Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has a great article in the current issue of Wired Magazine (also available to read here) where he discusses how online companies use psychology to squeeze more money out of us. (Incidentally, I have an article in the current issue of GamePro magazine about the same things in the context of video games, and even got professor Ariely to provide input.) One of his more interesting points was about Netflix’s queue and the type of movies people tend to add to it:
There’s a beautiful paper by Daniel Read and two coauthors showing the gap between what people want to do in principle and what they want to do right now. They asked subjects to choose several films from a list containing a mix of highbrow titles (e.g., Schindler’s List) and lowbrow titles (e.g., My Cousin Vinny). When asked which film they wanted to watch a few days later, most picked a highbrow one. But when asked which they wanted to watch right now, most went lowbrow. In principle, we want to be the kind of people who watch serious movies, maybe even French ones—just not tonight! And so our queue becomes aspirational, filled with titles that are more ambitious than the ones we really want to watch.
Now that Netflix offers streaming, I’ve dropped the DVDs altogether. With streaming, we no longer get stuck with movies we only want to watch in theory. Instead, we feel like we’re paying for the right to watch any movie at any time—even if we don’t wind up watching many.
I started to wonder if the same thing may happen with game rental services like GameFly. Are you likely to add avant-garde games like No More Heroes to your queue1 with intentions of experiencing something unique yet move yet another military themed shooter to the top of the list? Would you consider adding a Japanese RPG for the sake of branching out into genres you haven’t traditionally played but groan in disappointment when it actually arrives int he mail?
I bet so, and the question might get more complicated if games-on-demand products like OnLive ever take off. Imagine if GameFly offered a streaming service where you could stream games or download rental copies. Would you think it’s a better value because it lets you avoid having to face up to your aspirational games when they arrive in the mail?