Loss Aversion and Game Design
How game designers can use the psychological phenomenon of loss aversion to shape player experience.
Getting something makes you feel good, and losing something makes you feel bad. But losing something makes you feel worse than getting the same thing makes you feel good. So finding $10 is a thrill; losing $10 is a tragedy. On an “intensity of feeling” scale, loss is more intense than gain. This is the core psychological concept of loss aversion, and in this book game creator Geoffrey Engelstein explains, with examples from both tabletop and video games, how it can be a tool in game design.
Loss aversion is a profound aspect of human psychology, and directly relevant to game design; it is a tool the game designer can use to elicit particular emotions in players. Engelstein connects the psychology of loss aversion to a range of phenomena related to games, exploring, for example, the endowment effect—why, when an object is ours, it gains value over an equivalent object that is not ours—as seen in the Weighted Companion Cube in the game Portal; the framing of gains and losses to manipulate player emotions; Deal or No Deal's use of the utility theory; and regret and competence as motivations, seen in the context of legacy games. Finally, Engelstein examines the approach to Loss Aversion in three games by Uwe Rosenberg, charting the designer's increasing mastery.
“A wonderfully complete, methodically laid-out treatise on a core aspect of game design that stretches from card games, through video games to, uh, real life. Engelstein's depth of thought on the subject is impressive, and his examples incredibly well-targeted and thought-provoking. Don't lose out... on your chance to read this!”
Simon Carless, Game Developers Conference co-organizer; former Independent Games Festival chairperson
“Drawing examples from a variety of tabletop and video games, including several of his own creations, Geoffrey Engelstein provides a fun, lucid look at a subtle and overlooked area of game design. By focusing on loss aversion and related concepts, Achievement Relocked uncovers many of those hard-to-pin-down elements that create an emotional experience for players and should be required reading for all future game designers.”
Pat Harrigan, coeditor First Person, Second Person, Third Person, and Zones of Control
“Engelstein has created a thorough tour of loss aversion and its impact on game design. Reading this book will help designers anticipate how and why player behavior so often deviates from what they expect.”
Soren Johnson, Founder and CEO of Mohawk Games and designer of Civilization IV
“Achievement Relocked provides a focused consideration of loss aversion and related psychological phenomena, along with pragmatic suggestions on how to use these in the design process that demystifies unconscious emotional reactions players have to game choices. A must-read for aspiring and veteran game designers alike!”
Gordon Calleja, Associate Professor at the University of Malta; author of In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation, and designer of Posthuman, Posthuman Saga, and Vengeance