How to Effectively Manage a Freemium Social Game Frenzy


As you may know, I test a lot of apps as a blogger for, and sometimes, there are a few that actually catch my attention to keep playing past the allotted research time.

Unfortunately, these games can sometimes trigger a borderline addiction.  Recently, (and I’ll only admit to) two of these games sucked up a lot of my free time.  A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about How to Recognize Online Gaming Addiction, and while that was targeted more specifically at Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), freemium games (free to download with premium in-app currency purchases) are entirely different.  Their gameplay is based on timing and frequently returning to the game because of energy refills for activity, incentives and rewards.

Here are some ways to effectively manage a freemium social game frenzy.  And parents, this is primarily for you:

  1. If one has large amounts of idle time to idle away at a freemium social game for hours on end, there are likely not enough scheduled events in that person’s life.  Leaving the house, being occupied and spending time with others is paramount to filling the gaps of time that can be whiled away, pressing buttons to “hang out and gossip”, harvest crops, go on dates, breed dragons … that sort of thing.  Schedule more events (like playdates, field trips, and get-togethers) that don’t involve hanging out in front of computers or mobile devices, and as much as someone tries to convince you that Farmville parties are cool, they’re not.
  1. You don’t have to worry that much.  Eventually, the novelty and fascination with these games will wear off.  Figure about two to three months, and after that, the game will likely stop being something to check daily, things will plateau, and after a certain time, all important trophies and achievements will have been achieved.  The sense of urgency to win 5000 coins for harvesting 250 watermelons or expand territory will fade.
  1. The initial levels of gameplay are designed to get you hooked.  It’s easy to level up, the rewards seem awesome and enticing enough to keep playing.  Call it freemium game design success, not a symptom of a weak-willed child.  Or grown-up.
  1. As the game progresses, there are usually more costly things to invest in.  For example, harvesting plants with a greater ROI take more time to grow.  If it works out, try to get said borderline addict to plant these overnight, so there’s no real activity needed (other than waiting for them to grow) and nobody’s whining about rearranging schedules to be home for the pumpkins.  For kids, this is also a good way to learn about math, since calculating the number of hours before something happens means calculating real time (i.e. yes, I will be home eight hours from now at 4:00 p.m.).
  1. Speaking of learning, I’m again stealing my cousin’s brilliant suggestion of playing games in another language (#4) because it works.  It’s a bit of a strain on the brain, but when one spends that much time devoted to a game, there’s a ton of vocabulary that can be picked up, even subconsciously.
  1. If possible, ban the freemium social gaming device from leaving the house.  Admittedly, smartphones are a little harder to commandeer, but iTouches, iPads, PlayBooks, laptops, tablets, and the like are immediate targets for thievery, especially out of the hands of one so engaged in housing pixies and oblivious to the surroundings.
  1. It’s up to you as to how much actual currency you contribute to purchasing premium currency (e.g. virtual rubies, diamonds, etc.), but a great way to limit your enablement of a habit is to give said gamer cold, hard cash which can then be exchanged (with your accompaniment) for an app store/Facebook gift card.  It’s easy to think of money off a credit card as being some arbitrary number, but cash (that could be used for other things) might be a deterrent for cash-happy, jabby screen fingers.  Freemium games are designed with a great deal of background science into how users can “accidentally” use up premium currency or what algorithms work best for frequent visits, so it’s easy to get sucked in to purchasing more and more.

It’s estimated that 40% of consumers will make in-game purchases.

  1. Virtual environments provide a little bit of escapism, but it’s a problem when too many hours are spent in social isolation.  While one might be trading or gifting or “visiting” when playing freemium social games, there’s not as much social interaction in say, instant messaging.  Keep a lookout for warning signs like mood swings and obsessive behaviour.  If they occur, consult a medical or trained professional who can help.

Otherwise … ride out the wave and hope that boredom ends it sooner than later.  We all have to get back to real life at some point.