If you ever felt that it is getting harder and harder for you to disengage from social media, from your downloaded mobile game apps or any other new app, this feeling is not accidental.

Addicting games are in existence for years: Tetris had its share of putting many work hours to waste. But what is the difference between Zynga’s Farmville and Candy Crush? Aren’t they both highly addictive games? Free games that made a lot of money from addicted users? Well, while Farmville had its run to quickly become a formula game with predictable reward system, Candy Crush is packing surprises: Players don’t know whether they will pass the level and if so,why. In addition, every level introduces new behaviours, which limit the ability of the player to predict the coming development. Randomness and variable difficulty make an exciting and addictive combination, and it is hardly by chance.

Once there was need to explain to software developers how their consumers are using the products. Very little software products were developed with the help of User Interface experts and behavoiural psychologists. User experience design has become, along the years, an essential part of new products development. At a certain point, it seems as if game developers have shifted from programming their game levels into programming their players. More and more games, as well as other types of applications, are trying (and succeeding) to turn the consumers’ use of them into a regular habit, not to say an addiction. The goal: Coercive Monetization. The means: Developing habit forming products.

Hooked - How To Build Habit-Forming Products

Nir Eyal, and American UX designer and blogger, has recently published his book, Hooked. In his book, he explains his method of user habit forming. Habits, which are intended to convert the user from a casual user of a social media tool or a game, into a regular. Eyal obviously talks about “good” habits rather than a Candy Crush addiction. He discusses social media services use habits, such as Pinterest and Facebook, but you may want to listen when he describes the Variable Reward step in the habit-formig cycle he presents.

Trigger, Action, Variable Reward and Investment, are a lot like the vicious cycle of addiction, which is built around the triggering of the dopamine receptors in the brain. The stress which is entailed in the anticipation to the reward, is the thing that accelerates compulsive behaviour – whether it be the search for your drug, or even behavioural addiction, such as gambling, porno and, also, Candy Crush.

Hooked is intended for professional readers: executives, product managers, UX designers, who are looking for methods to create new products, products which will be profitable throughout a long life cycle. The book is not intended for consumers of those products. Eyal is cautious, apparently, about referring to the dangers of creating addictive products. There are good aspects for creating use habits and for creating products that cater to the users’ needs. But the science that allows us to pinpoint the reasons why users will want to return to using our products, enables addiction inducing manipulations.

What’s the solution to the problem of increasingly addictive products? There is none. On the one hand, there are product developers, like me, who want to create use habits and on the other hand there are consumers, who will have to learn how these manipulations work and will develop, with time, immunity to them.

To Nir Eyal’s Lecture

Posted by Samuel Miller

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