The Gaming Industry

Overwatch Overjustification
Nov 2016

Overwatch Overjustification

This bonus video was created because my Patreon supporters helped me reach a funding goal. A text version is included below the video for reference. Enjoy!

I’ll tell ya: sometimes I write an article about some concept and try to come up with a great illustration from a video game to make it current. And then immediately after I publish the perfect example of it shows up in the news or in a new game. It happened again. A few weeks ago I wrote about the overjustification effect and then talked to my podcast guest about it.

See the thingamabob below for links to both of those, but in case they’re not fresh in your memory, I’ll recap.

The overjustification effect is when somebody offers an extrinsic reward (like money or in-game currency) for a task that people were initially just doing for the fun of it, like playing a game. Then, after a while, you take the reward away. When you do that, it tends to hurt people’s motivation to do the task (that is, play the game) because they had shifted their focus towards the external reward as their main motivation for doing it.

Along those lines, the competitive online shooter Overwatch recently released a big patch. Among the additions was an “Arcade” mode that let you try out a bunch of different rulesets such as brawls, random character selects, and dueling. Some of these are really fun modes. I particularly like the 3v3 mode where you fight for the best of 3 rounds with another trio of players without the benefit of respawns or health packs. It’s great!

Also included in the Arcade mode is the ability to unlock bonus loot crates: get three wins in any Arcade game and get a loot box! These boxes are valuable to players because they contain random cosmetic items and in game currency. Normally the only way to get one is to grind out experience points by playing full matches until you level up. Upon seeing this, I was excited and played game after game of the 3v3 elimination mode to get my boxes.

Notice the bubbles in the upper right that fill in as you earn loot boxes.

Notice the bubbles in the upper right that fill in as you earn loot boxes.

However, there was a catch. Blizzard capped the number of loot boxes you could get in this way at three every five days. After you get those three, you can still enjoy all the Arcade modes you want, but you stop earning the bonus loot boxes for five days.

So what happened after I got my three loot boxes? I switched back to the regular objective based matches in Quick Play. Because I had stopped earning the extrinsic reward of loot boxes and had focused on that as my motivation for playing in the Arcade, thus falling prey to the overjustification effect.

Sometimes even knowing about this stuff doesn’t insulate you from it.

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