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A huge experiment in player psychology occurred in October 2015 – but it went unnoticed in the games industry because it was the lottery conducting this experiment. The Multi State Lottery Association (MUSL) significantly lowered the odds of anyone winning the Powerball. With fewer winners, the jackpot grew and grew, and in the first week of January 2016 we saw what would turn out to be the biggest player numbers in Powerball history. Even though the odds of winning are worse, the appeal of the giant jackpot makes it so there’s an exponential increase in the number of people who want to try their luck. We have to wonder, is there a point where the odds become so low it actually discourages players, or will the size of the reward become irresistible no matter how unlikely we know we are to win? Game designers expect players to be rational actors who will favor the most efficient route to success (power leveling, loot grinding, and son). But the lottery results suggest that may not always be the case. Many games, especially MMOs, could stand to experiment with incentive systems that incorporate more “Big Score” type events like the lottery and less “The Job” type grinding that we’re used to.
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