Psychology – Endowment
At the end of mid-level television game shows when a contestant has lost and is going home with nothing of any financial value there is a popularly offered phrase of comfort, that the contestant arrived with nothing and is going home with nothing and so hasn’t lost out. This homily flies almost directly in the face of the social psychological idea of endowed loss however, which is fine for those game shows since they’re not designed to be popular as re-playable board games, but isn’t fine if it shows up in your game. Basically, endowed loss is the idea that if you give me something and then take it off me its psychologically more painful than if you never gave me the thing in the first place. Furthermore, that people are inclined to value what they already have over what they might acquire, to the point of making potentially foolish decisions in order to hold onto what they already have.
This idea comes up again and again in tabletop game design generally and is quite central to creating a positive player experience, it’s been written about quite extensively (and by better informed folk than I) in relation to how it can create a bitter experience that could stop player returning and cause early game imbalance. Instead of running over those points again, I’m going to take some time in this blog to look a little at two elements of endowment, opening resources and asymmetrical powers that I haven’t seen specifically examined in that light before.