You can get addicted to anything.  I think we’ve all made a joke regarding how we are addicted to our phones, checking Facebook or Instagram constantly.  The addiction to technology is by design. Behavioral scientists have been tasked with making certain apps or video games more addictive and your fear of missing out (FOMO) is what drives the desire to constantly “check in”.

The design of phone apps has been pulled from casino tricks.  Apps are designed with bright colors, notifications that constantly send an alarm to you, begging for your attention, similar to how slot machines draw your attention.  Social media apps are also designed with infinite scrolling, so with no pre-defined end of a page, it’s easy lose track of time and get lost within the world of the app.  When you post a picture in Instagram or Facebook, your desire for feedback, aka “Likes”, keeps you constantly checking to see if people care about what you post.  

The video game industry has almost perfected the art of addiction.  It’s to the point that laws are regularly proposed to cut down on what amounts to gambling aimed at children.  Online, free-to-play games such as Apex Legends or Fortnite are designed based on FOMO causing you to cough up money.

Let me explain.

You can get a copy of Apex Legends for free to play right now, without spending a penny.  When you start playing, your character levels up via XP points. You get XP points for doing well in the game.  And you can get extra XP for the “first kill of the day” or just logging in per day, subconsciously driving you to play the game every day.  

Once you level up enough, the game gives you a box with 3 free random items in it.  Continue to level up enough, and you are eligible for more free boxes but also eligible for a second tier of better items on the paid side. The paid side comes in the form of a season pass for $10.  The season pass is only eligible for a certain period before it expires, never to be seen again. As you progress through the season, you can see how many items you’ve accumulated on the paid side as the timer ticks down on the current season, enticing you to buy before the clock resets with the next season. Then, the cycle starts over and you want to keep buying more.

When you open these random items (aka loot boxes), you may get an item for the characters you can currently play with.  But, the game may also give you items for characters you aren’t eligible to play with now.  You either play the game for an extremely long period of time, called grinding, or you can spend some more money right now to unlock that character and use the items from the loot box.  The game purposely teases you with items that you may not be able to use right now.


Now, games such as Apex Legends or Fortnite, only have items that are cosmetic in nature.  It doesn’t give any player an in-game advantage.  Mobile games such as Clash of Clans or Candy Crush implement models that let you advance in the game further and faster if you pay.

This can take the form of energy points, allowing you to play the game a handful of times, and then wait an hour or two before you can play again.  Of course, you can avoid this by purchasing more energy points for immediate access.

The game can be designed in such a way that you can’t beat a level without buying a special weapon, card, or gem.  The worst cases are where you can’t buy the specific item but rely on those random loot boxes that I mentioned earlier.  This is where the comparison to gambling comes in because you may never get the item you need to play the game. Instead, you repeatedly buy the random loot boxes, with your fingers crossed that you get the items you need.

You need to recognize the signs that the game is trapping you in a pay scheme.  These are designed to be addictive. Other than the price of the game, is the game winnable without spending more money? Do you recognize the sensation on the fear of missing out?


John Barker President at Barker Management Consulting. He can be reached at  or

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