Developers and publishers have capitalized on this by pushing new forms of monetization and addictive elements to captivate players and ensure they spend as much time and money as possible on their products. While the price of consoles has dropped over time accounting for inflation, the amount spent on games has gone up. Consoles are not the only platform to play games either. New titles across mobile, PC, and even handheld devices have changed and adapted to new formats and monetization.

The known elements of what makes players addicted to games are similar to that of gambling. Successful games elicit the response of challenge and reward and give the player a sense of accomplishment. There is also a great sense of being a part of a group in multiplayer games. This effectively makes players feel surrounded by people in the game world without the need of physical human interaction in the real world. There are still many unknowns about addiction however. Examples include how some people are more susceptible to addiction, why specific elements may make certain players addicted, but not others, and effective identification of those who are addicted from those who are not.

While researching and understanding the dozens of factors that go into game design, the conclusion that I have drawn is that the mobile gaming market is currently the most lucrative. It has the lowest barrier of entry, and a higher chance of success given the popularity of mobile gaming. Many gaming apps bring in tens and hundreds of millions of downloads due to the popularity of Android and iPhone devices. It is extremely rare to find people who still do not own a smartphone. The amount of exposure that mobile games get far outweighs that of other platforms. For a new company, there is a better chance of establishing credibility and success than the alternatives. Offering players the choice between ad-based rewards and paying for in-game currency is the current best form of monetization. The developer’s choices of genre, game elements, and target audience are secondary. Following the formula from successful mobile games will increase the chance of success for the company overall.

1.1 Intro to Problem

It is important to address the challenge of understanding your audience. Monetization and player feedback is important to any modern game development company. Gaming has taken a shift from the origin days of home consoles in the late 70s through 80s. Many developers have opted to maximize profits by enticing players to spend more. In-game currency, downloadable content (DLC), and cosmetic items are all effective monetization strategies. Developers and publishers want players to keep playing. Gameplay mechanics such as reward based challenges and replay value invoke emotional responses. This is a stark difference from the origin days of gaming. Several years ago, most games sold for $50. Gamers would play the game up to a point that they no long enjoyed it anymore. After that, they would move on and look for a new game to buy. Modern AAA games (games with high budgets) cost $60 and usually have DLC. It is now commonplace to see games with DLC amounting to $60 or more on top of the retail price to own the game. This means games can cost over $120 for the full experience. It is true that retail prices of games are cheaper now than they were in the past due to inflation. Yet the added hidden costs far surpass the price of any retail game that existed in the 80s. The biggest difference now is the sale price of consoles. Consoles are much cheaper now than they were 30 years ago. But consoles are not the only way to play games anymore.

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It is now possible to play games on several devices. Smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops, consoles. Even hand-held devices like the Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita. This gives players several options beyond the consoles and computers of the past. The forerunner console companies have stayed about the same for the past 20 years. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo control the market. Companies like Apple, Samsung, or LG manufacture smart phones and other devices. Yet they do not develop gaming apps. Instead, third-party developers create mobile games. They generate revenue by ads or player purchases within the game. Likewise, computer games have thousands of different developers, many of which are independent. Known as Indie developers, they are usually small teams that look to generate a buzz. While it is up to the developer or publisher on how to monetize their game, there has been a paradigm shift. Companies now want to generate the most amount of revenue possible through addicting game mechanics.

This will be a look into how the addictive qualities in games have changed. Examining the most popular games and genres and what makes them so popular. Analyzing how people can become addicted to playing games and how it becomes more than a hobby. Finally, how companies apply addicting game elements into modern titles.

