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People have been talking about games as seriously addictive. Newspapers have written articles about teenagers needing an intervention. Is there a substance in them that chemically affect the brain? Probably not. There is something else going on here. Good games are simulating real life and the user start confusing the virtual world with the reality (let's leave Matrix like conspiracy theories aside). This is how people end up paying for virtual goods in games, this is why people can get depressed if they were banned from their clan and get obsessed with being the best and winning.
It happened to me as well. I would download a game to see what the fuss is about. After all, that's part of my job. A few weeks later I would start writing less, miss my deadlines and become less social. Not something I can afford while starting a company from the ground up. Here is how I learned to detect and preempt:
You Are Waiting for Life/Fuel to Refill
Most successful games have energy based mechanics that limit the amount of continuous game play. To the non addicted user, this serves as a reality check. You played 15 minutes. Time to do something else. If you are addicted, you will find yourself waiting with the device in your hand and waiting for the bars to add up.
You Set Up an Alarm Clock
Let's say you just planted tomatoes in your field and they will be ready for picking in 8 hours. Some games have this kind of mechanics built into them. If you set an alarm clock it probably means the game got under your skin.
Asking Your Friends for Favors
Have you ever asked a friend to give you a hand in a game. Need a life? Want to form a clan together? Not a good sign if you want plan on actually having a life in the real world.
Spending Premium Currency on Consumable Goods
Most games have premium currency. These are the coins that you can't get with normal game play regularly but are extremely rare unless of course you pay with real money. Pay special attention to how you spend this type of currency. If you buy things that are being consumed most likely that you will end up buying these coins sooner or later.
Getting Others Into the Game
Do you tell your friends about the great game you discovered and try to convince them to try it? "It really helps keeping my brain sharp" you claim and "I only play it while waiting in the subway". If you are, you might be hooked. Hooked enough to push the drug to others.
You are Willing to Like, Tweet or Download other Apps
How far will you go in order to get ahead. You might not be willing to pay yet but how about liking, tweeting, watching video ads or downloading other apps? It's a slippery slope from there.
You are Saving Up for Something
Are there special items in the game that you really need and are willing to save your virtual currency in order to get them? Do you find yourself calculating how long will it take for you to accumulate enough to by Nitrous Level 4? In real life we encourage saving up. In games it's a good sign you got confused there for a second.
Your Battery Runs Out Mid-day
While your mind finds it hard to track how much time you actually spending on playing, your battery meter is a good indication for that. Does your batter start running out sooner in the day than it used to? Games are usually power hungry as they require the screen to be lit all the time.
You Talk to People While Your Eyes are Glued to the Screen
Can't take your eyes of your screen to talk to people? Missed a station at the subway to complete the level before time runs out? These are not good signs.
Is there a part of the game that feels like work after a while? Do you still do it because this is how you get virtual coins? Many successful games have a component like that. A special way for you to turn a repetitive task into virtual coins. After all, once you are willing to work for virtual coins how different it is from real money?
How do you know you are hooked? What did you design in your game to make it addictive? Will be happy to continue the discussion. You can find me at Google Plus Yaniv Nizan
, the SOOMLA blog
or on Twitter