Please Explain Why Angry Birds is Addictive

By  |  Friday, October 15, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Angry Birds is often described as an addictive game, which helps explain why the full version’s launch for Android phones is big news. Starting today, the game can be downloaded for free through GetJar, a third-party app store, and it’s coming to the Android Market over the weekend.

If you’re one of the folks who’s hooked on Angry Birds — and please don’t take this the wrong way — I don’t understand why. Angry Birds is a clever game, for sure. It has cute characters, elegant design and simple goals. But addictive? I just don’t see it.

Video game addiction is often associated with massive multiplayer online games, like World of Warcraft. The social nature of these games, some experts say, fills a void of friendship and acceptance that the real world doesn’t provide. I’m sure that the dangling carrot system of rewards in MMOs also plays a big role. These kinds of addictive games get a negative connotation, perhaps because you become a social outsider by playing with other people in solitude.

The other prominent class of addictive games are repetitive puzzlers, like Tetris and Bejeweled. A 1994 Wired article examined how Tetris stimulates the brain, and got a wonderful explanation from Vladimir Pokhilko, a former clinical psychologist and friend of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. He said Tetris is addictive because of instant visual feedback, the creation of unfinished business that pushes the player to continue, and — the real important part, I think — automation, where your motivation to repeat the same actions becomes habitual.

Somewhere in between these two classes lies the recent wave of social games like Farmville. It has a social layer and a rewards system, like an MMO, and repetitive, automatic actions, like Tetris. Maybe that’s why Zynga is raking in the dough.

Thing is, Angry Birds doesn’t fit into these descriptions of addictive games. It’s the opposite of automatic, requiring careful, calculated precision; it offers no rewards other than new levels and abilities; and there’s nothing social about it.

So here’s my theory: Angry Birds is not an addictive game. It’s just a solid game, the kind that makes you want to play for a while. On consoles and computers, this is no big deal. I’d play Super Mario Bros. 3 for hours on end when I was seven years old. But on iPhone and Android game, where the games are supposed to be inconsequential, who would’ve thought?

Let me know if I’m way off base.


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13 Comments For This Post

  1. IcyFog Says:

    Playing Angry Birds on an iPad makes all the difference in the world in my opinion. I tried on the iPhone, and it just doesn't hold the same appeal as on the iPad's bigger screen.

  2. John Baxter Says:

    I had to take Tetris off my MacPlus to get the world back.

  3. @techcrunchies Says:

    I tried Angry Birds and thought it was pretty useless..I have no clue why it is being seen as such an addictive game. Farmville – though I hate that one as well is understandable. People had that urge to keep visiting back to keep their farms from rotting or whatever. But Angry Birds is so boring.

  4. L1A Says:

    It's not, you just trying to be IN with the machine! Got my refund after trying out this game that's full of bad.

  5. critter42 Says:

    AB is addictive in the sense (for me at least) that I am just "this close" to finding a way to get each puzzle in one or two moves (to 3 star the level) – the "if I just move a little to the left…arrrgghh!…just missed…ok, a little to the left and UP…" kind of addiction…

  6. @TheCentauress Says:

    That's exactly it, critter! The game itself entices you to try perfect the level, and for the 'golden eggs' levels as well. I'm looking for the right spot to get the 'Treasure chest' golden egg right now…

  7. davezatz Says:

    Eh, I own Angry Birds and I don't get the appeal. Maybe I'm just an old fuddy duddy.

  8. @klandwehr Says:

    Critter42 has it exactly right it is the idea that if I just do it one more time, move to the left, it will work type of addiction. I have now finished all three levels and now its can I do better this time around. The fact that there is an end to the game (unlike Tetris or Bejeweled ) made it even more addictive to me I found myself wanting to complete it and putting it down became difficult.

  9. @brockatkinson Says:

    While I appreciate the game and the 2D physics and nice, fun graphics, it doesn't appeal to me as "addictive" in the same way that other games require you to be – it can be put down and picked back up again at any time (something you can't necessarily do on FarmVille).

    I think you're entirely right. Zynga games and MMO's are designed to specifically be addictive for the users (after all, that's where their business model lies), whereas Rovio just wanted to make a good game that people enjoyed playing.

    Btw, last night I downloaded it and beat the first 21 levels in one go.

  10. David Hamilton Says:

    Agree with Critter42, but would also add that there is the childish enjoyment in knocking things down (and sometimes blowing things up!).

    The final extra spice is added by that 'will it, won't it' factor. Sometimes a hit will make the the whole structure wobble… but then it settles back and stays standing. Other times it wobbles, and wobbles a bit more… Will it fall? Won't it? Going, going, nooo… YES!!!

  11. David Says:

    For me it's a simple wanting to see the next level. That's an old fashioned game mechanic back from the early 80s.

  12. Jason Says:

    The writer says, "Thing is, Angry Birds doesn’t fit into these descriptions of addictive games. It’s the opposite of automatic, requiring careful, calculated precision." Can't the need to achieve perfection be addictive? I think it can. However, as noted by some posters it isn't for everyone. Therefore, it may be addictive only to those seeking perfection (possibly quantified by 3-star ratings). It's possible that a study could be generated whereby players were asked to rate the degree of likability, logged hours, etc. while accounting for average group-ratings (1-, 2-, and 3-stars). Most games developed well attempt to appeal to several gamer types (casual, moderate, pro, etc.). I remember playing all of my video games as a child with the main purpose being perfection. However, games were designed differently during 8-bit years (platforming was a major component, using a variable reward schedule of reinforcement) but the player could still create elements of perfection (e.g. playing through a game without dying; getting every power-up; precision mechanics such as speed and well timed jumps, etc.). Therefore, it may be that Angry Birds may only be addictive to a select group of players with perfectionist dispositions. Furthermore, the author is correct in stating that the game is SOLID; since not everyone playing AB is a perfectionist, the game must be offering other enticements to keep it at the top of the downloaded lists.

  13. twilight Says:

    I tried angry birds and it didnt appeal to me just makes you want to rip your hair out. I don't see how it's so popular. Probably a bunch of outsiders trying to be cool.