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The options trading interfaces on E-Trade (L) and Robinhood (R). Illustration: Axios

To understand why Robinhood is so popular, it's best to think in terms of game design.

Why it matters: While other brokerages sell ultra-sophisticated investing tools or boring things like retirement planning, Robinhood makes an addictive mobile-native game.

As Matt Levine wrote in November:

"You can analyze Robinhood as a mobile gaming company. It makes an app that you can download to your phone, and then you can play a game on the app. As with many mobile games, there are in-app purchases, and you can end up spending a lot of money on the Robinhood game. The game is of course a stock-trading game. The purchases are stocks."

What they're saying: Noah Brier, of the indispensable Why Is This Interesting daily newsletter, this week compared E-Trade's option trading interface to Robinhood's.

"The former makes options look like a very serious thing you can lose a lot of money on. The latter resembles rating a YouTube video."

The bottom line: When a professional investor like Leon Cooperman says that the Robinhood mania will "end in tears," he's absolutely right on a literal basis: Bad design decisions might well have cost a young man's life. But if what he's talking about is total investment returns, he could be making a category error. People are attracted to games because of the enjoyment of playing them much more than because of the pleasure they get from any winnings.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Sep 21, 2020 - Economy & Business

Retail traders drove Snowflake and Unity Software's IPO surges

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The story of last week's Snowflake and Unity Software IPOs had little to do with data warehousing or 3D game development, and lots to do with dizzying "pops" after pricing.

What happened: The Robinhood effect.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
2 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Exxon says it's well-positioned amid investor pressure

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

ExxonMobil said Wednesday that its oil-and-gas development plans will create good returns even at modest oil prices as the company looks to win back investor confidence after several rocky years.

Driving the news: The company, just ahead of an investor presentation this morning, said its investments are designed to generate returns of over 30% and touted its spending reductions.

18 mins ago - Technology

Google says goodbye to individual user tracking

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Google made clear Wednesday that after it finished phasing out third-party cookies over the next year or so, it won't introduce other forms of identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web.

Why it matters: The move comes amid increased scrutiny over the way tech giants use consumer data to reinforce their dominance, particularly around personalized advertising.

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