1.2 Background/Brief History of Gaming

Most games in the late 70s made popular by Atari and ColecoVision focused on arcade-style gameplay. The goal was not to beat a game, but to see how long you could survive and score the most points. This was by far the most common element of games in arcades at the time. The reason behind this was that it meant people would have to spend a quarter every time they lost. At first, the transition to home consoles was booming. Atari sold millions of consoles and games for several years after its release. However, this booming market did not last forever. After years of games using the same formulas and a wealth of home consoles, people lost interest. There was an extreme over saturation in the market, and millions of people lost interest in gaming. A few years later, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) revolutionized the scene. This led to a new generation of games and game mechanics. Elements of video games released today still rely on metrics established in the 80s. There are several examples of changes that the NES made popular. There were now menus, pausing, saving, password systems. Games had more advanced controls, newer graphics, and more dynamic gameplay. There were even story elements, and an introduction to a new range of genres in video games. It changed everything people knew about gaming, and revitalized the industry.

Gamers of the 80s are now the parents of a new generation. The average age of a gamer is now 35 years old. [9] Older gamers get to share their love of gaming with their children. What was once a culture deemed only for social outcasts or nerds has turned into a phenomenon. The NES was one of the most influential consoles of the mid-1980s. It reinvigorated the gaming world after the video game crash of 1983 in North America. The primary focus of game development during this era was creating new challenges. It embarked players on adventures that would absorb them into a fantasy world. Classic games such as Mario and Zelda had unique stories and gameplay. It made players invest more time in the world and its lore. This led to kids discussing it at school and with friends. Which in turn lead to more parents buying the console and games for their children. If a game was good, it became popular which meant more sales.

1.3 Popular Modern Examples

Stepping into the 21st century, things have changed. There are games like Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, and the Madden series. There is also League of Legends, the Call of Duty (CoD) series. There is even The Sims series, and World of Warcraft. These titles have generated billions of dollars in combined revenue. Many of these games are part of a series that have been successful for years. If they were not successful, then they would no longer exist. When we look at the most popular genres of games, it is clear why. The most popular genres are shooters, action, role-playing, strategy, and casual games. Computer games lean more towards strategy, role-playing, and casual markets. [9 pp. 10] While these genres are the most popular, there are still sub genres that exist. Companies that get lucky may even monopolize them. Steam is a platform for PC, Mac, and Linux users. Millions of gamers use it daily. One such example on steam is farming simulator games. There are dozens of simulators on the Steam gaming platform. If you look at the store, the same developer has created every farming simulator on Steam. [10] If a company monopolizes on a specific genre, they own the market for that genre. Very few companies have attempted to surpass companies who control these monopolies. So what is it that makes so many people play these games?

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With the amount of content available to gamers, popularity plays a major role. The games that attract the most attention have the most players. Great examples of this are mobile games such as Clash of Clans and Candy Crush. Both titles have had extensive advertising campaigns. Following their advertising, they have generated millions in revenue every day. [7] If a company can then sustain that player base and make a name for themselves, they have greater potential. This is true for companies that manage Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGS). A survey found players more loyal to a company that supports privacy and improves their enjoyment. In turn, they are more likely to stay loyal to said company. [5] But when we look at these games at an individual level, what makes them so popular? Is it because of specific mechanics that attract more players? Alternatively, it may be because there is no other game that attempts to do what their game does. The Call of Duty series has been around for 14 years now, and there have been hundreds of other shooters since then. So why has the CoD series stayed so popular? A lot of it is brand recognition, but people are still addicted to the formula. People know they will get their money’s worth out of playing the multiplayer side of the game. Players are not worried about spending $60 or more every year on something they except to enjoy. While it is repetitive, they found a formula that works.

2.1 Addiction in Video Games

It should come as no surprise that video games have turned into an addiction for millions of players.  

“It is a cliché to state that computing, the Internet and gaming are now ubiquitous elements of daily life for most if not all people, particularly the young. The power and reach of the WWW most probably far exceeds any technology in humanity’s short but eventful history… In many ways, Internet Overuse/ Addiction is the ultimate post-modern affliction for the 21st Century.” [6]

In 2007, a Harris Poll found 8.5% of minors aged 8 to 18 addicted to gaming. [11] The poll asked gamers questions based on merits for gambling addicts. Unfortunately, very few studies are assessing addiction of players in the United States. A tremendous amount lot has changed in the 10 years since. As the population increases, so has the number of addicts.

