Summary

Since addictive feedback systems are perceived as being good for business, they are deliberately designed into everyday products. However, while these systems are often useful in the short run, they do not foster a positive relationship between the user and product in the long-term. Addictions are often cultivated by unpredictability - a common technique known as variable reward - where something different happens every time you click. You don’t know what is waiting for you in your inbox, you don’t know which Pokemon is nearby at any given time. While variability and mystery can be authentic and integral parts of some products, they are capable of actively creating unhealthy and unsustainable addictions. Instead, creating more manageable and predictable experiences would help mitigate this problem. 

Example of this Principle in Action

Basis of this Principle

There are many ways to cultivate addiction, the most common one being the hook model articulated in Hooked by Nir Eyal. Most often it manifests as some form of variable reward or mysterious outcome that builds up a ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO). This can occur even if the likelihood of missing something important is very small and keeps someone addicted to coming back, refreshing the page, or constantly checking for updates, in the hope that something novel and amazing will appear. This sensation is often compared to that of playing a Slot Machine. Variable rewards are consciously embedded in products because they are good for business. However, in some cases they can function to the detriment of everyone. A recent example of a variable reward mechanic creating an unsustainable sense of FOMO and a Slot Machine effect can be seen with Pokemon GO, where the game lost over a third of its daily active users under a month (Bloomberg). Many cited reasons such as ‘it was too distracting’, ‘I was spending too much time playing’, and ‘I should spend my time doing something better’ as reasons for deleting the application. Therefore, mitigating such addictive patterns, by reducing unpredictability, should be a priority to ensure a sustainable relationship between your product and the user.