King’s Online & the ‘Ultimatum Game’

Gamification and its equivalents have been popular in the edtech/instructional design space for a little while now. We at King’s Online, never liking to be behind the curve, have, accordingly, been introducing gaming concepts into our online modules for some time – and a very fine example of this was our use of the classic ‘ultimatum game’ in our work with the Dickson Poon School of Law.


What, pray tell, is an ‘ultimatum game’?

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the premise of this game is that a player is given £10 to share with another individual. He or she can choose how to split this money however he or she chooses – however, the other individual must accept this offer if both players are to keep any money at all: If the other player rejects the offer, neither player gets anything.

So, therefore, if Player A offers Player B £3, B can either accept the £3, thereby giving Player A £7; or Player B can refuse the offer and have both players gain nothing. Pairs of players are only matched a single time in a given game, so no reciprocity should be possible.

The ‘offering’ players want to maximize the amount of total money they earn – so, when playing optimally, they will attempt to offer the lowest amount they can, without making an offer so ‘offensively low’ that it is refused. The player who has gained the largest amount of cash by the end of the game ‘wins’.

So what’s so different about your version?

Ours, firstly, is a digital version of this longstanding economic experiment – which is often played ‘in person’, rather than remotely and anonymously. What is more, King’s Online’s iteration of this famous formula includes two significant developments: one which we can relay; the other which we cannot. ll players’ responses are recorded using the SCORM API, to report to King’s Online’s learning management system for analyses.

“It allows en masse application and statistical analysis of the results of student performance, both individual and as a collective, through recording results via SCORM.”

Mihael Jeklic, Dickson Poon School of Law (on King’s Online’s ‘Ultimatum Game’)


Okay but what’s the ‘point’ of it then?

Well this particular ultimatum game was created for King’s College London’s highly regarded law school and has been used in both on-campus and blended-learning law courses to investigate how students might evaluate their own profit-gain techniques. There was a wish to be able to perform a consistent experiment on all students, online and ‘off-line’, to see how well they might play the game and which individual would perform best overall.

Many of the legal academics King’s Online worked with had performed this game in a face-to-face seminars before, yet data had always been skewed, necessarily, by the ‘human element’. Students who were popular with their peers (or who boasted the largest egos) would typically outperform the mean, as they tended to receive more favourable offers. The law school wished to anonymise the players and reiterate to the students that the sole aim of the game was make the maximum amount of ‘money’ possible, rather than curry collegiate favour. They also wanted to be able to track every single action taken by each student, so they could share the results with the individual and reinforce the learning objectives vis-a-vis negotiation skills.

So, just another example where King’s Online met their Faculty partner’s needs with genius technological wizardry and first-class collaboration?

Something like that, yes.

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