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How Jetpack Joyride uses game psychology to keep you hooked

This post has been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.

I initially dismissed mobile title Jetpack Joyride as yet another clone of Helicopter Game, a one-note Flash game my friends and I used to play in high school instead of paying attention in class (until we figured out how to install Quake III Arena on the school laptops). The web-based game was incredibly simple — click to lift your chopper or release to let it fall while avoiding hitting anything as you fly through a cave.

But it was so addicting.

Considering that Helicopter Game came out in 2003, I couldn’t believe how Jetpack Joyride jazzed up so many people. It’s the same experience!

Actually, it’s not. Joyride takes the same premise and applies almost a decade’s worth of game psychology to create something even more addicting.

The most significant change is how much easier it is. If you weren’t paying attention when you started Helicopter Game, you could die immediately from touching the bottom of the cave. It required constant alertness. Joyride is more forgiving.

The hallway you fly through always stays totally level, so you never need to worry about your path slithering up and down, narrowing and opening at random. In fact, you can run on the ground or rub your head against the ceiling all you want as long as a laser or a missile is not in the way. You can get in vehicles that change the way you move and give you a buffer when you get hit. And you can buy items that give you everything from a head start to a second chance when you die.

Jetpack Joyride encourages you to keep playing because every run feels like it could be the one. But that’s not all.

You can buy unlockable gadgets, borrowing from Call of Duty’s addictive perks system, to give you different abilities like a jump, quicker falling, missile jamming capabilities, and a bouncy ball that deploys when you die to add a few more meters to your final distance. You can also purchase new outfits and jetpacks to customize your character.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been using the word “buy” a lot. That’s right. I haven’t even gotten to the coins yet. Oh God, the coins.

Jetpack Joyride 2

You’ll buy everything in the game with coins that you earn as you play or acquire with real money. That’s how Joyride keeps you hooked and how it gets you to play “just one more time.” You’re always so close to getting the next thing that you absolutely need, and it’s just so easy to start another run that you feel you might as well play just one more time.

Well, that one didn’t count because I died in the first 100 meters. That’s hardly a run. Just one more.

The game even borrows from the Xbox 360’s achievement system with persistent awards and a rotating set of three missions for you to complete, like collecting a certain amount of coins in one run, dying within a specific distance, or high-fiving the scientists that run along the ground.

You’ll want to complete missions, you see, because they unlock stars that will level you up. Then, you can earn more coins to buy more gadgets, so you can make earning coins easier to buy more gadgets to complete more missions. Get it?

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