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TheStreet Open House

Is Candy Crush Unethical?

Stocks in this article: AAPLGOOGPSIRI

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm hooked on Candy Crush, the top grossing app in Apple's (AAPL) App Store (as of this writing) and, as of last check, in the Google (GOOG) Play apparatus.

Over at BloombergBusinessweek, Joshua Brustein wrote an article worth reading: How Freemium Products Use Our Brains Against Us.

Citing some compelling thought pieces, Brustein wonders, without taking a hardcore stand in either direction, if games such as Candy Crush use tactics questionable from an ethical standpoint to lure users into making in-app purchases. Simply put, Candy Crush mixes relatively easy levels with seemingly impossible ones to trigger our psychological impulses to pay 99 cents for more lives (instead of waiting like 20 minutes for them) or to skip past a difficult part of the game altogether.

Brustein even brings Pandora (P) Internet radio into the picture:

Others, like Pandora, Spotify, and many gaming sites have opted instead for a freemium model that provides basic services without charge but demands that you fork over real money for the good stuff.
Human nature leaves users vulnerable to services that offer freebies up to a point, then begin demanding payment. It turns out that we are irrationally attached to goods and services we're already using.

Freemium services, as Brustein puts it, that make their paid products seem like necessary upgrades.

But, what's wrong with this? I don't quite see the ethical conundrum.

You want commercial-free music or no mobile listening cap, you pay $36 a year in lieu of hearing advertising that helps Pandora "pay its bills." Seems completely on the up-and-up to me. After all, it's part of what drives Sirius XM's (SIRI) success.

After about two weeks of trying, I finally passed Level 29 on Candy Crush. I paid 99 cents, while bored on vacation, to get more lives, but I don't think I would ever pay a dollar to skip a level I couldn't beat. That goes against my principle of competitive spirit. But, again, isn't this the type of behavior games -- regardless of the medium -- should encourage? Users emotionally picking and choosing how to spend their entertainment dollar?

You have probably spent more money than logical on carnival games at the penny arcade to win a stuffed animal for your kid. Spend $25 squirting water into a target to move a duck along a course just to get Johnny a toy that probably retails for much less. It's not all that different from powering up on Candy Crush or splurging for no commercials on Pandora. There might be a slightly different psychological dynamic at work, but it all falls under the same -- or at least a similar -- umbrella.

At day's end, businesses exist to part their consumers -- or somebody -- from their money. We can blame this reality all we want, but, ultimately, it comes down to our individual flaws, particularly short attention spans, tried patience and the need for instant gratification.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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