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The GAMESbrief Glossary:
Scarcity is one of the six Influence Principles which are used to persuade people to buy products or services.
The idea of Scarcity is that humans are motivated by the fear of missing out on something that appeals to them. If you think that your opportunity to purchase an item or enjoy a discount might be limited, you’re vastly more likely to buy it right now. This is the principle underlying every instance of “Limited Edition”, “For a Limited Time Online”, “These Prices Can’t Last” or the many, many other similar approaches used by marketers.
With videogames, Scarcity isn’t a natural state of affairs, since digital products can be infinitely replicated without cost. However, artificial scarcity is easy to create. Limited-time offers or items which are only available in limited number within a game are two possible approaches to creating Scarcity. Any sales tactic which gives users pangs of concern over missing out on a great item or deal is Scarcity at work.
The Influence Principles are based on Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which you ought to read. The other five principles are Reciprocity, Commitment, Social Proof, Authority and Likeability.