Living in the shadow of George Yao
I came across the story of George Yao, Clash of Clans player extraordinaire (until he retired last year) after attending this year’s Gaming Analytics Summit conference in San Francisco. An eagerly sought after lunch had me sit next to a developer from Sony’s PlayStation London office. She told me how disappointed she was with this year’s GDC and its feeble analytics content. The story of George Yao, poignantly recounted by New York Times Bits columnist Matt Bai, remains a lesson for game players everywhere on how addiction can take control of your life (for better and for worse). Having a love/hate relationship with mobile gaming myself, I finally discovered and experienced gaming addiction. While I didn’t spend thousands of dollars to purchase more IAPs, I did spend money and in retrospect, I’m upset at myself for having done so.
Boom Beach is listed as one of the top freemium games in Apple’s iOS store. I knew about Supercell’s Clash of Clans but decided to try out Boom Beach. Similar to Clans, you’re given some land where you are responsible for building your empire. Once you start playing, you quickly realize that similar to Clans, you’ve got to keep collecting pink gems in order to acquire more weaponry and resources to grow your presence. I quickly used up all of my gems and while I enjoyed trying to invade and conquer other players territory, I knew that in order for me to enjoy this game over the long haul I was going to need more gems. Power up as they say! I decided after watching my own island get invaded and ransacked once too often that the only way I could compete was to purchase more pink gems. I did what I thought I’d never ever do. I purchased more gems. $5. Luckily, I still had some unused iTunes credit (given to me as a present) so I didn’t have to spend any of my own money.
I purchased 500 gems and quickly upgraded my weaponry and resources. I continued to fight competitors, invade islands, and found myself spending more and more time on my iPhone throughout the day. At any point when I had downtime, I jumped on my iPhone to login and see what additional progress I could make. This kept happening, at first, maybe 3 or four times a day, then it quickly jumped to double that, to more than 15 times a day and then into the evening as well. I bought more gems. Another $5 worth. I swore to myself that I’d purchase no more. And then another $5. I spent my entire iTunes credit of more than $40. I kept reviewing the leaderboards and visiting the islands of the top players. How could they have grown their power and influence without having spent money on more gems? Supercell was making a killing. Boom Beach, similar to Clash of Clans, tapped the competitive nerve endings of game players worldwide. Not content to be way down the leaderboard, players spend hundreds of dollars to acquire more gems and rise up. I never thought a player might spend $45 or more on an IAP but I was in for a rude surprise.
I decided for the first time to spend my own money on purchasing additional gems. I kept it to $5 purchases swearing to myself that I wouldn’t spend anymore. Sure enough, wanting to conquer more territory and surpass my competitors, I decided to purchase even more gems. In a three-week period, I spent nearly $200. I played solely using my iPhone. No iPads for me. I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t want to spend any more money but I had to if I was going to grow and become more powerful. How much time was I wasting? The gameplay became less rewarding over time. There’s was no way I could keep up with my competitors. And in an instant, I deleted the game from my iPhone.
Free from addiction
When you’re addicted to anything, you’re held captive by a force unlike no other. It’s that inner voice, telling you “come on,” “there’s nothing wrong with playing a bit more,” “remember, you’re playing with millions of others,” and they aren’t quitting either.” You’re able to prove to yourself why it’s OK to keep playing even if at some point you begin to realize that the returns on playing longer diminished many gems ago. Unlike George Yao, I didn’t make any friends playing Boom Beach. Maybe playing a game on an iPhone isn’t conducive to forging friendships. I don’t know. No one player ever reached out to me saying, “hey, want to be friends?” I felt alone, isolated, and no one cared. Matter of fact, every game I’ve ever played online, I’ve never made any friends. I typically get attacked by more experienced players who could care less about my novice ways. I remember playing World of Warcraft and feeling the same away. No friends and no relationships. In the end, I found playing Boom Beach to be a colossal waste of time. It’s time that I’ve lost and will never get back. But that was my experience. I’m not George Yao and George found friends through his addiction.
I don’t encourage game players to find or seek out addiction. For most, notoriety similar to George Yao won’t arrive. You’ll just remain an anonymous addict whom no one will care about. Think about that the next time you play Boom Beach or any other online game for the umpteenth time.