Psychology of Addiction in Freemium games

I was playing Spiderman Unlimited for iPad a lot lately, and i found myself many times that i'm stopping myself for buying the rare resource, ISO-8. The games genre is an infinite runner. How this game makes me buy things? I generally feel neutral about freemium genre but i feel unhappy every time i stop playing spiderman. Why am i addicted to it? Why do i keep going back to it and get frustrated every time?

Last night i watched a video of Nir Eyal's Hooked: Designing for Engagement (a great talk btw). He was talking about products which are used because of emotional or outside triggers which are called habit forming products and people using this products are hooked. Here is a slide about hook cycle. The Hook (Copyrights® belongs to Nir Eyal)

Spiderman Unlimited pushes you to play it as a habit, regularly (generally at night, back from work, tired and you don't want to think about anything). Trigger part is the urge to play the game. Obviously you get the iPad and start playing. Action part is the infinite runner. Reward is the outcomes of each session. Investment part is the random character recruit phase and managing collectibles.

I wrote that i felt unhappy every time the spiderman play session ends. The more i played the Spiderman also i get more angry. I started to think about the reason was the radioactive material ISO-8 which everybody was after in the game, is real. Here is my analyze of the gameplay cycle which is very very addictive and frustrating. So be careful before playing the game first time.


Step 1

Game cycle starts with buying a random character from the portal spending current resources.

Step 2

You go to characters and manage your collectibles. Arrange, them level up them, sell them etc..

Step 3

Go and play the game which can be insanely hard sometimes. Its an endless runner based on heavily on controlled randomization so the more you survive through out the parcour the more your game end resources will be. There are various types of game types. Missions, Story Mode, endless-run and events.

All types has different outcomes and daily events keeps content alive which are mysterio, electro, vulture etc.. enemies invades the city regularly.

Step 4

Resource management. After playing game you gain certain amount of XP, vial and ISO-8. So it brings you to the beginning of the cycle. Spend your resources. Loop.

Of course this is a free(mium[not really]) game, there should be a price to everything and it starts to poison you somehow. You find yourself that you are running short of rare resource ISO-8. Story mode needs a high level spiderman to proceed which can be bought with so many ISO-8. You check daily goals section but nothing rewarded there. You check daily event rewards. You need to kill 500 enemies to get 10 ISO-8. Game can be played 5 (fucking) times!. How should i get enough to proceed with story mode? Aha! You know what? You can buy ISO-8. Check prices which are insanely expansive. Get really angry and throw iPad. Go on with your life. But when you are bored again the cycle starts again. I realized that something evil is going on here. So i defined the cycle steps from more abstract and simple behavioral view.


Step 1 : The Gamble

I gambled with my limited resources and found a prize (rare or common).

Step 2 : The Collectioner (Gollum)

I arranged the prizes, sold characters, leveled up some and i'm ready to suffer! AGAIN!

Step 3 : The Suffering (Masochism)

Very, VERY hard game is over. I have some common resource, rare resource and XP outcome. (Probably i'm losing reflexes and i'm getting old but difficulty level is really frustrating).

Step 4 : The Guilt

I hated that i can play only 5 times. Also i hated that i don't have enough ISO-8 to proceed in story mode. If only i'm a millionaire i can buy all goddamned ISO-8 in the game. Throw the iPad away from me with anger. Next day this crazy loop happens again which brings us to a very psychological cycle. ADDICTION.


The real game was not the infinite runner. It was the addiction cycle which keeps me going back to game. Game play contains very small amount of slot machine gambling, a pinch of collecting digital precious things like gollum and a little masochism. I'm hooked by the habit forming game which is designed and applied very cleverly. So every time the frustration happens in game (because of the rare resource) you find yourself in the store considering spending stupid amount of money on a digital amount of resource. This game can be priced for maximum 20 bucks if it was a normal game but its addiction cycle urges you to spend ~200 bucks to save your ass in game.

So its not a game anymore. Its a drug store. IMO Infinite runners are really meaningless games alone. After behaviorally engineered of buying-selling (resource management), gambling and suffering it gains meaning and becomes addictive.

There are many free(mium[not really]) games out there which uses same tricks similar to spiderman unlimited. (Ex: Temple Run, Lara Croft : Relic Run, Minion Rush, Maze Runner etc..). I'm planning to develop one for experimental purposes.

This writing represents my opinions and its written only for analytical purposes to illustrate psychological and gameplay patterns with a ruthless personal habit example.

PS: There are many hooked users which suffered enough and hacked through their way with modifying memory addresses of the mobile game's resources.

PPS: Free(mium[not-really]) joke copyright belongs to south park.

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