In part 1 of this three part series, I suggested that Blizzard could move more money through its auction house economy if it sorted prices from high to low by default, thanks to the anchoring effect. All of those items still had to be found from drops, though ((Well, minus the ones that are crafted, but shut up shut up shut up!)), and that involves a lot of tedious grinding. And even though, sometimes it feels like rare drops are just too rare and will never happen. What can Blizzard do to keep us grinding?
There’s a setting in Diablo III that lets you see when someone on your friends list pops achievements. For example, when your buddy beats Diablo ((OMG SPOILARZ!!)) for the first time on Hell difficulty and earns the associated achievement, you get a little notification near the chat area, along with an icon. It’s a neat social system that I think could be expanded to make people keep grinding for super awesome Rare or Legendary item drops.
To illustrate why, consider a simple, 1973 experiment by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman ((Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology 5, 207-232.)) where they created a tape recording of 39 names. Nineteen of these names belonged to famous people, and the remaining 20 did not. When asked, 66% of the subjects were able to recall more famous names than non-famous, and the vast majority –80%– incorrectly claimed that there were more famous names on the list than non-famous.
The reason for that last result, the researchers argued, has to do with what’s called the availability heuristic. In short, it refers to the fact that to the degree that recalling instances of an event or class of things from memory is easy, we will judge them to be more frequent or more numerous. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow ((Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow New York: New York.)) Daniel Kahneman digs even deeper into the phenomenon, arguing that it’s an example of how part of our mind (the eponymous “Fast” part) will slyly substitute an easier question (How easy is it to recall an example of this phenomenon?) for a more difficult one (How frequent is this phenomenon?).
There are many factors that make an event or thing easier to remember. For example, it may have happened in a very dramatic manner, it may have just happened recently, it may have affected you personally. The availability heuristic is the reason people thought school shootings were more common right after the 1999 massacre in Columbine, Colorado. It’s the reason most people overestimate the divorce rate in highly visible Hollywood couples. It’s why you think the Xbox 360 “red ring of death” failure is more frequent after it happens to you.
This is why I think that the achievement notification in Diablo III is a good start. It makes the number of people getting the achievement seem larger because it happened recently and to someone you know. The same effect could be used to make players think that the upper tier of “Legendary” item drops are more frequent if they saw a notification every time it happened to a friend. This would motivate players to keep playing in the (perhaps inflated) hopes of getting a similar drop. Blizzard could also post similar notifications about crafting high-end gems or blacksmith items. Or cracking the 10,000 dps threshold for the first time. Seeing notification of these events will make them seem more frequent and thus more likely to happen to you if you just keep at it.
Done? You can go back to go back to Part 1 about anchoring in the auction house, or skip ahead to a discussion of what effects the auction houses have on dopamine rushes and loot hunting in part 3. Finally, there’s a bonus part 4 about the effect of item history on auction house prices.