Three common consumer responses when offered a choice, three different responses to the burden of choice.
Yes, choice imposes a burden. Sometimes this burden is a pleasurable effort, sometimes it is challenging. Sometimes, it is just too hard, causing irritation and provoking disengagement.
More than 40 years ago, Alvin Toffler wrote in his book Future Shock:
“Ironically, the people of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice, but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be the victims of that peculiar super-industrial dilemma: ‘Overchoice.'” – Future Shock, p.264.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz explored this idea further in his book The Paradox of Choice (watch his TED Talk here), where he highlights the fallacy that more choice means more freedom. Choice enables us to exercise our free will, affirming our existence as autonomous individuals rather than slaves to a predetermined destiny. But too much choice can be paralysing and reduce satisfaction, even with optimal choices.
Some choice is good, too much choice is bad. Referring to this cartoon by Peter Steiner, Schwartz says that “everybody needs a fishbowl” to limit their choices to a manageable quantity.
Although information technology has in many ways made the avalanche of overwhelming choice possible, used smartly, technology also has the potential to relieve people from the burden of too much choice.
A key gamification design principle is that of ‘meaningful choice’. Meaningful choice involves presenting the consumer with a limited set of options, each one of which represents the expression of some value and each of which leads to distinctly different consequences. Meaningful choice presents the consumer with a decision that is anchored in their self-concept. The choice made is a form of self-expression – and people are generally motivated to express themselves through their actions. Game developers have found that providing meaningful choice is an important part of building and maintaining engagement.
This is why at +play, we make empathy with consumers a key design parameter. Empathy for the burden that choice can impose and a related effort to understand exactly which choices this consumer would welcome at this time so that they can say, “I’ll have that one, please. Where do I pay?” Commercially, true engagement is measurable at the cash register – so having empathy for the consumer is a good way of showing empathy for the client!