Another serious look at gaming addiction is addiction treatment centers in China. They have created boot camps designed as a last-resort for addicts. In one camp in the Shandong Province, they use electroshock therapy on adolescents. More than 6,000 addicts now live at this addiction treatment center. [8] The purpose of the camps is to get adolescents away from the internet and gaming. The techniques they are using are questionable and causing China to step in. The Chinese government is now trying to regulate these camps. Their methods of reform are questionable and may even have negative effects. One of the patients killed their mother due to the abuse they received at the camp as an act of reprisal. They are also trying to pass legislation that imposes a curfew on the hours gamers could stay up playing. The law would prohibit them from playing anywhere from midnight to 8am. [8] While addiction in China is no doubt a major issue, perhaps their solution needs improvement.

When looking at the elements of what makes gambling an addiction, themes start to overlap with gaming. Gambling is the act of taking weighted risks. In return, you win or lose. That could mean money, prizes, or other valuables. Often times the odds are usually stacked against you. If you then look at gaming, you start to see overlap. Challenging games rely on overwhelming the player with difficult enemies or greater numbers to defeat them. MMORPGS often need dozens of players to complete difficult tasks that would otherwise be impossible alone. They also usually contain auction houses, where players can buy, sell, and bid on items. If you compare this to stock market, they are extremely similar. All of these elements have some connection with gambling. It is true that gambling is more addicting as it involves greater risk and reward. Gaming does not usually involve wagering real money. It is in a virtual fantasy world where less is at stake; yet the same functions still exist in both addictions. Of course, many other factors may get players addicted. Sometime it is simply the joy of winning or collecting better items. Others enjoy grinding (the act of leveling a character), or just interacting with other people online. What games gaming addiction unique is how it affects every player differently.

2.2 Comparing Heavy Internet Usage with Self-Reported Addiction

Researchers are still trying to assess addiction in video game players the same way they are trying to understanding internet addiction as they are very closely related. By attempting to understand the best ways of identifying said addiction, they will be better able to handle the problem in the future.

The primary focus of this study was to compare the differences found between heavy use over time (UOT) and self-reported addiction scales (AS). Each group received questions based on their internet and gaming habits to see accurately each question reflected their life. A previous study suggested that UOT was better than AS to check for addiction disorders in gamers.

Their findings suggested a moderate overlap in the results found between UOT and AS, addiction scales had more correlation to comorbidity factors than UOT. [1] This means that self-reported addiction scales had a higher chance of showing two or more disorders or mental illness in resulting addiction than heavy use over time, and only had a moderate overlap in resulting data. These findings help to suggest that addiction is not simply the act of playing games for a longer amount of time. If that were the case, there would have been greater overlap and UOT would have accounted for a greater chance of comorbid disorders the way that AS did. Both assessments proved useful in identifying addictive behaviors in adolescents.

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2.3 Gaming Addiction Identification Test (GAIT)

With there still being so few studies and tests trying to detect gaming addiction, a Swedish group has attempted to create such a test that specifically targets elements of addiction in gamers. Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) covers nine specific criteria that GAIT assesses. While it still requires more testing and revaluation, the results are positive.

The test includes 15 different questions with five levels of agreement for each question, asking the participant how they would assess their gaming habits over the past 12 months. [2] Parents were also given the same test (GAIT-P) and asked to answer questions based on their knowledge of their child’s habits. Each question is targeting a specific element of addiction such as, “I often feel that I ‘have’ to play” and, “It often happens that I play more than I had planned.” These questions are purposely targeting aspects of addiction in people by trying to understand why someone is playing a game. If their answers seem to relate to entertainment purposes only, it is not definitive that addiction is the primary reason. Conversely, elements that would suggest addiction in an individual would be the feeling of necessity or urgency to play constantly.

