The Power of Randomness: Lessons from (Mobile) Gaming and Behavioral Economics

So called game-of-chance based random virtual item rewards have helped to create a new multi-billion dollar market for free to play mobile games in Asia and for PC and for console games in the West, engaging millions of players to continue to play and pay. Japan was one of the cradles of these mechanics called “Gacha” which started over 10 years ago but little academic research had been made available on this topic in English trying to explore the motivation of players for playing and paying through these elements (Askeloef, 2013, Kanerva, 2015; Yamakami, 2011a, 2011b, 2013a, 2013b, 2014; Shibuya, 2015).

Rational bias effects in free-to-play games and mobile applications have already been mentioned by some game researchers (Hamari, 2011; Paavilainen et al., 2013; Reiners & Wood, 2015; Stockinger et al., 2015; Olli et al., 2016; Zagal et al. 2013).

Behavioral economics, specifically inspired by Kahneman and Tversky's Prospect Theory show uncertainty (game of chance elements) can introduce “bias” to the users' rational decision-making capabilities. When people have to choose between different alternatives that include risks with an unknown probability of the outcome they tend to overestimate small probabilities and underestimate larger probabilities (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979/1986/1992).

Simple “Games-of-Chance” elements seem to motivate people towards behavioral change. Research in behavioral economics has shown that these elements can influence money saving (Kearney, Tufano et al, 2010), adherence to stroke medication (Kimmel, Troxel et al, 2012), willingness for blood donations (Goette, Stutzer, 2008), safer sex practices (Nvqvist, Corno, et al. 2015) as well as help to drive weight loss activities (Volpp, Troxel, et al. 2008).Games-of-chance elements can also enhance extrinsic as well as intrinsic motivation for learning and have already been applied in education environments (Berridge & Robinson, 1998; Howard-Jones, 2011; Howard Jones & Demetriou, 2009; Hong et al., 2009).

This presentation shows the findings of studies related to Japanese mobile gamers and western gamers and their perception of game-of-chance elements. It also shows how these elements have already been used outside of games to create retention and then looks at three Japanese language learning games available today and then tries to start a discussion about what role game-of-chance elements could play in future digital learning environments to drive student’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

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Posted by IAFOR