Reward Anticipation in TF2 Crates?

Team Fortress 2, Mann. Co Supply Crates can be opened to reveal virtual items by buying a $2.49 key. This surprise item can consist of ordinary weapons to hats or even “exceedingly rare items”. Some of these rare items can fetch over $400 over the black market.

One of the interesting things about opening a crate is that there is a 5 second countdown. Below is an example:

Is there any significance to perposefully including a delay between you and your newest loot?

Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University may say yes. In a recent study, monkeys were trained to press a lever to receive a reward. They measured transient levels of dopamine in the monkey’s brain and found that dopamine spiked not during the reward, but during the anticipation of the reward. Furthermore, if the reward is only given 50% of the time, dopamine levels will increase further!

So maybe the game designers at Valve have realized this and put in that delay on purpose.

For more on this topic:

Reward anticipation – A powerful tool for game design – A Good overview by Lennart Nacke of Sapolsky’s talk as well as relevant examples from World of Warcraft.

Predictive Reward Signal of Dopamine Neurons – The original scholarly article about dopamine and reward anticipation.

The dopaminergic basis of human behaviors: A review of molecular imaging studies – A 2009 review paper on dopamine and human behaviour.


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