This story is truly insane;

Master of His Virtual Domain

At one point, he was bringing five iPads into the shower with him, each wrapped in a plastic bag, so that none of his accounts would go inactive.
During this period, while children like Ichi were dreaming of becoming the next Jorge Yao, George Yao himself lost 20 pounds, almost without noticing.

I've been playing Clash of Clans lately – I have a strange sense of pride that I play 'casual games' with a policy of not spending any money (and certainly not losing weight over it), so I'm a long way away from playing it like these top players, but I do have some sense of what the article is talking about.

John Gruber's comment on the article was that;

Yao is obviously an extreme case, but in-app purchases are driving game design more towards addiction and less towards fun.

I would definitely agree that this kind of behaviour is a kind of addiction. But I'm not so sure that I'd attribute it to in-app purchases. I don't know how many people are playing this particular game, but with millions of dollars a day being spent, it must be well into 8 figures.

The thing that I find fascinating is how the players of the game spread out, in terms of this kind of behaviour. This particular game is clearly an extreme case – simply from the amount of money being spent. (There are hundreds of games out there that are barely covering their costs.) And this particular player would appear to an extreme case within that extreme case – no other player has managed anything close to his achievement.

But how many people are sinking money into this kind of game? (I have to admit, I have mentally planned what I would do if I were to spend some money within the game – a game which, I feel I should point out, I have probably spent a good few hours playing without either spending a single penny, or seeing any advertising – so the people who are paying for gems within the game are effectively paying for my games.) I'm pretty sure that most people are just playing for a little while, getting bored and moving on. A smaller number must – like me – be dipping into the game, providing live opponents for similarly matched players to play against. (The way this particular game works is that you can only fight a player when they aren't online.)

And – I presume – a smaller number still are putting money into the game. (I would guess that it starts out by buying a small bag of gems and building a second Builders Hut – and once that threshold has been crossed and that first purchase has been made, its a lot less thought to put a second payment through to boost your stock of gems…) And of those is a hardcore base, spending 'too much money' (I struggle to conceive of a value system where $250 a week on virtual goods in a casual, mobile game isn't 'too much money'), and/or too much time.

But… How many people are spending that kind of time and money on other kinds of computer games. How much do you need to spend on the latest games consoles (and games) to hit the 'too much' threshold?

I can think of a few games I've played where I have crossed the line between the fun of the initial stages of the game through to the 'work' of having to grind your way through some menial, time-consuming task or other.

Usually – unless there is an especially good storyline that I want to see through to the end – thats the point where I put down the controller and move on to something else.

But sometimes, games become an obsession. I've lost track how many people I've talked to who understand the phenomenon of playing too much Tetris and starting to see block shapes in things like wall tiles. Tetris didn't need micropayments to worm its way that deeply into people's brains. Whether in-app purchases are deepening those kind of 'addictions', I don't know – but my guess would be that its more of a social than economic effect. Its relatively easy to walk away from a financial investment (at least, to stop throwing good money after bad.) But is it as easy to walk away from a 'social investment', when you've spent hours getting to know people in your 'clan', helping each other out, and chatting with one another while waiting for your next match/power up/etc.?

I would guess that the answer is no.