Schedule of Reinforcement (Behavioral psychology)

Or in human words, how to keep players attached to the game and why some games are more addictive than others?
Schedule of Reinforcement (Behavioral psychology)

Definition: A schedule of reinforcement is a series of reinforcers or punishments utilized to control behaviour patterns in operant conditioning. It’s a set of rules that determine how often a player is reinforced for a particular behaviour.

A reinforcer is an outcome or result, generally referring to a reward like an experience point, winning a level, or a bigger gun;

Operant conditioning - a response that is followed by reinforcing stimulus is more likely to occur again;

Particular behaviour pattern - (or response) pushing buttons 100 times, killing a monster, visiting an area of the game board.

In general, it’s the same gameplay loop but with a nice addition of interval and reinforcement.

There are four patterns / partial schedules:

  • fixed interval
  • variable interval
  • fixed ratio
  • variable ratio.

Fixed Interval Schedule

Fixed interval schedule

Interval schedules involve reinforcing a behaviour after some time has passed. In a fixed interval schedule, the interval of time is always the same.

Example in video games: Waiting for monsters to re-spawn in a game area where re-spawning occurs at fixed intervals.

Example in natural environments: Day job that delivers paycheck every 2 weeks regardless of performance at the job.

Variable interval schedule

Variable interval schedule

Interval schedules involve reinforcing a behavior after a variable interval of time has passed. In a variable interval schedule, the interval of time is not always the same but centres around some average length of time.

Example in video games: A monster holding epic treasure may appear at random.

Example in natural environments: Checking emails. Calling elevator. As well as fishing, if you just cast your hook and wait.

Fixed ratio schedule

Fixed ratio schedule

Ratio schedules involve reinforcement after a certain number of responses have been emitted. The fixed-ratio schedule involves using a constant number of responses.

Example in video games: Character “level-up” after gaining a constant amount of experience points.

Example in natural environments: Jobs that pay on units delivered.

Variable ratio schedule

Variable ratio schedule

A reinforcer is given after a specified number of correct responses. This schedule is used to increase and maintain a steady rate of specific responses. This schedule is best for maintaining behaviour.

Example in video games: Loot “grinding” in RPG.

Example in natural environments: Slot machines. Players have no way of knowing how many times they have to play before they will win. All they know is that eventually, a play will win.

These observations were made during an experiment in an operant conditioning chamber also the so-called “Skinner Box” which is a laboratory apparatus used to study animal behaviour. This operant conditioning chamber by B. F. Skinner.