GAIT’s results were suitable in addressing addiction among adolescents. Spearman’s rho is the level of correlation between data. The rho for gaming per week and GAIT scores were .485 for boys and .478 for girls showing a moderate correlation effect. Compared to the Gaming Addiction Score (GAS) test, there was a .834 rho, and GAIT compared to GAIT-P had a resulting .704 rho, indicating very strong and strong correlation values. [3]

This test showed great promise in coming closer to understanding the difference between entertainment users and addicted users. As mentioned before, heavy use over time did not necessarily correlate with addictive behavior. These findings suggest that addiction is more than just gamers who play heavily, and perhaps parents misinterpret the signs that they might otherwise see as addiction.

2.4 Behavioral Addiction Measure–Video Gaming (BAM-VG)

A study in Canada released in 2016 also looked at video game addiction. Its purpose was to address issues with other addiction tests. Some examples are construct validity, test-retest reliability, and false positives. [4] They surveyed a sample of 506 gamers, 462 of which took the retest 1 month later). The results found very good internal consistency, and reliability. 42.7% of respondents indicated the main reason they played was for fun. 36.4% said they played to escape reality. Out of the group, 7.1% of respondents indicated that they thought they had a problem. Of those 36 people, the age ranged from 10 to 56.

While this was a small sample size, it included a unique range of age groups and gamers. As part of its purpose was to assess retest reliability, it succeeded in that. They found good correlation for people who were addicts or at risk. They achieved a level of 0.73, with one being the highest level of correlation. [4]

The purpose of these tests is to understand how prevalent addiction is in a society. It is also a metric for people to get help, and for companies to figure out what works. Research is still required in understanding game addiction. Every video game addiction test still has flaws that take time to correct. It is difficult for some people to self-assess their addictions and be in denial. Which is why we need new studies and tests to overcome this problem.

3.1 Applying Addictive Properties and Monetization

In order for a company to release a successful game, it needs addicting qualities. They also need to know what platform they plan to develop for, and who the audience is.  An important note is that addiction is not the same as addicting qualities. Many games may have addictive properties that everyone can enjoy. This does not mean everyone who plays the game is an addict. Gaming addicts are a metric for understanding how well addictive properties work. If a game keeps someone interested for a greater length of time, there is something unique about it. Usually the intriguing elements get players interested in playing. Thus, the best way to go about this is to work off principles that have already proven effective.

Games that reward the player by completing challenges are positively reinforcing a specific behavior. Let us look at a game like Candy Crush. Whenever the player completes a level of performs a combo, the game rewards the player. Positive words, sound effects, and music all give the player a sense of accomplishment. They also make it easy to share your progress with friends on Facebook. People enjoy being able to express what they have completed with others. Another major reason is that the game is effectively endless. With new levels created all the time, people can never really beat the game. [7] Other factors such as elements of multiplayer or even the look of the game influences addiction. People respond better to bright and colorful artwork and designs. Candy Crush has a very vibrant color palette consisting of bright and cheerful tones of primary colors. It makes the entire experience look very cheerful and exciting.

Once you figure out the platform, you need to capitalize on what is popular on that platform. Mobile games are usually very casual and often have puzzle elements to them. Console games are broader and include sports, shooters, and other action games. PC games are often strategic or have RPG elements. There is also a casual market for PC users. Only after figuring out your audience, you are able to begin to focus on designing a game.

4.1 Mobile Gaming Monetization Factors

The current most lucrative platform to release a new game on is mobile. It is true that games on any platforms will do better if the developer is well known. Yet the barrier for entry is lower on mobile for two reasons. The first reason is more players. Millions of people access the Google play store and iTunes store daily. Focusing on the Google play store, if you click on any app, you can view how many people have downloaded it. Popular gaming apps have anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of downloads. This drastically increases the level of awareness for a new app.

The second is advertising as a form of monetization. Every popular app is free for anyone to download. No one has to spend any money to play the game at any point. Yet an effective way to get money is from people who are willing to watch ads, or pay for currency. The term for ad-based revenue is reward based mobile advertising. The player watches an ad, and in return receives some form of in-game currency. The developer receives money from advertisers willing to host ads on the platform, and the ad-hosting platform takes part of the cut. Apps can also offer players to pay for currency in the game with their own money. You can do this within the app and it lets people pay from their Google wallet. Very few people spend a significant amount of money this way. People are more willing to watch ads than pay for in-game rewards with real world cash.

