The Sunk Costs Fallacy

July 20, 2016 by Tim

Some months ago you may recall me mentioning I’d been playing a mobile game called Galaxy of Heroes. Well, I still play it. Literally every day since Christmas, in fact, I’ve logged in to play it. Each day’s play is, at minimum, ten minutes worth of sorting dailies and such, so it’s no massive feat. Still, it does mark a bit of a milestone for me: one of the only times that I can actually remember playing a single game for this long and this faithfully. The only other game that might compete for the title would be World of Warcraft, during the days of Wrath of the Lich King with my end-game raidi team.

I’ve certainly put more total hours into other games… my NG+++ in Demon’s Souls and pretty much any MMO ever. But playing a game every day for seven months straight… that’s new to me.

Now, the fallacy of sunk costs refers to the idea that you become emotionally invested in resources (time or money) already spent on a project. Like if you sit down and play a slot machine for a while, and you start to think “Just one more quarter! I’ve already spent this much money, the machine must be getting close to a payout now!”

We’ve all experienced it in multiple forms. Despite how much it had gone downhill since the Trinity Killer season, and how awful we heard the final season of Dexter was, my wife and I watched it anyway, because we thought “Well, we’ve stuck with it this long, we kind of have to see how it plays out” even though we weren’t all excited about it. Or halfway through Batman vs Superman I thought to myself “Well, I paid for the ticket, I can’t walk out now…”

And it happens with games, too. The longer we play, the more time we invest, the harder it becomes to give up on, even when things are headed south.

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