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What makes an addictive mobile game?

By Taylor Martin March 21, 2014, 6:57 pm

Flappy Bird was around for several months before it grew to its global fame, forcing its creator to take it down for our own sake. Ever since, literally hundreds of Flappy Bird knock-offs and fakes have surfaced, in an attempt to tap into the massive revenue Flappy Bird was pulling in daily – upwards of $50,000 USD.

Flappy Bird is hardly the only game which quickly became unbelievably popular in practically no time. Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Candy Crush, Temple Run, and many others rose to fame practically overnight.

So what was the magic sauce that made Flappy Bird such an overwhelming sensation for the developer? A combination of factors that you can rather easily find in dozens of other games throughout Google Play, Apple’s App Store, and even the Windows Phone Store.



Stupid-simple instructions and controls

addictive mobile games

You know what I hate more than most things on this planet? Mobile games that meet their early demise due to cumbersome controls. Mobile phones and tablets are capable of running some impressive games these days. Modern Combat 4, Real Racing 3, and even Call of Duty look fantastic. They play … pretty well. But after just a few minutes of each, unless I have a paired controller, I get frustrated with the controls and over-loaded HUD and quit.

Not all graphically impressive games are bad, but more often than not, I find myself gravitating towards the more simple games with controls that are practically impossible to mix up. One or two, on-screen buttons, and one, defined objective. Smash or dodge things to stay alive. Do a backflip. Collect things.

The acronym KISS – keep it simple, stupid – could not be more relevant.


Bite-sized, replayable

When you have simple instructions, chances are, the actual gameplay will be short. This is imperative.

addictive mobile games

We bring our mobile devices with us practically everywhere we go. We turn to mobile games for bite-sized entertainment to pass just a few moments – standing in line, sitting in a waiting room, waiting on the microwave, or waiting for your girlfriend to finish trying on every piece of clothing in the entire women’s department.

Having a game with short, concise missions makes a mobile game more digestible for those very short moments in time that you want to fill your time with mindless activities. (It’s okay, we all do it.)

But there’s a second half to that equation: replay value. If those short missions have no replay value, then players will blow through the game in no time, and move on to something else. Developers want to make it easy for the player to say, “Just one more time,” thousands of times, until they enter a zombie-like state.



So how do you generate replay value? Bump that difficulty up a notch.

Each of the games I mention in the video below are incredibly difficult. The longer you play them, the easier they become, but having a game that’s challenging – albeit not too difficult – makes the player want to try again, and again, and again until they die of starvation and sleep deprivation. Okay, maybe not to that extreme, but a challenge is nice.

You can also increase the severity of the difficulty, add an arbitrary scoring system, and make the game endless with leaderboards. People love leaderboards. They give players something to work towards, for better or worse.


So what are the most addictive mobile games you can find? I did some digging this week to find games that were incredibly easy to slip into for hours on end, and just as easy to play a round or to on a short elevator ride. Below are the top five I found.


Flappy Bird RIP | Threes! | Backflip Madness | Smash Hit | Super Hexagon


Flappy Bird RIP | Threes! | Backflip Madness | Roid Rage | Smash Hit | Super Hexagon


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