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The Power Of Habit And The Psychology Driving Growth In Mobile Gaming Versus PC Gaming

Consumer habits and an ability to either manufacture them or take advantage of those that already exist can determine the future of any product. The frequency of internal triggers and the intensity of pain that they cause has an enormous impact on an individual product and the trajectory of a specific market. In gaming, the prevalence of the distribution platforms and the pains that gamers feel prior to launching an app or logging into a game are changing the landscape and overall growth trajectory of gaming categories.

Habit Forming Products

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, describes that every habit starts with an internal trigger that a user feels without thinking about it. It’s the itch that she seeks to scratch with a solution. The more often that internal trigger happens, the more likely a product can become a habit for consumers. Although it’s an unfortunate truth about habit forming products, this internal trigger must be an actual pain that someone is seeking relief from. For instance, Snapchat can relieve the pain of loneliness or the fear of missing out on what friends are doing right now.

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Another book, The Power of Habit, provides many real world examples of companies that were able to manufacture habits. One of the best examples is from the early 1900s. At that point, very few Americans were brushing their teeth despite the oral hygiene benefits. Pepsodent, a toothpaste manufacturer, obviously wanted to change this and make brushing teeth a daily habit. A clever campaign was developed around a common trigger. At the time, Americans had the habit of licking their teeth. Pepsodent used this internal trigger to remind people to brush the grime away. Additionally, they provided a brilliant and unnecessary reward at the end, the mint aftertaste. This reward told a brusher that they had accomplished the goal.

The Internal Triggers In Gaming

There are few products on the market that are better at fostering habits than gaming. In my opinion, there are essentially four key pains that games solve. The frequency of these pains probably determines the likelihood of genres or platforms increasing their market share. For each pain, there’s a need and many solutions. The four most common needs in gaming are distraction, escapism, socializing, and competition. For each gamer, his need for one or a combination of the four determines the games that he plays most and the platforms he uses to play those games.

Although we don’t have proof to back this claim up, it seems likely that the order of frequency of the internal triggers that lead to people trying to find solutions to their needs is 1) distraction 2) socializing 3) escapism 4) competition.

Mobile Gaming Has Eclipsed PC Gaming

As this article points out, mobile gaming revenue was finally expected to surpass PC and console gaming revenue in 2016. This was inevitable as the installation base for mobile is incredibly large relative to the smaller PC and even smaller console markets. Mobile has also found incredible success in micro transactions, which was only part of a couple genres in the PC gaming market. Those markets in PC gaming (MMOs) ended up being the largest in that ecosystem as well. Micro transactions are actually the perfect monetization model for a product that caters specifically to the need of seeking distraction.

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Mobile Gaming Is For Distraction

Not only was this transition of revenue inevitable due to the installation base and time spent, but psychological forces and the pains that each platform solved for were bound to lead to mobile being a larger gaming platform. Humans feel the pain of boredom and seek to solve that pain with distractions frequently and at random intervals throughout the day. A mobile phone is always with a gamer and always accessible. This makes the resolution of the pain much easier to accomplish (the second stage of the habit loop). Mobile attempts to solve the other needs through game mechanics, but at the very core of the tremendous growth in mobile gaming is the pain of boredom and a need to resolve it with distraction. Since the action is much easier with mobile gaming, the market has expanded into new demographics and reaches almost every person on a smartphone.

PC Gaming Solves For The Need Of Escapism

On the other hand, PC gaming and console gaming solve the need to escape much better than mobile. The larger format screens, better graphics, and typical environment that these platforms are used in foster a more immersive model of entertainment that cannot be matched on a smaller screen. People who are looking to escape become very picky about frame rates, graphics quality, and other measures of their gameplay experience. This is the foundation of the often heated debates on the internet about hardware and the specs you need to play the top games. Gamers are willing to spend a significant portion of their disposable income to upgrade their gaming PC and get a more immersive experience.

Although a gamer may feel the need to escape their environment many times throughout the day, it’s certainly less frequent than the need for distraction. Due to the formats and platforms required to get as close to escaping reality as possible, PC and console gaming requires intent and scheduled time. This makes the second phase of the habit loop, the action, much more difficult to solve than it is in mobile gaming. From this perspective, mobile gaming will dominate due to its ability to solve the more frequent trigger with less work — that and every person on the planet will eventually have a mobile phone.

With that being said, it’s not the end for console or PC gaming. Intel expects a 26% annual growth rate in the gaming PC hardware market. Console and PC gaming solve a different need than mobile, and they will continue to flourish, especially as people look for more opportunities to escape with increasing idle time and intent driven gaming. As Erik Hurst from the University of Chicago discovered:

The hours that [underemployed men] are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games.

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