You are staring at your phone, strategizing your final move in Candy Crush. You swipe right, swapping a cobalt blue, circular candy with a tangerine orange jelly bean to align 5 candies and increase your score. The score board lights up as the score rapidly rises, but then the “Oh No! You only need 1 more jelly” banner commandeers the screen. The banner taunts you, emphasizing that you may not have won, but hey you were really close! Maybe with just one more move you could have clinched the win. You start another game confident you will win this time.
Mobile games, in particular Candy Crush, bear similar qualities to gambling activities. Like slot machines, Candy Crush is (1) easy to learn, (2) includes food tokens to increase appeal, (3) utilizes eye-catching animations to reinforce successful moves, and (4) incorporates ‘near-miss’ outcomes like the scenario described above. While a near-miss outcome in gambling occurs when two of the three reels in a slot machine match and the final reel stops right before or after the pay-line, a near-miss outcome in Candy Crush is classified as an outcome where a player comes just shy of advancing to the next level. As near-miss events have been shown to invigorate play in gambling despite their frustrating outcomes (Clark et al. 2012; Coˆte´ et al. 2003; Kassinove and Schare 2001; Billieux et al. 2012), researchers at the University of Waterloo sought to analyze if near-misses in Candy Crush initiated a similar response.
Most notably, the study concluded that near-misses were more arousing, created greater levels of frustration, and stimulated a greater urge to continue playing compared to losses where the player was not close to leveling up. Previous research has indicated that near-miss experiences increase the likelihood of an individual wanting to continue play because they believe they have a greater chance of winning the next round (Kassinove and Schare 2001). Despite Candy Crush’s lack of monetary reward, the anticipatory arousal initiated by the prospect of winning and the frustration caused by falling just short of the win are inherently motivating and initiate an increase in urge to play. Ultimately, near-misses in Candy Crush affected players both physiologically and psychologically in a similar manner to how near-misses in slot machines affect gamblers.
Perhaps this signals that the addictive qualities of gambling may be more closely associated with the anticipation and frustration linked to near-misses rather than the prospect of monetary rewards. With over 293 million active users playing Candy Crush every month, it is worth considering how mobile games can model and instill addictive qualities in an individual.
This study shows that even in games without the potential for monetary rewards, near-misses encourage individuals to play. Similar to slot machines, mobile games invigorate motivation to play by leveraging anticipatory arousal of an expected win and frustration of barely missing the target to increase commitment to a game and perpetuate longer game play.
People tend to believe that money drives gambling addiction, but is money really necessary to stimulate addiction? What characterizes addiction? Can someone be addicted to playing a mobile game?