I was hanging out with my friends the other day and I look over across the room to see that one of my friends was playing Tiny Tower. Tiny Tower for those who don’t know is a game for iOS and android released in 2011 where players manage a tower filled with virtual people called “bitzens”. The goal is to keep adding new floors that are either residential or commercial and of course make as much profit as possible. When I saw my friend playing this, I immediately shouted “what a throwback!”
During freshman year of high school, my friends and I would constantly be playing this game either stocking our stores, employing our bitzens, or renting out apartments to new bitzens. As I fondly looked back at those memories I thought about all the other phone games that have come and gone over the course of the history of the smartphone. I thought about how a model of a successful iPhone game involves getting people addicted to the product for about three months only to completely drop off the face of the Earth when people realize that this simple game isn’t that fun.
You don’t realize this is the formula until you actually think back at all those games you used to play. Temple Run got everyone hooked with the fact that the world is endless. This game involves players being chased by monkeys in an abandoned temple. This chase is never ending. There is no finish line, no checkpoints, just constant running and obstacles. This is addicting. Once you die and get a score, you can easily say “one more game, I can get a little bit farther next time”. Freshman year of high school, I remember walking down the rows of tables in the cafeteria and seeing at least one person per table trying to beat their previous score. Not to mention this game was the top grossing iOS app of that year. But then everyone got bored. And I haven’t seen anyone play that app since.
Same thing with those interactive games that allow you to play with your Facebook friends. Words with Friends and Draw Something both had their respective 15 minutes of fame. Even though these were just Scrabble and Pictionary in an app, people got addicted because they would make their move and then have to wait patiently for their friend. Their friend could be out shopping or in class and not have time to play. It kept people always waiting and always thinking about the game. And people LOVED it. I remember seeing people with 5 or 6 games going at once. Hell, I had 5 or 6 games of Words with Friends going at once at one point. But then people move on.
A more recent example is Pokémon Go. I remember having a conversation with my friend while we were walking down Main Street catching Pokémon surrounded by hundreds of kids looking at their phones and he was amazed at the app’s impact. “It’s a game that you can play anywhere and have a different experience depending on where you are. It makes you go out and play it. This is going to be around for awhile. There’s so much to do, people wont get sick of it.” I remember shaking my head and saying the hype wont last. I was right. While it’s still a cool concept and people still play it, there is not nearly as much hype surrounding the game as there was over the summer.
So why do we get so addicted to these phone games and drop them like a bad habit? We drop them to the point where I don’t even remember the last time I saw someone play Angry Birds. Well it’s our generation’s version of a “fad”. There are always things in culture that are trending and are “in now” but then they get pushed aside by the next thing because we live in a forward moving culture. Just like how hair metal was so cool in the 80’s and lame in the 90’s, Angry Birds was cool in 2009 and now no one plays it.