I wrote a while back about the Status Quo Effect and how puny humans are likely to stick with a default or pre-selected option when presented with multiple choices. It’s why e-mail subscription opt-outs are more “successful” than opt-ins, and it’s how services gently steer new customers towards the more profitable options like annual subscription instead of monthly ones.
While installing Civilization V today one of the many messages demanding my attention was this:
2K Games is giving away a wad of cash to the charity that gets the most votes from Civ 5 players. Pretty awesome, but it occurs to me that the first charity, Scholarship America, kind of has an unfair advantage over the others because it’s not only listed first, but selected by default. Because of the status quo bias, a lot of people probably just left it selected and hit “Launch Game” without thinking much about it. ((Unless, of course, my sample of 1 data point is insufficient to see that Firaxis is doing something clever, like randomizing which charity is listed first and thus selected by default)) If Firaxis wanted a more pure measure of user preferences, they’d make none of the charities selected by default and make players select one before they could proceed.
This got me thinking of somewhere I had also seen player voting in another context: Halo Reach’s matchmaking lobbies. When you and a lobby full of other players in Halo: Reach get ready to start a new game, you’re presented with three choices with different maps and game modes, plus a “None of the above” option. Players get to cast a vote on which they prefer. Also, you get to call other people terrible names for not voting the way you want. But besides the homophobia, one important difference between Civilization V’s charity voting and Reach’s game selection is that Reach doesn’t have a default option selected or flagged for selection. So the status quo bias isn’t at work there. It’s possible, though, that the first person to cast a vote gets to influence the voting of others by creating a de facto default vote.