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Wednesday, August 30, 2006


If you asked me a few weeks ago whether adding more races, classes or other options to an MMO was desirable, I would have quickly said yes. That's not surprising. I'm sure most people would agree.

But I recently came across
some research entitled "When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing" by Sheena S. Iyengar of Columbia and Mark R. Lepper of Stanford. You can read it yourself but I'll try to summarize quickly:

Study 1

Researchers set up a table at a supermarket offering a free sample of jam. They alternated before a choice of 24 jams and 6 jams. While more people stopped to sample when there were 24 jams, significantly less actually purchased jam (3%) then when there were 6 jams (30%).

Study 2

Students were given an opportunity to complete an assignment for extra-credit. Some students were given a list of 30 assignments to choose from. Others were given a list of 6. Of those given the shorter list, 74% chose to complete the assignment, as opposed to only 60% of those given the longer list. What's more, students given the smaller choice of assignments received higher grades than those given the larger choice of assignments.

Study 3

Participants were given a selection of chocolates which were labeled as to their contents (i.e. Strawberry Cordial). One group was given a choice of 6, another group was given a choice of 30 and a final group was given no choice at all. After the study they were given a choice of being paid for their time in either money or an equivalent amount of chocolates.

Participants in the high selection group did report enjoying the act of choosing a chocolate more than those in the low selection group. However, when it came time to choose money or sweet, delicious chocolate as payment:

Of those given a choice of 30, the chocolates were chosen by 12%.
Of those given no choice, the chocolates were chosen by 10%.
Of those given a choice of 6, the chocolates were chosen by 48%.

Remember, I was simplifying these three studies tremendously (though I think I made the general point) so if you want to critique the methodology used, you better read the whole thing. But I thought it raised some interesting questions.

Are gamers similarly overwhelmed by too many choices? Would they have more fun and subscribe longer if their choices were actually limited in some fashion?

It would be really hard to tell. If you had trials for two games, one with 6 classes and one with 30 classes, the above study would tell me that more people would actually purchase the game with 6 classes. But in real life, there would be so many thousands of differences between two games that it would be impossible to isolate that particular variable as the determining factor.

I wonder if "alt-itis" plays into this choice phenomenon. Do people who have tons of alts tend to subscribe to an MMO for a longer or shorter period than people who play one character only? I don't know, but I've always been curious. If you have data, drop me a line.

I'm honestly pretty dubious of my own point in this post but I'm throwing it out there anyway in the hopes that someone will argue against it.


Blogger Razak said...

I'm dubious of these people who are chosing to be paid in chocolate! I love chocolate as much as anyone else, but more than money? I'd rather go buy the chocolate myself, at least i get to pick what it was (even with 30 choices maybe they didn't have what I wanted, I personally prefer a wanka bar to most chocolate and that isn't a common chocolate treat). And chances are I wouldn't spend all the money on the chocolate, I'd save some for candy too! mmm candy. Maybe the people who chose chocolate had enough money on their own but live in chocolate deprived areas?

I would say maybe 30 jams is too many and maybe the study does better to show a breaking point on certain things, but that number may not work as well in other things.... for instance if I gave you the choice between 30 $10 bills or 6 $50 bills which would you take, and does that mean anything either way?

I don't know, I made a similar reply in one of these skill-vs-class based discussion that choice is always more desirable... although certainly to a certain point. Maybe 30 races might be too many in an MMO (can you imagine sifting through them just for a race? I think 12-15 maybe more than ya need as long as they are worthy, personally I thik differences like high elf and wood elf in this game are silly, they look the same to me. However, does 30 classes mean the same as 30 races? I'd say no, I think 30 races are too many, 30 classes I can deal with... Comparing WoW to EQ2... WoW has more people and less classes, but is the classes the reason? No. In fact I left in part cause the lack of classes left me bored (and the ease of play). And in their expansion they are adding 2 races, yet everyone is asking "Why aren't you adding more classes?" I wonder the same, they have 6 classes and will have what 10 races? after the expansion. I think I'd rather swap those numbers.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Magson said...

I think that in all things there's a "breaking point" as to when it's "too much." I've seen similar stuides to these before, and they generally point out the same thing -- when we humans have a few choices we seem perfectly fine, but when we have a number of choices we feel is "overwhelming" then we tend to freeze up and no longer be able to make a decision.

It's how many people feel are "overwhelming" is the "sweet spot." Generally the number varies from 7-10 on a person by person basis, though some can't handle even 7, and other are fine with more than 10.

In EQ2, there's an illusion of "lots of choices," since there are 16 races and 24 classes. I say it's an illusion, though, because the race is largely irrelevant -- just a different look is all -- and the classes really boil down to the 4 main archetypes. Okay. . yes, I know, the classes don't play the same and anyone who tried to tell me that a coercer can use the same strategies as a necro or a warlock is a liar.

Hmm. Maybe that's why EQ2 doesn't feel overwhelming though. People don't look at it as "24 classes" but rather feel the 4 archetypes are the "main choice" and then the actual class selection within that archetype is a "detail" instead of "the main choice." Espcially since a starting character only has 4 choices within each archetype.

Huh. Don't know. Seems plausible, anyway.

Still. . . I have 10 toons in EQ2 and wish I had more slots. And one of the reasons I didn't really care for WoW was that I felt so limited in my choices there. That wasn't the only reason I didn't like it, but it certainly contributed a great deal.

4:22 AM  
Blogger Magson said...