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4.2 Pros/Cons for Ad Marketing and In-Game Purchases

There are pros and cons for both forms of mobile monetization. The leading pro for ad-based revenue is that it usually non-intrusive. There are two types of ad marketing. The first form of advertising exists at all times within the app. These are most common in smaller apps. Most commonly, you can find them at the bottom or top of the screen. Ad placement is important, as the goal is to get players to click on it unintentionally. The second form of advertising is reward based. Certain apps offer rewards, usually as in-game currency, for watching ad videos. Sometimes they might also redirect players to take surveys or download other apps. Because this type of marketing rewards the player, they are more likely to take part.

The next form of mobile monetization is allowing players to buy currency within the game. This generates more revenue, but very few players actually spend a significant amount. Only 0.15% of players generate 50% of the mobile app market revenue. [7] While this may seem like the better choice, it is unlikely to generate much revenue without a large player base. Some apps may also allow people to pay money to get rid of ads. If a player finds the ads too intrusive, they may opt to get rid of them. This usually costs a few dollars to the player.

 Ad-based solutions are good because anyone is able to partake, and it is always an option. The negatives associated with it are that it will likely be less lucrative. This is due to having fewer players and lower payouts for advertisements. For a startup company, sacrifices help to gain traction as a reputable developer. Monetization of in-game purchases is usually very profitable. Allowing players to spend as much as they want means there is no limit on how much they want to spend. It can also keep people playing longer as they feel they have invested a substantial amount in the game. The problem is very few gamers spend substantial amounts on mobile games. If you do not attract these players, you will not see much of a return.

5.1 Conclusion

I would propose that the best solution for a new company is to create a mobile app and to include ads. You can then offer players to pay to remove them if they feel inclined. Depending on the game, it may also be possible to offer players to pay for currency or items. This would generate revenue in two ways, and give players a choice. If someone does not care to spend any money, you can still play the game, but will see advertisements. If they do care, they can opt to pay and remove them, and even pay for items. The game also has to combine some of the elements that make specific mobile games so popular. Vibrant color pallets, rewarding gameplay, replay value, and multiplayer elements make effective starting points. Games sold on mobile platforms generally are not a good choice. Companies with a reputation usually do this because they know people will buy the game.

A second proposal would be creating a unique game that fills a niche and selling it on the Steam platform. The reason this is risky is that timing is crucial. Steam has dozens of releases every single day. If no one hears about the game before it comes out, you rely on people seeing it in the store. If the game is good, it may spread by word of mouth over the internet. The problem is it is not a reliable solution.

It is difficult for any company to gain much of a foothold in any market. The gaming industry is no different. Addictive elements in games help keep people playing and coming back for more. It also reflects back on the company, as games with poor mechanics or style will ultimately be less popular. The elements of monetization that work best on mobile may not work well on consoles. The mobile gaming platform has evolved into its own unique and diverse platform, and it shows. Therefore, as a new game development company, it is important to set up realistic standards and expectations. Focusing efforts on what works will ultimately yield the best results.

References

[1]  S. C. A. Baggio, M. Dupuis, J. Studer, S. Spilka, J.-B. Daeppen, O. Simon, A. Berchtold, and G. Gmel, “Reframing video gaming and internet use addiction: empirical cross-national comparison of heavy use over time and addiction scales among young users,” Addiction, vol. 111, no. 3, pp. 513–522, 2015.

This was a journal going over the differences between self-reported addiction scales (AS) and heavy use over time (UOT). The purpose was to understand whether AS be used over UOT to assess addiction. The findings of the study concluded that there was little overlap between the two models and AS scales had more comorbidity factors than UOT.

