I know it’s long, but read a bit before replying, pretty please…
I’ve mentioned this a few times when complaints have arisen regarding the BattlePasses, OP parts, CrossCrowns, and things like un-craftable limited availability parts.
None of this is on accident. It’s all very much on purpose. It’s all very well researched & present in virtually every Free to Play game.
People aren’t as willing to fork out $60 for a game as they once were, and smaller developers can’t afford a huge marketing push to make that profitable, anyhow. So, the F2P model has emerged and has been perfected.
Here are some quotes from a couple of articles with links provided:
1. The Endowed Progress Effect (Artificial Advancement)
The Endowed Progress Effect is something you’ve probably already encountered both in real life and in traditional games. When you go to a carwash and you get a loyalty card, they’ll often stamp the first few points as a “bonus”.
This is actually a trick that makes it more likely you’ll want to complete the set. This effect is a curious situation where people want to finish sets of things that have been artificially started for them by someone else. In a traditional game such as Skyrim, you may overhear two characters speaking and a questline is automatically started or you may pick up an item and be told there are 9 more to be found. Although you didn’t choose to begin the task, you still feel a compulsion to finish it. So don’t be surprised when you are “gifted” the first part of a set of items in a F2P game.
How to Fight Endowed Progress: This one is tough, but if you feel compelled to complete a set or list of things, ask yourself who you’re doing it for. Did you start this work or were you told to do it? Only if keep going if YOU want to.
The Endowed Progress Effect… We’re gonna give you TWO of the new track, but you’re gonna want 4. LOL
2. Loss Aversion Bias
Humans (and certain other primates) have a bias when it comes to losses versus gains. We experience the pain of loss more intensely than the pleasure of gain, so we tend to make decisions that play it safe with the resources we already have. Usually, this manifests as risk aversion, but it can also motivate us to act when something is going to be taken away.
When you’re given a reward that goes away unless you do something to maintain it, our tendency to avoid losses can make you log in just so you don’t miss that 7-day bonus streak. It’s a reliable way to keep people coming through the door when their interest starts to wane.
How to Fight Loss Aversion: Be rational. Weigh up the amount of effort you need to exert to keep something versus how much that thing is actually worth. Only commit to it if you really need or want the perk that’s running out.
Loss Aversion… limited availability of earned resources like… oh… I dunno… lighters? Cartridges?
3. Artificial Scarcity
We value things that are scarce or unique. Artificial scarcity is a tried and tested marketing technique, but it also works as a game design element. Any free-to-play games that offer items that have different rarities are tapping into artificial scarcity in one way or another. Unique items, rare item drops, or unique prizes and rewards all offer a strong incentive to play and, of course, developers can conjure an endless supply of artificially scarce items from thin air for their virtual world.
How to Fight Artificial Scarcity: The same as above! Objectively consider how much the scarce item or reward is > worth to you against how much you have to work to get it and what it will cost you to get it.
Artificial Scarcity… items only available during seasons… workpieces… blueprints… Beholder, anyone?
1 – The Skinner box
We spoke about this one in depth in our idle games article because idle games are a perfect definition for the term.
Skinner boxes are (much to his annoyance) named after psychologist B. F. Skinner. He was researching behavioural conditioning, which is how you reinforce a behaviour psychologically. He placed rats in a box with a switch and, when the rat pressed the switch, food would appear. The rats started to associate the switch with the food and would just keep pressing it even if the food stopped arriving or just appeared randomly. The rats were addicted.
Games that reward players for repetitive actions are called Skinner boxes because they enforce a behaviour that quickly spirals into addiction, or mindless action. Think slot machines in a casino. Idle games do this through repetitive action (tapping), but many games do this through reward boxes or gachas. The player might often get awful rewards, but the occasional draw of something good keeps them going – even if they no longer find it fun.
This is a form of behavioural addiction that everyone gets struck by at some point. Whether it’s loot boxes, random loot drops, or many daily reward systems.
The benefits of this for monetisation and retention are obvious: if a player is addicted to opening loot boxes, they’re going to buy a lot of them. If a player is addicted to a core part of your gameplay loop, they’re going to keep coming back… Again, idle games are the perfect example – just look at how the genre leads in retention!
The Skinner Box… Those dailies in the current season are a good example of this… as are the lead crates. Yay. More junk, but at least it’s something, right?
2 – Sunk cost fallacy
This comes from the idea that humans don’t make rational choices based on an objective summary of potential results. Our judgement is often clouded by what came before it, and especially by how much time we’ve already invested.
For example, imagine we’re playing a game where you flip a coin and guess heads or tails for each flip. To your amazement, you get 8 heads in a row – what do you expect the next flip to be? Most people would say tails, especially if getting a tails would mean you win – you’re overdue for it, right? In reality, the chance of flipping heads or tails will always be 50/50.
If you have been super committed to a game that you really struggled to quit, this is probably what was stopping you. World of Warcraft players with many characters and hundreds of hours committed won’t want to stop and lose all of that, even if playing the game is causing problems elsewhere in their life. If you’re saying that this just sounds like loss aversion with more steps, you’d be right.
The entire concept of Candy Crush Saga was essentially based on this principle, easing players into a few levels until they’re so far in that stopping would suggest they wasted that time. Candy Crush wasn’t even the first saga game that King tested as they went through a series of rapid game prototyping to see which would be the most financially viable. The saga model of continual progression was lifted from a game called Bubble Witch Saga and applied to Candy Crush, which only existed as a successful web game at the time. The incredible engagement of Candy Crush Saga flung King into the billion dollar company it is today.
And a final note on the power of the sunk cost fallacy, it’s often one of the self reported reasons that whales end up spending so much time and money on a game. Read a report of that here.
Sunk Cost Fallacy… I mean, I’ve been playing for years. IMAGINE ALL I HAVE TO LOSE!!! LOL
There’s also growing data that these methods lead to addiction. Granted, it’s not addiction on the level of nicotine, alcohol or opioids, but it’s there. If you’re interested, here are some articles…
On a purely anecdotal note, I have 4 kids. One exhibits disturbing addiction tendencies. As one who grew up in a home with alcoholism & other addictions, I take it very seriously, even though it’s just video games.
This particular kid, if allowed to play at all, exhibited disturbing and obnoxious behavior. He became obsessed and EVERY conversation with him was about gaming. If we’re sitting around the dinner table eating & talking about a particular subject - say an upcoming vacation for example - when he finally entered the conversation, it wouldn’t be about the vacation. It’d be about gaming.
When locked out of the computers (we don’t have consoles), he’d do clever things like sneak into the room immediately after someone got off a computer & would play a YouTube video of 10 hours of black silent video full screen so it looked like the computer was off. Then, in the middle of the night, he’d sneak downstairs to play.
When allowed to play & then made to stop, he’d be irate. Throw fits. Treat everyone like trash for hours.
It went on & on.
Mind you, we’ve taken pretty drastic measures to curtail this, and he’s now aware of his tendencies & behavior. After completely stopping him from gaming for months, and eventually clearly explaining why, he began to understand. He began to see it in himself…
“Dude, you’re treating everyone like trash. You just screamed at your sister for nothing. Do you realize you just did that?”
There were a lot of instances like that in the past.
It’s not at all unlike the alcoholic sweating with the shakes barking at everyone around him until he gets a drink…
Different? Yes? Different, but the same…