Duke Nukem Forever: Escalating Commitment and Chewing Bubblegum

You probably know about Duke Nuke Forever, the sequel to the trailblazing blockbuster Duke Nukem 3D that became the laughing stock of the industry on account of how it spent 12 years –TWELVE YEARS– in development and burned through tens of millions of dollars before being canceled. Wired magazine recently published a fascinating analysis of…

Phat Loot and Neurotransmitters in World of Warcraft

How are loot-based games like World of Warcraft, Torchlight, and Borderlands related to slot machines, chemical bliss, and evolution? Read on for the answer. During my early days with World of Warcraft (WoW) I remember tromping through Westfall killing crowds of Defias bandits when I was shocked by a loot drop: a rare pair of…

Hot Hand Fallacy and Kill Streaks in Modern Warfare 2

What do basketball free throws, Modern Warfare 2, and murdering 11 people in a row have in common? Read on to find out. In psychology, there’s a phenomenon called “the hot hand fallacy” (a.k.a., “the gambler’s fallacy” or “the hot streak fallacy” or “the clustering illusion”). The seminal work on this kink in the human…

Red Rings and Research Methods

Why do surveys overestimate the number of people experiencing the Xbox 360′s dreaded Red Ring of Death? Lord knows I’m familiar with the Xbox 360′s “red ring of death,” or “RROD” as it’s not so affectionately called. I’ve encountered it twice myself. The term refers to what you get on the front of Microsoft’s console…

Just One More Level: Decision Making Under Arousal

As gamers, I think we’ve all been there: You’re jamming along, feeling the rush as you shotgun foes in an online shooter or tear your car through the twists and turns of a realistically rendered race track. It’s exciting and in the best cases it may actually get our heart racing and our palms sweating.…

Sunk Costs, Pre-Orders, and Game Over

Let’s say you’re compelled to pre-order a game, maybe because the cashier at GameStop got you in a head lock and wouldn’t let you out until you agreed to. So you put down $10 towards Game A and go home, vowing to work out more so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again. Weeks later…

The Contrast Effect: The Cover Art of Borderlands

How did 2K Games get that cover for Borderlands approved by the ESRB? In psychology there’s a concept called “the contrast effect.” Basically, it means that some perception (say, weight, brightness, or sweetness) will appear greater or lesser depending on a perception that came immediately before it. Because they contrast so strongly and the memory…

Confirmatory Information Bias and Tony Hawk RIDE

Why does Tony Hawk think YOU think his game sucks? Released right at the cusp of the Christmas ’09 shopping season, Tony Hawk RIDE (just like that, in all caps, ’cause it’s CRAZY!) featured a humongous plastic skateboard controller and an equally enormous price tag of $130, but promised to revolutionize the genre. Instead, RIDE…