Self-control and demand for commitment in online game playing: evidence from a field experiment

  • Dan AclandEmail author
  • Vinci Chow
Original Paper


We conduct an experiment on an online game, exploring the effect on gameplay behavior of voluntary commitment devices that allow players to limit their gameplay. Approximately 25% of players use the devices. Median and 75th percentile device users use devices approximately 60 and 100% of the time, respectively. Players who chose to use the device were those who had previously played longer and more frequently than those who chose not to use the device. Offering the commitment devices decreased session length and session frequency by 2.8 and 6.1%, respectively, while increasing weeks of play by 5.5%. Our results are consistent with some players having self-identified self-control problems, leading to longer and more frequent play than they would prefer, and to demand for commitment, and also with commitment devices creating a more rewarding experience, leading to longer-lasting involvement with the game. Our results suggest incentivizing or requiring commitment devices in computer games.


Online games Self-control Commitment devices Online experiment Libertarian paternalism 

JEL Classification

D91 C93 



The authors would like to thank Michael Urbancic, Stefano DellaVigna, Matthew Rabin, Ulrike Malmendier, Rob MacCoun, Matthew Levy, Rob Letzler, Eugene Smolensky, as well as all of the participants in the U.C. Berkeley, Psychology and Economics “Non-lunch” and all of the participants in the 2016 Habit-Driven Consumer conference. The experiment would not have been possible without the help of the WordsPlay site owner, Evan Simpson. Funding was generously provided by the Russell Sage Foundation and the Institute for Business and Economic Research.


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong

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