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Operant conditioning and how it relates to llamas

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With the current deluge of triple llamas a lot of people are venting in the Reddit. Which is understandable. But what keeps coming up is "If you give us good llamas we'll buy them, you're throwing away free money Epic!"

This is untrue. Whether you agree with their strategies or not Epic knows what they're doing when it comes to psychology, and in particular addiction and operant conditioning.

If you put a rat in a cage with a lever that dispenses a food pellet they will press it until they establish that it will always dispense a food pellet at which point they will press it when they are hungry. (Continuous reinforcement schedule)

If you make it so that the lever will dispense a pellet every x presses then the response is not hugely different to the above. (Fixed ratio schedule)

If you make it so that pressing the lever has a chance to dispense a pellet then the rat will press it much more frequently because they don't know when the next pellet will come and they will take much longer to lose the behaviour. (Variable ratio schedule)

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This is a very shallow dive into operant conditioning but the basic principle informs the decision to have random llamas and to have llamas at all. If there is a super people llama every day, or every Monday, then you know when you will have another opportunity to buy it and there is no pressure to do it today. In addition to reinforcing the behaviour of buying the llamas the daily random llama also reinforces the behaviour of logging in to the game every day and checking the llamas. This keeps you involved in the game and puts you in a position to be tempted buy the always available upgrade llamas. The rotating llamas is a variable interval reinforcement schedule and the llamas themselves are a variable ratio schedule. These are two of the most effective basic schedules for reinforcing behaviours and the way they've combined them is actually fairly masterful.

So you can say what you want about whether you like this system or not. You can argue whether it's ethical to manipulate people like this and to foster addictions. But don't try to argue that Epic is shooting themselves in the foot financially by doing it this way.

tl;dr The llama rotation system is based on tried and true marketing strategies based on operant conditioning. It's understandable to not like it but it's a financially sound strategy.


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