Designing For Specific Behaviors – To Regulate or Not To Regulate

Recently, I started reading about the psychology behind mobile games.  I admit I love to play a couple of them.  I’ve picked up and put down Clash of Clans more times than I can recall and I’m also a fan of Boom Beach and Lunar Battle.  That said, I don’t consider myself an addict but I’ve read that there are millions of people addicted to online activities and specifically mobile games.

My motivation comes from multiple sources.  First, I’m working again on my novel again and this seems like good background material for that.  Second, ever since I read Designing for Behavior Change by Stephen Wendel I’ve been fascinated by the subject.  Third, I thought, “Hey, at least I’ll have some more stuff to write about on my blog for the six people that follow me.”

Two things happened recently that I felt compelled to share.  First, I realized just how little I know about heavy statistics and reading scholarly papers is tough without that understanding so I searched around for a statistics class and found a really nice one for free from Stanford.  Sure, it starts out really simple but it gets into some nice stuff after a bit and served as a great refresher.  Second, I read an article in Telematics and Informatics from 2016* entitled “Are you addicted to Candy Crush Saga? An exploratory study linking psychological factors to mobile social game addiction.”

This article talked about the motivations to play mobile games and their relationship to addiction.  So what’s the takeaway?  Not surprising to me was that of the attributes they discussed, loneliness and self-control (or the lack of it) were the two dominant predictors of addiction.  What I found interesting was the level of the addiction.  Sure, we all know of or have heard of people losing their jobs or their families from drug addiction but the same holds true for mobile game addiction.

The monetary design of these games enforces social interaction but also provides gratification through the successful completion of levels and accumulation of trophies but has an artificial time delay feature which can be bypassed by paying to accelerate.  I know this probably isn’t news to anyone reading either.  Combining a known addictive mechanism that provides gratification then charging people to accelerate the pace of that mechanism could be dangerous.  I ask you this:

What is the potential for societal harm here?

Much like tobacco and other commercial products that have been engineered to drive behavior through addictive mechanisms, should we provide guidance or regulation on how these types of games can be constructed, marketed and sold?

As always I look forward to your comments.

*Chen, Cheng, and Louis Leung. “Are you addicted to Candy Crush Saga? An exploratory study linking psychological factors to mobile social game addiction.” Telematics and Informatics 33.4 (2016): 1155-1166.