Jason Kottke’s article ‘The behavioural psychology behind freemium mobile games‘ has a collection of sources that talk about the the way freemium games utilise behavioural psychology to earn a quick — sometimes manipulative — buck. Among the collection is a video by Vox that further explores this idea and explains some ways games exploit the phenomenon that people are predisposed to spend representations of money more readily than ‘actual’ money. The more real it seems, the tougher it gets to part with; the video narrates people’s readiness to spend money via cards overpowers their readiness to do so when paying with cash.
The video also illustrates that increasing the distance from you and your ‘actual money’ is the game developers’ decision to substitute your money for gems.
But the part I find absolutely fascinating — which is, granted, probably exploitive — is how unevenly the currencies map. Pricing 100 gems for $1 is an option but if I spend 3200 gems while playing the game I can estimate the amount I’m spending. Instead, game developers price 120 gems for $1. Now when I spend 3200 gems, it’s tougher to instinctively guess how much of my money I’spent. (To further the cause, why not price 137 gems at $1 ? Now you’re really struggling to deduce how much those armour-backed troops just cost you.)
I want to add a word to this discussion, something Vox’s video faintly alludes to — I think the time taken in getting you those gems plays a non-insignificant role in your impulsiveness to spend your money. And I think this applies to other domains of buying and selling goods as well.
So while swiping a card, entering your pin (the whole charade), somewhat masks the $800 you parted with in buying yourself an iPhone, I think a service like Apple Pay would mask your expense further still; due to the fact that the 20 seconds you would spend paying by card has been reduced to 5. Lesser the time spent on a transaction, less cognisant you are of being made to part with your money. Part manipulative, part genius.