So what's the psychology here? Well, the psychology is it's Facebook. It uses your real friends. It's not just the virtual world anymore, it's your real friends. And then you're playing, you're like 'Oh, that's kind of cool, that's my real friends, hey... hey! My real friend is better than me. How can I remedy that. Well I could play a long time or I could just put $20 in. AH HA! And it's even better if that $20 I put in validates something that I know is true, that I am greater than my college roommate Steve from back in the day and that I can verify that."
And then you combine that with the psychological idea of rationalization, the idea that anything you spend time on, you start to believe, 'Oh, this must be worthwhile. Why? Because I've spent time on it. And therefore it must be worth me kicking in 20 bucks, because look at the time I've spent on it. And now that I've kicked in 20 bucks, it must be valuable, because only an idiot would kick in 20 bucks if it wasn't! So there's a lot of psychological cleverness going on with these things."
- Carnegie Mellon Assistant Professor of Entertainment and Technology Jesse Schell explains the appeal of Mafia Wars, and many Facebook games.
The full talk, titled "Beyond Facebook Games" is embedded below and well worth watching.