The Paradox of Choice

I just finished reading a book recently called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz that has some interesting psychological statistics that I thought might have some relevance to what we do in the game industry.

The basic thesis of the book is that too much choice leads to unhappiness. The author states that choice gives freedom, a core American value, but as the number of choices build freedom decreases as the amount of analysis required to make a choice increases. Especially for people with a psychological profile focused on maximizing the benefit out of every decision.

The book then references a number of different psychological studies that analyze the effect of making decisions. One simple one was presented to people as “choose one of the options below:”

  1. Receive $100 in cash right now
  2. Flip a coin (just representing an exact 50-50 random chance), if it is heads you get $200, if it is tails you get $0

The large majority of people take the $100. The author postulates that this is due people reacting more harshly to loss than gain. The negative delta change of happiness caused by getting nothing in the coin flip, thinking “I could have had $100”, is greater than the happiness gained by winning the flip, “woot, I got $200 instead of $100”.

When I think about that in terms of game design it is a reminder that taking things away from a player has more psychologically impact than giving them new toys. Taking away has its place but requires great care to not put off players to quit your game. It also makes me put my salesmanship cap on and think of features that could help sell games when someone is playing the demo version of a game with achievements. For example, “hey buddy, you would have just gotten an achievement right now if you had the full version (click here to buy), if you don’t buy now you will lose this achievement and have to earn it again if you buy later.”

The book goes on to analyze a number of other factors that go into decision making and the results of choices such as regret, opportunity cost, psychological effect of comparisons, and counterfactual thought to name a few. I found it pretty interesting.

4 Responses to “The Paradox of Choice”

  1. Emmeline says:

    This post is very reminiscent of this other one, and another prior post on the same blog:

    http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2010/01/04/loss-aversion-achievements-and-trial-conversions/

  2. Mark Cooke says:

    Cool, thanks for the link. Looks like that person read the same book, the examples they gave were also referenced in The Paradox of Choice.

  3. beamjack says:

    You may also be interested in reading Blink, by Malcom Gladwell and How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. I recently lead the former on a flight and it was pretty interesting. How We Decide was much more in depth though.

  4. This kind of reminds me of the aversion people have to stopping the game when losing at a game such as slots or blackjack. I think it had to do with sunk costs though.