Advertising Strategies Used By Game Makers
Introducing students to the following strategies used by game makers to lure them into a game and keep them there will help students see how the game is manipulating them. This knowledge will help develop their online critical thinking skills. The goal is to empower users to control the device instead of the device controlling them.
I recommend playing the games with your children and challenging them to see who can find the most examples of the following strategies in the game.
FREE is the most powerful word game makers use. They attract players because it is free. Once players are hooked, they use different methods for coaxing players to purchase internet currency. Players are often offered ways to buy passes or clues, so they can achieve new goals in the game. The first thing I noticed in several games I explored was an offer to purchase online currency. Most games' goals are to get the users to purchase this currency or to watch ads posted by companies that sponsor the games. Ads are placed strategically throughout the games. There are also ads offering players the option to play Ad Free for a small purchase of $.99 a month. Multiply .99 by 10 million users and the game maker is doing quite well. Once they get their game user addicted to the game, they have guaranteed income.
Educational is a key word that give parents a false sense of game value. It can make one feel the game will do no harm if the children are learning something. Many children, 10 million or more, are playing a popular social media centered game for FREE that advertises itself as educational.
When students were asked to share what was educational about it, one eight year old girl stated, “It teaches you how to make choices. Today, I had to choose between a donut and a bagel in my game.” When asked what she chose and how it was educational, she said, “I chose the donut. It was educational because I had to make a choice.” I asked if she was told the donut was unhealthy. She replied, “No, it just gave it to me.” The choice came with a price. I discovered that the cost of the donut was more than the cost of the bagel. There wasn't even an economic's lesson in this game. She couldn’t identify the lesson she learned, other than she was asked to make a choice. One child said, “Sometimes they ask me to do a math problem in class. They had me add 3 to 100. Then a friend in the game told me I could buy a pass, so I didn’t have to take the test.” Savvy players can use money to avoid doing any aspect of the game that is educational.
“Your Friends Can Play” is a lure to satisfy our brain's innate desire to interact with others. It is just another way game makers' activate the pleasure center of our brains.
When I signed on as an eight year old to play the game my third graders were playing, no one in the game knew I was a 69 year old teacher. Children say they are playing with friends because the players are nice to them, but they have no way of knowing if the person they are playing is 8 or an adult who entered the game to eventually manipulate them to purchase items.
When I began playing the game for the first time, I found how to text and made friends with other players. One person who was nice to me and offered to help me play. She showed me where to find the things I could buy. It wasn't long before I witnessed the first signs of bullying. The screen shot below shows the name calling that a normal eight year old would not know how to deal with or how to respond to.
When I asked my students about this situation, several of them shared stories when they were bullied. One third grader shared she had a panic attack one night and couldn’t sleep because of something that happened in the game. A friend who had been nice to her for a year, but who she did not know personally, started making fun of her clothing and that said she looked poor. After repeated bullying incidents, my student felt the need to stop the bullying by purchasing clothes to change her identity. She finally caved in and used a gift card to pay for the new clothes, which caused her to feel anxious.
Many people would be judging her mother after reading this, but her mother had taken her Ipad away so she couldn't play, but gave her a Chrome book to type her stories. Her mother did not know she was going through the bullying situation, because she had no idea her daughter could access the games from her Chrome book.
Free Daily Bonus is another strategy used in marketing. It gets the users to come back everyday for the FREEBIES.
When asked why they would go back everyday to play, the girls shared that they didn't want to miss the FREE prizes the game offered just for playing each day. The Free things aren’t so free. The free choices are limited. The most enticing items cost internet currency that a player can purchase with a gift card or credit card.
Pre-order and Save is one strategy game makers use to see if their games are where they want them to be before they go into full scale marketing.
In-Game Advertising is designed to let you play for free, but you have to be willing to be interrupted by advertisements.
Your click response is quickly analyzed and more products that interest the player are sent their way. The goal is to get the player to buy the “no advertisement version of the game.” Advertisers know the best place to market items is to children. Children of today have more purchasing power than in any generation. Advertisers know if they target children, the children will convince their parents to purchase items they see advertised. Many in-game strategies have name brand products built int
o the game itself, thus subliminally targeting children.
Cereal Box Offers are a common advertising method to grab children’s attention. Once they go to the website to play the free games, they are a captured audience. Players tend to spend an average of 27 minutes on the cereal sites, which is enough time to grab their attention about new products.
Hook Loops are designed to get users to go back to their game because users are notified when someone liked their entry or outscored them in a game.
Loot Boxes are mysterious boxes that can be purchased with real money or internet currency. Purchasers don’t know if they are getting an ordinary item or a rare one. They have to make the purchase to find out.
Behavior Modification works by offering rewards or incentives to keep the user playing.
Attention testing is used to track the user's pattern. Then, an algorithm is created to increase the user's engagement. If a player usually plays for 30 minutes, the game will be programed to make an offer of a free item at 29 minutes. This is designed to keep the player engaged and extend the normal playing time. A banner may appear that says, “You are almost there. You only need fifty points to make it to the next level.”
As students begin seeing these strategies in their games, they will become critical about what they view. This will be a necessary life skill for motivating them to control their use. They need this skill because technology is and will continue to be a part of their future.
I recommend the following videos for more insight into the impact of video games on all of us.