[2]  S. Vadlin, C. Åslund, and K. W. Nilsson, “Development and content validity of a screening instrument for gaming addiction in adolescents: The Gaming Addiction Identification Test (GAIT),” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 458–466, 2015.

Gaming Addiction Identification Test. Otherwise known as GAIT examines usage used to evaluate gaming addiction in adolescents. Asks test taker to answer 15 different questions based on a 5-point scale based on games played in the last 12 months.

[3]  S. Vadlin, C. Åslund, M. Rehn, and K. W. Nilsson, “Psychometric evaluation of the adolescent and parent versions of the Gaming Addiction Identification Test (GAIT),” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, vol. 56, no. 6, pp. 726–735, Jun. 2015.

This was an evaluation of the effectiveness of GAIT and GAIT-P (Parents). Results found that GAIT is a suitable measurement in assessing gaming addiction. More studies are required to continue evaluating differences in sex and culture.

[4]  J. L. Sanders and R. J. Williams, “Reliability and Validity of the Behavioral Addiction Measure for Video Gaming,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 43–48, 2016.

This test was trying to assess gaming addiction in individuals. The focus of BAM-VG (Behavioral Addiction Measure – Video Gaming) is to avoid false positives or negatives, have a reliable re-test result, and limit self-diagnoses. The results were positive and found to be plausible. They found mental stress as a possible precursor to addiction. 

[5]  Y.-P. Chang, D.-H. Zhu, and H. S. Wang, “The Influence of Service Quality on Gamer Loyalty in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games,” Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, vol. 39, no. 10, pp. 1297–1302, Jan. 2011.

Evaluation of the average gamer’s response to company loyalty in response to MMORPGs. Results found that privacy, effectiveness, and entertainment indirectly affect the loyalty of gamer’s satisfaction, while interaction has a direct effect on loyalty.

[6]  M. Breeze, “A Quiet Killer: Why Games Are So Addictive,” The Next Web, 12-Jan-2013. [Online]. Available: https://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/01/12/what-makes-games-so-addictive/. [Accessed: 28-Mar-2017].

This web article discusses the definition of game addiction, examples of what influences this behavior, whether companies are inciting this behavior, and how to deal with such addictions.

[7]  M. Ratan, “The Psychology behind Addictive Mobile Games [Infographic],” Super Dev Resources, 30-Dec-2015. [Online]. Available: https://superdevresources.com/psychology-addictive-mobile-games/. [Accessed: 28-Mar-2017].

Article discusses the addictive qualities of mobile gaming. Info graphic displays many addictive properties, brain addiction, revenue, and percentage of people spending money. Also goes over more elements of the most popular mobile games.

[8]  M. Ives, “Electroshock Therapy for Internet Addicts? China Vows to End It,” The New York Times, 13-Jan-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/world/asia/china-internet-addiction-electroshock-therapy.html?_r=0. [Accessed: 28-Mar-2017].

NY times article that discusses Chinese addiction treatments camps that are attempting to treat adolescents with military regimens and electroshock therapy. Estimates 24 million Chinese adolescents from the ages of 13 to 29 are digital addicts.

[9]  ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT THE COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY, 1st ed. entertainment software association, 2016, [Online]. Available: http://essentialfacts.theesa.com/Essential-Facts-2016.pdf. [Accessed: 05- Apr- 2017]                    

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Dozens of data points discussing the amount of time people play games, how many gamers there are, who buys them, how they play, and how parents buy games for their kids.

[10] “Steam Search,” Steam Search. [Online]. Available: http://store.steampowered.com/search/?developer=Giants Software. [Accessed: 05-Apr-2017].

Steam search showing how many farming simulator titles the same developer has released.

[11] D. Gentile, “Pathological Video-Game Use Among Youth Ages 8 to 18: A National Study,” Psychological Science, vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 594–602, 2009.

A Harris Poll from 2007 looking to assess how many young American’s between the ages of 8 and 18 were addicted to gaming. It found that 8.5 of them were addicted based on questions that would assess gambling addiction.

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