Expanding on my idea of "illusion of choices." I think that's the wrong term. In the aggregate, all of the options are there -- there really are 16 races and 24 classes. But the way they are presented to you keep them from being overwhelming.

You start character creation, you see the races. Yikes! 16 races! What am I gonna do!

Well. . 1st off, you think whether you want to be good or evil, so you really only are picking from 2 options.

This choice narrows you down to 11 races, rather than 16. 11's a little high, but a lot of people can rapidly say "don't like that one, not that one either, maybe this one, etc" and limit themselves to only 3-5 races they "like" rather rapidly.

Once the race is picked, the on to class selection. Again you see a screen with 16 options on it, but the choices are grouped by archetype.

Pick your archetype (4 options) and then your class (4 options). See? You never chose from 16, you chose from 4, and then 4 again -- never overwhelming.

Quite well done, really. At least I think so. Takes those 344 theoretical starting combinations (which via betrayal later expands to 384) but gives it to a person in nice manageable chunks.

4:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes choice is good….

Remember SWG before the class changes? That original class tree was sweet. You could spend your exp on being purely a scout, but you had the choice to spend it on some medic skills, (if you preferred) effectively creating a hybrid that added to that Human appeal about being “unique”.

If you didn't like scout, you could cancel your skills and move along another path..

I preferred this as it meant I could keep the same character and name and experience the classes. After all I did spend hours choosing that name from millions of choices that exist in my imagination.

(Probably, actually, settled for the first one that was pronounceable off the name generator, but hey, I had the choice not to!)

I think it boils down to good old "head-ology" People are different, our experiences, needs, tastes etc all contribute to how we make a decision.

A few hundred shoppers choosing jam compared to thousands of MMORPG'ers choosing a unique character doesn't compare.

I think "More Vs Less" is really down to personal preferences.


6:18 AM  
Blogger Karnatos said...

Bah! I personally think that giving players a choice is by far the dumbest thing companies can do in a game!

I mean, come on, if it is a fantasy-world... people want to be ELVES! Only allow them to be elves! Dwarves you say? Pah! Who wants to be a dwarf, they are ugly, and they smell funny! Only make elves in your games people! Come on!!

I don't even think they should be able to choose a gender! I mean, come on; guys only want to look at female elves, and the women only want to play female elves! Why waste money in the art department on male character models? Spend the cash on the other portions of the game!

Multiple endings? What!?! No way! How the hell is a person to figure out the easiest path to finish the game?! Gamers want to be able to download a guide off the internet that tells them exactly what to do... don’t give them choices! Too confusing! They just want to be uber and max-level ASAP! Why mess with the complex quest paths and multiple ways of solving the game!? Makes no sense! Give'em what they want; a linear path to follow that gets them to max-level FAST!

Choices of armour and weapons? Are you out of your mind? It’s just too daunting to figure what combinations are best! All gamers want is to be able to cast bad-ass elven magic with fancy colour-patterns and BIG explosions! They just don't need anything else!

Dragons! There's got to be dragons! No need for anything else! Easy-to-kill dragons using bad-ass female Elven magic that blows’em up good by using fancy coloured patterns! Yeah! Multi-billion dollar WoW-killah game folks! Make it!

And to all you big fancy game companies, don't you even dare to make this game without properly giving me props, and a free account for life! I'll haunt your forums and cause you and your paying customers grief for life! LIFE!

Oh! and I like games with robots too. BIG robots......

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Wizzel Cogcarrier Wizzleton IV said...

How about 8 classes (WoW) versus unlimited classes (EVE Online). IMO, one is clearly superior as far as customization options, but more about 5.9 million more people prefer limited choice.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Damion Schubert said...

This is a great post. It's also a trend that people in other markets are starting to come around to in a big way.

If you go to many major fast food chains, you'll notice that the menus of those places have all shrunk radically in the last five years. I've heard about this trend, and since noticed it at Wendy's, McDonalds, Subway, and Schlotsky's. Their research has shown that a customer whose choices are constrained has greater confidence they will make a good choice. You are effectively choosing something that Subway believes is a specialty. Your perception of the quality you will get goes up.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Jeff Freeman said...

It's worth paying special attention to the results of the third study: even "too many choices" produced a better result than "no choice"; but both of those were *way* worse than offering what must have been pretty close to "the right amount of choices".

I would be surprised if there weren't a single specific "number of choices" which is nearly always "best" regardless of what it is you're offering people to choose. Since, I suspect what makes that number "right" is human nature, rather than any property of the thing being chosen.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Jeff Freeman said...

Oh, and Damion - that's actually what I dislike about Subway, vs. pretty much any other food place. I'm just not one of those people who order something from the menu and then add on a bunch of "put this on the side, and give me this instead of that" and so on: I like the food at subway more than, say, mcDonalds, but at MickeyD's they don't ask me a bunch of freakin' questions when I order a big mac. If I want mustard on a burger then I go somewhere that puts mustard on the burgers; if I'm in the mood for mayo (which is never, because that's disgusting), I go somewhere else.

Anyway, Subway needs an option to order from the menu "and just make it like the picture ferchissake".

Oh wait, I take that back - they just added an "ask for The Works" sticker to their glass cases, so you can get an off-the-shelf sandwich without hand-picking every little piece of lettuce.

Exception: Mongolian Grille. I don't mind just scooting down the isle of food and piling on whatever I want there; and then making my own sauce; even though there's a 100% chance that the person whose food is cooked next to mine will be missing some of the disgusting cilantro they piled on and regardless of what I chose, it'll all taste like soap. For some reason I'm ok with that.

12:08 AM  
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7:01 AM  

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