I had never heard of any of this shitte before, but apparently there are a large growing category of computer/phone/tablet games called “Free-to-Play” (or F2P) that use highly sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques to induce players to spend money to “upgrade” their experience of the game and progress faster and/or farther than otherwise. And some players spend thousands of dollars per year doing so!

Here is an interesting quote from the linked article:

“Hard” Boosts include things like the random rare creatures that are sold in PaD for $5 each. Having these in your stable effectively lowers the difficulty of the game enough to allow you to get a little bit further with each purchase. A technique that is very popular in Asian games with hard Boosts (PaD included) is to allow hard Boosts to be “merged” to allow for even bigger hard Boosts. This makes the math involved in figuring out exactly how expensive a very high quality hard Boost will be, daunting. It may even be completely invisible to the consumer due to the various drop %s being hidden. Thus the best hard Boosts in these games typically cost thousands of dollars, a fact that is hidden to the user until they are already invested for at least a few hundred dollars. This puts the consumer in the difficult position of giving up and losing the equity already purchased, or going “all the way” and spending some unknown large amount to get the top Boost. Some of these techniques, sometimes called “kompu gacha”, are already facing regulation in Asia due to their excessive layering and lack of transparency.


  1. Grumble says

    That explains why all the ipadde games my kid plays keep asking her to buy magic jewels and other i-crappe that helps you win. Condition the young to spend money on useless garbage, and you can live well as a useless garbage purveyor as the young grow up!

  2. sqlrob says

    Yeah, I avoid this shitte like the plague.

    If you look at most of the top earning on the various app stores, a good chunk of them are all “free”, so this is pretty profitable.

  3. says

    It’s very popular on facebook; has been for years. One heartening thing: the developers of Candy Crush say that 70% of people pay nothing at all to use the game.

    I play quite a few of these games, and my principle is never to give them money to win. When games become unwinnable without spending money, then I drop them. There’s always a new match-3 or bubble shooter coming along, no loss. Some games only charge money for speedups and cosmetics; I see those as more honest and I’m more inclined to keep playing – and even give them a couple of bucks by way of a tip if I’ve enjoyed it.

    The best way around these psychological tricks is to develop a clear rule set of your own, so you win your own metagame by abandoning the money-suck game if it does a skill to money switch.

  4. unbound says

    Yeah, it started with the simple concept of micro-transactions due to the basic observation that while people will complain loudly about a $10-$15 monthly fee, they will happily spend $5 on “gifts” 3 to 5 times a month without complaint.

    Now the abstraction makes it even more difficult to understand what people spend. Not sure I’d call it “highly sophisticated”, but it certainly works.

  5. Trebuchet says

    Thanks for that. Now I understand all the “Candy Crush something-or-other” ads on TV.

  6. Grumble says

    “…develop a clear rule set of your own…”

    Hahahaha, how about:

    “Don’t waste your time playing stoooopid games when there are so many more interesting things to do in the world.”

  7. Grumble says

    Oh, and a corollary to that, Trebuchet:

    “Don’t watch stooooopid TV shows. Or stooooopid TV ads.”

  8. wilsim says

    I recently got my mom a Kindle Fire HD 7″ and had her upgrade from her broken prepaid phone to an entry android smartphone with a non contract company.

    I helped her set up her contacts, her email, and her calendar along other basic things.

    I also installed a few free games on her kindle and on her phone, like candy crush, color zen, and plants vs zombies…

    Well she finally decided to try a game apparently, because I got a text the night I showed her color zen that she was going to buy a prepaid visa to “have more fun”.

    What did I create?

    Anyway I explained that every game I installed for her was free to play, she would just have to deal with and not be fooled by the commercials built into the game itself, but she will spend her own money how she wants – even if it is wasted on useless in game boosers.

  9. says

    Wow, this IS fascinating. I am a sucker for puzzle games and started playing Candy Crush, and it really is diabolical how they reel you in- you only get a certain number of lives and they last long enough to get you engaged but not long enough to feel done playing, and then you have to wait 30 min, harass your friends, or pay money (and similar things happen to advance past certain points). That all seemed bad enough to me- but, the idea that they are tagging people as ‘payers’ and then secretly changing the game to make it so hard for them that they have no choice but to pay more over time seems like it should be illegal. Also, makes me glad I never broke down and bought any boosts!

  10. says

    Yep. That’s the way it works.

    You can advance so far in the game, then you hit a level that’s next to impossible. But you are still getting notifications of how well all your friends (many of whom have been playing longer than you) are doing. So you are all but forced to buy some sort of power-up — for actual money, as in pounds, shillings and pence — in order to progress.

    Personally, I have always considered paying to progress in a game to be a form of cheating. But there are enough people out there who will fall for it …..

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