Persuasive Design


Type of Resource


Publication Date

June 22, 2023


Gaming  / Screen Time / Social Media and Apps 

Convincing users to engage, remain and return to a particular activity.

When we play games or use new apps different parts of our brains are stimulated by the anticipation of winning or losing, keeping up to date with friends, beating other players or finally cracking a level that’s been difficult.

By understanding basic game and app design you can recognise the tricks and tips used to keep young people in your care engaged.

Young people can be more susceptible to these features and may understandably struggle to regulate their screen time without your guidance.

immersed in phones

Some examples of games and app features that keep us playing are:

  • Being able to play or connect with friends online.
  • Push notifications and custom notifications for our favourite content/youtuber.
  • Earning points/coins/cash at the end of games or levels.
  • Earning likes, streaks, hearts or stars on your posts.
  • Daily challenges and push notifications to encourage us to play.
  • Levels and being able to win free loot boxes or prizes.
  • Maintenance of tools, profiles vehicles or costumes.
  • Editing photos, videos or changing gameplay settings.
  • Regular updates or new features.
  • Being able to pay to bypass difficult levels, unlock new features or buy better equipment (in-app purchases).
  • Energy systems which run out after we play, making us wait.
features that keep us playing

There are several features that, by design, aim to encourage further gameplay:

Feedback loops

This is the core of all video games, used to engage and interest players. These feedback loops are best understood by the relationships between actions and outcomes. For example, winning a game or completing a level unlocks a new weapon or feature.

Online Gameplay

Online multiplayer has literally ‘changed the game’. Young people can be encouraged to stay online longer, or to be online when their friends are so they can play together. The social aspect of this type of gaming experience is a powerful pull factor for young people.

Online gameplay can be risky for young people if they interact with strangers in unmoderated environments. ‘Mutual interest’ in gaming can help build rapport or friendship and may lead to further contact on other platforms with people they don’t know. These people may not be who they say they are.

Energy systems

These are used to keep us engaged, you might find that once you get into a game your energy or lives run out. This can prompt us to pay to continue or set a timer to come back to the game.

In-app currencies

These currencies are used to buy materials, weapons, content or features. They can also be used to pay for more energy or lives. These currencies mimic the value of real money and can usually be bought in bulk for expensive sums of money.

Haptic feedback

This is when the device vibrates, moves or mimics movement when you interact with a game or app. This feedback simulates our sense of touch making us feel more connected to the game or app. For example, this can happen when our controller or device vibrates if we crash or our avatar is injured during gameplay.

Regular updates

Games and apps are constantly being refreshed, updated and improved. These new and updated features often draw in new players or users, or re-interest users who might have otherwise lost interest.

In-App purchases

Lots of games and apps include in-app purchases for players. These can include features like buying extra lives, additional features and unlocking tools or cheats. Some of these purchases are similar to gambling, for example ‘loot boxes’ cost money and include in game assets but there is no guarantee what players will receive. Some young people may be encouraged to keep buying ‘loot boxes’ in hopes of receiving their desired ‘loot’.

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