It took six weeks for the masses to obsess over and then just as quickly get over Draw Something. Just a month after Dots stole away our attention, Candy Crush swooped in to occupy our idle time. Now, less than four weeks later, doesn't it seem like people are already getting over that, too? You know when Newsweek and The New York Times start writing about a trend it's the beginning of the end. (And, just as the company is preparing itself for an IPO, too!) Along with our shrinking attention spans for everything else in "modern life," we even have also developed a low tolerance for our leisure activities, a tolerance that seems to be getting lower and lower.
The phenomenon fits in with the general panic over what the Internet and technology are doing to our brains. But there's something particular about phone games that make them so easy to cycle through. Social networks have their moments, but almost 10 years later and people still use it on their phones. Games—at least ones of a particular sort—on the other hand, have an ever-shrinking life span.
Our short-term interest in popular phone games has a lot to do with their design. These are "casual" games, meant to grab the attention of the masses—rather than of dedicated gamers. To attract that audience means creating a world with a very low barrier to entry. That not only means a simple mechanism—like connecting the dots—but often it results in something familiar, as game maker Blue Key Red Key explains:
This core gameplay mechanic instantly clicks with you because it resonates with something you already know from the real world. Whether it is the logic behind catapults as in Angry Birds, the logic behind rope cutting as in Cut the Rope or the slicing of fruit as in Fruit Ninja, the relationship between what you do, and what plays out on the screen seems intuitive and logical.
These games have to be simple because they fill a very specific niche in our lives: We play them during bite-sized moments of free time—waiting in the checkout line, sitting at a bar before a friend comes, etc. Complexity would make it a different kind of game for a different kind of gamer.