In this installment of the game tools series, we’ll be looking at value and loss avoidance. If you’ve missed any of the previous blogs on game tools and game mechanics, then please do check them out. The three prior to this one were Randomness and the illusion of control, Exploration and decision making, and Mastery Mechanics to engage players. Give them a read now or after you’ve finished this one.
So, what do we mean by value and loss avoidance? What we mean is the activity of players trying to maximize their gains, the value of those gains and minimizing or avoiding any loss that could occur in the process. Just about any player or individual who has invested time, money, emotions into a venture would like to maximize the value of that investment and avoid losing it. This is almost common sense you might think, but it is also a very powerful tool to use within gamification and gaming.
There are a few factors in how these tools and mechanics work psychologically. In no particular order we’ll quickly go through the main factors; firstly, we are dealing with a want from the players for taking risks. Taking a risk is a thrilling feeling and the value of winning after having taken the risk increases conversely with the level of the risk. Secondly, the player wants transparency of information on outcomes and consequences. This is because most people want to feel in control and having transparency of information on what they could gain or lose influences their internal balance of weighing risk versus reward. Thirdly, players have a strong need to not miss out on something that is perceived as important. This is self-explanatory really if it’s important then naturally you wouldn’t want it to slip away. And lastly randomness and scarcity. The last point links into the first three but is explored more extensively in the previous blog posts and in some of the mechanics to follow.
Each of these or all of these can be found in several tools and mechanics that you can use to engage players in a gamified experience or game. Some of the more recognizable and prominent ones that the majority of people come across are for example time reliant rewards, random rewards (the (in)famous loot boxes), helping hand mechanics, lottery mechanics, easter eggs, and the fear of missing out or FOMO consequence. Let’s go through a few them and see how they work and how best to use them.
Time-dependent risks, rewards, and consequences are probably the most common mechanic you’ll come across and is also one of the easier ones to use. They generally appear as countdown timers for a specific action or event. The player feels the need to take part in the event because time is literally running out. It also creates or empowers a sense of FOMO in the player, because when time runs out the reward is probably gone, maybe forever. Auction sites, like eBay, use countdown timers, and as anyone who’s ever been on them will have experienced, is the frantic bidding war that happens near the end of an item on eBay. It’s a very effective tool for creating and increasing the perceived value of an item and by default, it also increases the engagement of those taking part.
But do use it with an amount of caution, because if it is used too frivolously, your players may develop an unhealthy obsession with the activity and may even burn out from it. As not being able to achieve a time-sensitive reward often alienates them from the experience, leaving them feeling powerless because they can’t influence the course of time.
For a direct example of time-dependent rewards that have a recurring effect, you need only look at the lottery system in many countries. The players get a new chance every week, but they only have until the end of the week to take part. It’s a very effective system overall, as the value (perceived or otherwise) of the win is often huge and the cost to take is both low in real monetary cost as well as time investment cost, as it usually costs somewhere between two and eight, dollars, pounds, euro’s etc. and take up maybe two minutes of time. And because of that people keep doing it.