Training Device Management Begins With Awareness April 21, 2019 17:45

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. 

      Controlling Tech Use is Not Effective, But Coaching Is the Answer April 10, 2019 10:55

      Training Children For Stranger Danger in Their Video Games

      Spring is a perfect time for children to go to local parks and play outdoors, yet many parents fear allowing their children to do so. The media has led parents to believe that it is not safe out there. The fact is your children are better equipped for playing outdoors than I was as a child in the 1950’s. The same threats existed then as do today, yet I was not aware of how to handle the stranger who asked me to get in the car and show him where the nearest gas station was. No one had prepared me for this type of person. Today, our children know about “Stranger Danger.” They know what to do if someone approaches them.

      One might  think children are safer in their bedrooms than at the park. If the children have internet connection and have discovered games to play, they are not prepared for the strangers in disguise who might appear in their games. In many of the games I explored, the strangers are not as visible as my stranger in the car was to me. They may initially appear as a kind and caring friend that are listed as their age, and quickly shift their tone when they determine the player is ripe for bullying. Children have no idea that the person they call their friend in the game is someone my age, 60. To understand the game, I easily signed up and lied that I was an eight year old to gain access to the game and appear as young person the child's own age. If I can do it, so can people with different goals. My was to learn the game. Other's might have ulterior motives. One way or the other, young children may not be equipped to deal with or combat potential bullying. 

      Many games’ sole purpose is to manipulate the children into spending money, and bullying is one tactic that I found in my game playing. I have been working with five girls who are playing the same game to learn more about what they are experiencing. One of my students shared that she was bullied by a friend and called a noob. This is a poor person. The friend was not someone she really knew, but someone who had been nice to her in the game for the past year. Suddenly, she was being bullied to buy new clothes. She caved to the bullying and had a panic attack that night, because she knew her parents would find out she played the game. The girls discussed having the same thing happen to them and they came up with things they could say to someone bullying them in the future. "I'll just tell them I like my clothes and if they don't like it, that's their problem."  Having a strategy made the students feel much better. Whether it is in real life or a game that feels like real life to them, young children need to be prepared for potential bullying, and they will need to know what to say if it does. 

      One very popular game eight and nine-year-olds are playing uses different forms of manipulation to keep children in the game. They are offered free things if they play each day. They earn internet currency for doing simple tasks, but it is not enough to buy the things offered for purchase. Sharing this information with your children before they play will help them recognize what the game is doing to get them to want to make a purchase. Play the game with them and ask them to point out all the ways the game is asking for real money. Awareness is the first step in dealing with Internet Stranger Danger. 

      Games are designed to addict. Children are not aware of how playing games are impacting their brains in unhealthy ways, nor are their parents. In the UK, Prince Charles is calling for a ban on Fortnight because he says, “It is created to addict the users.” The creators of many games use functional MRI’s  to determine if the part of the brain associated with pleasure is activated with the desired outcome of hooking the player into the game. They are making sure they are arousing the fight or flight response to achieve the desired respiration level. If they don’t get the right response, they go back and add components to the game until they reach the desired results: to addict the user. Children playing this game can be put into a state of activation of those areas of the brain connected to pleasure and reward. Knowing the potential for arousal and addictive behavior is important for parents and children. Bringing children's attention to how this arousal and reward might feel when they are playing the game is another step parents can take to coach their children on how to control their own game use. Banning the game would be nice, but it won’t stop the game makers from coming up with a different game that will do the same thing.

      I am a realist. Computers, the internet, and games are here to stay.

      Just like not all who gamble become gamblers, not all children who play video games will become addicted. But every person who has access to devices needs to learn how to manage them. The games young children are playing are a gateway to other forms of social media. The devices have too many components that make it easy to eventually become addicted to texting, checking emails, or seeing how friends are doing and living vicariously. Parents are restricting the use of their children’s devices, but that is not enough. We need to train children to manage their own use while they are playing games at home, so they can manage it when no one is around to do so and there is more to draw their attraction.  

      I do not believe the answer is in total parent control, but in training children to control the devices instead of the devices controlling them.

       You may be thinking, it isn’t possible to train young children to stop playing. This belief is selling our children short. If they can learn how to navigate to a game on the internet, they can learn to monitor their own use.

      It won’t come naturally to young children, because their prefrontal lobes are not fully developed and that is where planning occurs. But they can be trained to do it. The following are coaching points for parents:

      1. Help your children understand the chemical changes that occur during game playing.

      2. Identify the feelings that these changes present.

      3. Recognize the brains need for breaks after playing games before they try to do their homework or study for tests .

      4. Explain the neuroscience behind learning and memory and the impact the games have on those brain functions.

      5. Teach them a time management plan, so they can schedule their device use. They can learn to plan for the use of their devices when they will learn their brains need breaks, and they will have to schedule for those breaks.

      6. Teens can learn to leave a message for all their friends that they will not be available by text, phone, or email for a specific amount of time and then lock their phones in another room.

      7. Train your children to stop their own play, notice the feelings the game creates to pull them back in, and how to shift back to a normal state, so they can stop playing.

      8. Knowing the motives of game makers helps students recognize when the game is trying to control them, which makes it easier for them to resist the offers. They learn that, if they are to play, they must control the game, instead of letting the game control them. 

      Next Blog: Teaching Children to Manage the Internet Use Time