psychology

Game Theory explores the psychological exploitation at work in lockboxes

“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.

Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.

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How video game lockboxes use psychology to manipulate you

We here at Massively OP can’t get rid of lockboxes, but by gum, we’re not going to roll over and give up on fighting them. At the very least, we can help to educate the gaming public about the insidious nature of these gambleboxes.

In that spirit, we want to share this post on the psychology of lockboxes and gambling and how both casinos and video game studios use the same techniques to manipulate players into spending far more than they ever should. There are five tricks listed: the gambler’s falacy, the sunk costs effect, the availability heuristic, the illusion of control, and the near-miss illusion.

“Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially ‘nudge’ a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more,” author Jamie Madigan notes. “Even when the odds of winning are held constant. You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents.”

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Academics weigh in on ‘gaming addiction’ claims

We’ve previously discussed that according to the Manual of Mental Disorders and the industry standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gaming addiction isn’t a thing.

But new research says otherwise. The Independent is reporting that The International Classification of Diseases, last updated 27 years ago, may be throwing in with a “yes” in its update. Part of the reason appears to be a 2016 University of Oxford study in which fewer than 2 out of 3 participants indicated signs of addiction. Lead author Dr. Andrew Przybylski particularly noted that the issue is an “internet gaming disorder” but admitted that “the study did not find a clear link between potential addiction and negative effects on health.” The researchers themselves concluded that their findings’ “evidence linking Internet gaming disorder to game engagement was strong, but links to physical, social, and mental health outcomes were decidedly mixed.”

It doesn’t end there though. The World Health Organization will also add “Gaming Disorder” to its 2018 international classification of diseases.

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Exploring the psychology behind losses, gains, and grouping results in video games

Getting five batches of 100 gold feels better than one batch of 500 gold, and being forced to spend three separate 100 gold fees feels worse than one 300 gold fee. And that fee is likely to make all that 500 gold not feel like it mattered. You probably know all of that just from experience, but perhaps you’d like to see it in action with a new piece from the Psychology of Video Games blog discussing how grouping results (or intentionally not doing so) produces a different valuation of rewards.

To summarize quickly, we tend to prioritize losses as more important than gains, so losing 100 gold has a bigger impact than gaining 100 gold in our brains. However, both losses and gains have a certain point where we stop noticing them, so losing 1500 gold doesn’t feel much worse than losing 1300 gold. Thus, from a psychological standpoint, it makes sense to have losses come in big chunks and rewards come in several smaller chunks, so that each individual good thing gets evaluated separately while the bad stuff gets shuffled off faster. Read through the whole piece for a more thorough overview of why it works; it’s pretty interesting.

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This is how MMO lockboxes manipulate your mind

It is not going to shock you to hear that lockboxes are kind of evil. We here at Massively OP have been beating on that drum for years now. But studios keep selling them and players keep buying them, so on the drum beat goes.

If you’ve brushed off the insidious nature of lockboxes so far, it might behoove you to read this piece from PC Gamer that takes an unflinching look at how game designers use specific, targeted elements to prey upon players’ psychology and brain chemistry — and that many of these techniques are the same ones employed by gambling establishments.

Why do lockboxes work so well? Something called “variable rate reinforcement” factors into it, says Dr. Luke Clark of the Center for Gambling Research: “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably. We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Source: PC Gamer. Thanks Agemyth and Pierre!

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Scientists say Pokemon Go helps relieve stress in Japanese workers

A new Japanese study in the acclaimed science journal Nature suggests that Pokemon Go players experienced a drop in “psychological distress” because of the game. The paper gives psychological distress a specific definition, but it’s easier to explain it as the amount of “vigor” someone has compared to depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

While the study had a control group of non-players and used a total sample size of 2,500 fully employed Japanese workers, at this point in the research game, I’ve started to become less impressed. While I’d love to sing praises of POGO, there’s a reason most people look at the game as a fad, and the research here only reinforced this. Let’s take a look at the study and what it really means.

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Massively Overthinking: Let’s play with the Gamer Motivation Model

Over the winter holidays, we wrote about game analytics consulting firm Quantic Foundry, which has published what it calls its “Gamer Motivation Model” — essentially, it’s an updated Bartle test for modern gamers that groups gamer types into three “clusters of motivations.” More recently, co-founder Dr. Nick Yee — yes, that Nick Yee — has discussed how gamer motivations align with personality traits.

In light of the fun we had taking the Bartle test a few months ago and the news that Bartle himself is publishing new books offering insight into our genre, we thought we’d take the Gamer Motivation test ourselves, share our results and our thoughts on the test, and provoke you to do the same.

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New research illuminates our gaming motivations

If you’ve ever thought that the Bartle test was a bit outdated, game analytics consulting firm Quantic Foundry has a new gamer psych chart for you. This past week, it released its Gamer Motivation Model, which groups gamer types into three “clusters of motivations” joined by “discovery” and “power” bridges.

In the bottom-right orange cluster, there’s an Action-Social cluster that combines the interest in fast-paced gameplay with player interaction.
In the left yellow cluster, there’s an Immersion-Creativity cluster that combines the interest in narrative, expression, and world exploration.
In the top blue clusters, there’s a Mastery-Achievement cluster that combines the appeal of strategic gameplay, taking on challenges, and becoming powerful.

The company is planning to release more data in the coming months, so stay tuned if the science of why we game the way we do interests you, and go take the test yourself if you’re so inclined.

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Exploring ‘The Video Game Debate’: Modern online game research

Late last year, I published on Massively-that-was a set of articles addressing current research on the relationship between shyness and online game friendships, including a detailed interview with Dr. Rachel Kowert, a lead researcher on the related paper. Kowert and University of Münster colleague Thorsten Quandt have now collected and published their work and work by other academics into a new book now available called The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Video Games.

Kowert generously provided me with an early draft of the book to discuss here. Her goal, she says, was to make an accessible book about modern game research for the public, but the results are a little depressing, even though the work and research done make me wish I had enough money to buy a copy and send it to everyone in the professional games and media businesses.

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