My first bit from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus is one of the hardest to quote without going to great length. He cites Edward Deci’s experiment with a puzzle game called Soma. Subjects were shown the Soma puzzle pieces along with how they could be reconfigured to make new shapes, given some sample shapes to make, and then given a break.
During his absence from the room Deci observed the subject through a one-way mirror for exactly eight minutes. The subject’s behavior during that break was the experiment. … Even with [a variety of distractions] readily available, many of the students kept playing with the puzzle on their own, spending on average about half of the eight minutes working on it.
[Deci had the students back for a second session. Half]…were told that they would be paid a dollar for every shape they assembled [$5 today, after inflation]. … The paid subjects, who now thought of the cubes as a potential source of income, experimented with them, on average, for a minute more of their break time than they had previously. Deci then ran a third session, where he simply repeated the experiment exactly as he had run it initially: all the subjects were asked to assemble shapes, with no pay for anyone. In this session, even though each subject received identical instructions, the ones who had been paid in the previous session showed markedly less interest in the shapes during the break than in the session where they had been paid; their average time spent dropped by two minutes, which is to say it fell twice as far, when the payment was removed, as it had risen when the payment was added in the first place.
Which is to say that rewarding our inner Achiever can reduce our interest in the game. Do you play multiple alts and switch when one runs out of rested xp? If there is a daily quest to X, how much X do you do after the daily quest runs out? Even if you really like X, you know you are a sap who is doing it for half pay after the bonus runs out, when you could be getting the daily bonus for some other, perhaps almost as good Y.
Clay Shirky goes on to cite the famous study finding that putting a small fee for picking up children late from daycare increased lateness. Parents previously thought of it as a shared social contract, but after adding a monetary factor, it became a low-cost purchase of a little extra daycare. I have read disputes with the replicability of this study, however, so I am not sure of how much trust to place in it. Either study is an example of love working where gold may not.