Stuff’n’Stuff 09: Loss Aversion is a Bitch!

Have you ever heard of loss aversion? Well it is perfectly aware of you anyway. The principle is simple – while finding $100 feels good, losing that same $100 is absolutely afwul. Not a huge leap of thought brings us to the fact that we try avoid feeling bad… at all costs. Here are two cases I’ve encountered while working on one game.

Case I

So there is your avatar and it has some energy. You spend that energy to start a mission. You can win a reward or die trying. Of course, if you die, you get nothing. Or you can resurrect, but it’s not free. If all the costs and rewards represented in totally fictional points it boils down to this: you spend 50 points just to enter the mission. You can earn like 10 points for completing it. Resurrection costs 100 points. Yeah, like that. And guess what – people are willing to pay 100 point just to avoid losing 10 points. Moreover they feel pretty good about that judging by the feedback on forums and number of daily resurrections.

Case II

So those players try to complete simple missions, like going to place B from place A. And if they do they get rewarded. Just yesterday a “quest” system was implemented. In essence it says – if you manage to move from B to A 10 times without losing, you get a reward.

I expected it to be welcomed by the players. After all we reward players with meaningful stuff for doing things they are already trying to do (I bet there were no players willing to fail some of the missions instead of trying to complete them). And of course if one does not like the quest she can skip it for free (there is a cooldown which prevents from abusing quest skipping). It’s like geting paid for breathing. Easy money.

The reaction was like this: quests stink, rewards suck, go to hell.

I believe the reason is simple. Players see a task. And for some reason they fail it (BTW you cannot FAIL the quest – you can have a drawback). And they feel like they have lost the reward completely forgetting that couple hours ago they were not even presented with the possibility to earn it.

Players can skip any quest, but it also feels like losing reward, despite the fact they will get a quest with a similar reward anyway.

The bottom line is that players focus on losing instead of enjoying winning.

But there is the twist to that story: the fear of losing a reward (or cancelling an unwanted quest) makes players invest additional resources in completion of the quest, even if they do not enjoy the tesk (for example the task is to win a couple of rounds in The Forest, and player likes to rock in The Desert). And they end up spending more than earning, which makes me experience 2 contrasting feelings. I am glad to have additional profit. But it saddens me that the quests were completely misunderstood. They were supposed to bring joy, not frustration.

I’m pretty sure that soon players will learn to treat quests as the bonus it is intended to be. Or not. Either way, we’ll see what happens next.

PS I hope this post was not a total loss of your time, cuz u know… loss aversion.