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Why are people still playing Coin Master?

A dive into a game where the rewards aren't the main draw
Why are people still playing Coin Master?

It's probably unwise for a games journalist to talk about their gaps in gaming knowledge. You would, quite reasonably, expect us to know a little bit about everything out there, if only out of professional curiosity.

But keeping on top of every single release, especially on the mobile marketplace, is nigh-on impossible. And that's why I come to you today to make a confession: I have never played Coin Master.

We've certainly covered Coin Master plenty on PocketGamer.biz. Our original IAP Inspector picked it up back in February 2018, giving it an unfavourable review and calling it "shallow and arguably exploitative".

Not that this has stopped people playing it - we've also run stories on the game clearing $500 million in revenue as of October 2019, and only last week we reported on its best month of revenue ever in February 2020.

It's foolhardy to suggest that critical opinion matches player opinion - those figures alone instantly debunk the notion. But it did make me ponder why exactly people are still playing it all these years later, and why it has in fact grown in revenue recently.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I've been playing Coin Master for the past week, and I think I'm starting to understand why people are still hooked by it.

It's all in the spin

Coin Master is, ostensibly, a game about building up a village using cash earned from playing a slot machine. Build up your village enough, and you unlock the next village, which in turn increases the value of your rewards.

On top of that is some light social mechanics, through which you attack other players' villages to destroy their buildings and earn coins, or "raid" the "Coin Master" by digging up buried treasure in their village.

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It really doesn't get much more complex than that. Even the inclusion of card collections and pets, the latter of which grants certain bonuses to different actions in the game, don't make the game that much more involved.

Indeed, the coins you earn really aren't even the point of the game. It's rare you fail to grab even a few hundred thousand coins from your daily free spins, which usually just about grants you a new building.

Instead, Coin Master hooks you in through its energy system, through battering you with push notifications and in-game pop-ups, through constant events, and through the little details of its ever-spinning one-armed bandit.

It's about the opportunity to keep spinning, keep getting that same tiny endorphin hit over and over until you can't anymore.

Feeling energised?

The energy system is the crux of the whole game. You get five free spins per hour, with a maximum of 50 spins banked at any one time. That's plenty if you're playing casually, but not so much if you want to play for extended periods.

As you progress through the early stages of the game, you eventually unlock the ability to multiply your spins up to 3x and set them on auto-spin. So your 50 spins quickly becomes 16 spins on the 3x multiplier, with an additional 2x spin for good measure.

Set that on auto-spin and you're done in a matter of minutes, especially if your session isn't held up by any attacks or raids.

And once you reach the end of those spins, the onslaught of in-game notifications begins. Refuse to login via Facebook and you receive up to four notifications each and every time you run out of spins, all with the same message: login for free spins, watch this ad for another spin, invite friends for more spins.

Coin Master knows that it's not the monetary reward that people are playing for. It's about the opportunity to keep spinning, keep getting that same tiny endorphin hit over and over until you can't anymore. But you can - you just need to do something for the game first.

You spin me right round

Even the slot machine is designed to keep drawing you in. Alongside the regular interruptions to go off and raid a village, you'll sometimes see the wheels spin tantalisingly close to a big win before stopping early or - if you're lucky - landing on exactly the right image.

That effect is active even in auto-spin mode. Even if you're trying to burn your way through your spins as quickly as possible, Coin Master doesn't let you off the hook. It makes you suffer the highs and lows all the same.

And there's usually some metagame happening at the same time through one of the constantly-added events. Maybe balloons float up when you're playing - tap them for free spins. Maybe one of your pets is digging for treasure - that's free coins and free spins.

This screenshot was taken in 2018, but the hook of Coin Master hasn't changed
This screenshot was taken in 2018, but the hook of Coin Master hasn't changed

Some events are so generous, you can end up playing Coin Master for almost half an hour straight without spending a cent, and once you're out of spins for good, the rush of adrenaline from constant wins doesn't simply seep away. You want to keep going, no matter what.

That's why Coin Master is still generating as much money as it is. It's not about the progression, it's not about the social mechanics, it's not even about the showers of coins you might receive - though they certainly help.

It's the feel of spinning the wheel, even on auto-spin. It's the tiny, slow turns of the last drum as it lands on your third pig. And it's the bombardment of notifications reminding you that you could be playing right now. That's why people are still playing Coin Master.