Think Design : The Fear Of Regret

The Fear Of Regret

This post will be up for today and tomorrow only, so read NOW to learn valuable secrets so that you will never feel regret again!

Okay, probably not. But it kept you reading, right?

Last chance offer! Buy now, supplies are running out! There’s a lot of interest in this property, so if you like it, you better act fast! Call in the next 20 minutes and we’ll double your order!

We’ve all heard messages like these. They are intended to tap into our fear of regret, and panic us into taking action before it’s too late. In fact, it’s pretty much what the infomercial industry is built upon.

This ad is clearly preying on our fear of regret.

Fear of regret is one of the triggers that causes people to become hoarders. You’ve probably seen these people on TV, living in houses full of stuff they just can’t bring themselves to throw out. And you may have even experienced this yourself. You don’t use something for months, so you finally donate it or throw it out. And sure enough, a few days later, you wish you still had it.

Oh man, where did I put that old mayonnaise lid?


Sorry Mario, But Our Happiness Is In Another Decision

Here’s an example: Mario had a copy of Nintendo World Championships (Gold Edition), one of the rarest games ever made for the NES. He sold it a few years ago for $10,000, but now it’s worth $18,000. His brother, Luigi, could have bought the game from Mario, but he decided not to. Which of these people do you feel more sorry for?

Almost everyone will feel more sorry for Mario, because he already had the game. He could have just kept it and had an extra $8,000 in his pocket! But in reality, Luigi also could have had an extra $8,000 if he had bought the game from Mario at the time. So really, they are both in the same situation.

So why do we feel more sorry for Mario in this case? Because success was already in his hands and he dropped it. He made a bad decision. And that’s largely what regret amounts to – our wish that we could do something over again, and make a different decision to get a better outcome.

And it doesn’t have to be something we do. Sometimes we can feel regret because of something we didn’t do – we didn’t buy those shares when they were cheap, and then we didn’t sell them before they plummeted, we didn’t take that job offer that seemed great, we didn’t sing karaoke even though we really wanted to and would have totally rocked it.

Regret can be painful, and it lingers. Almost all of us have felt it, and we don’t want to feel it again. And guess what? Marketers know this. And they use it to get us to buy something before it’s gone – after all, we don’t want to regret missing that golden opportunity for the rest of our lives, do we?

What’s-a the matter with me?


Full Steam Ahead

Okay, now that we understand the Fear of Regret, how can we use it in our game design?

If you are designing an in-game Store, you can use the Fear of Regret to encourage users to buy. And before you’re all “that’s evil, I would never do that to my players,” keep in mind that it’s arguably only evil if you are cheating people or suckering them to buy something they won’t find useful. Instead, design really good content and use this approach to encourage the user to take action (if the content is great, they’ll be glad they did).

And if you need more convincing, look who else does it:

I already have Skyrim, but the Legendary Edition at that price? Who can resist?


Steam’s flash sales really leverage the Fear Of Regret. In these flash sales, games are deeply discounted, but only for a limited time. Displaying a countdown timer creates a sense of urgency, and refreshing the sale items every eight hours keeps people coming back to buy more.


The Ultimate Sales Tactic

If you want to keep making games, your studio needs to make money. It’s a reality of business. And if you are a designer, you need to do the best you can to make sure that your game will make money, whether that means selling for a retail price or using in-app purchases.

In a free-to-play game, limited-time sales can drive up purchases. But be careful not to hold sales too often, or players will just wait until the next sale and then stock up with enough supplies to last until your next sale. This behavior often leads to lower overall revenue, as most players buy things only when they are deeply discounted.

Limited-time drivers don’t have to be restricted to things you sell. Special events in games can achieve the same thing – events tied to holidays, for example, can draw in players who don’t want to miss out. This same limited-time approach is what publishers utilize when trying to sell pre-orders. As an example, the only way to play as the Ultimate Warrior in the upcoming WWE 2K14 is to pre-order the game. And like we talked about in last week’s column on The Paradox Of Choice, if you don’t get the copy with Ultimate Warrior, you won’t enjoy the game as much, because you’ll spend your whole time thinking about how much all the other wrestlers suck and Ultimate Warrior would be soooo much better. I mean, it’s even in his name – he’s the Ultimate Warrior.

Also think about limited-quantity items. This is what publishers do when they ship limited editions, with action figures and art books. They are preying on your Fear of Regret to say: if I don’t buy the Halo 3 Legendary Edition now, I might not be able to ever own a scaled-down replica of a MJOLNIR Mark VI helmet. And even though I don’t need one of those, what if I want one in the future but don’t get the Legendary Edition before it’s gone? After all, you never know when you’ll need a plastic MJOLNIR Mark VI replica.

Yeah, we’ll see who’s laughing when little plastic aliens attack.


So why not have limited quantity items in your game? A limited weapon that only 500 players will ever own could be pretty cool. Or a quest that can only be completed by a certain number of players before it disappears.

We’ve even seen the limited quantity approach used successfully on Kickstarter too, where some projects have a limited number of really unique rewards for high-paying backers.

Keep in mind that if you want to use the limited time or limited quantity triggers most effectively, you should display the limit clearly to the player. Make sure she sees that there are only 15 items left, or that the sale ends in 2 hours, 32 minutes, and 18 seconds (always display the second counter so that there is a visual change that creates a sense of urgency).

Whipping up a smorgasbord of sales tactics. Mmmmmm.


Now that you understand the Fear Of Regret, feel free to use it to encourage players to act quickly and seize an opportunity. Use it to keep things interesting through special events and promotions. And be on your guard when you see a limited-time offer that plays on your fear of regret.

If you want to know how to avoid regret, we have a free top secret step-by-step guide that will show you how. It’s a limited-time offer though, so Like this post in the next 20 minutes to reserve your copy now!

Ryan Donaldson teaches Business of Games at VFS Game Design