Mobile Games — The Addictive Money Sink

How Mobile Games Make Millions Exploiting Addiction

8 min readMay 17, 2021



Those innocent little games on the app store. Yes those ones. The free ones. Watch out.

In the modern day, almost everything is optimised to take money out of your pocket. Those free games want you to pay. And they will attempt to psychologically manipulate you until you do.

To put it simply, mobile games are highly addictive products. Game creators have found that using a “freemium” model along with microtransactions is an insanely effective business model.

Let’s take a quick look at the highest-grossing mobile games in recent years:

Candy Crush Saga in 2020: $857 million

Clash Of Clans in 2019: $700 million

PubG Mobile: $2.6 billion

Honor of Kings: $2.5 billion

Companies are making an absolute killing off these little pixelated games on our phones. But how do these companies make so much profit? Who actually spends money on these games? And why?

Well dear friends, let me take you down the rabbit hole of mobile games.

The Dopamine Shot

Candy Crush gives the player a dopamine shot

Mobile games encourage surges of dopamine just as cocaine and gambling do. Like most video games, they hijack the natural reward circuitry in our brain and trick us into thinking we’ve achieved something when we complete a level.

These dopamine shots are addictive for certain kinds of people. Mobile games will encourage these dopamine shots with congratulatory fireworks, on-screen XP counters or numbers and complimentary text, like Candy Crush’s “Sweet!”.

Bright colours. Sparkly animations. Increasing coins or XP. All of these things serve to activate the dopamine reward system in our brain. We feel like we’re accomplished something; like we’re progressing somehow. The truth, of course, is that we’re sat still hunched over our phones; completing none of our real life goals.