A Fond Farewell

Many of you may know I am leaving MobLab and headed back to Florida State. In this final post before the transition, I want to stroll down memory lane and recount how I joined MobLab. To tell this story, we must go back to Fall 2008. I was in a Research Scientist position at FSU and also taught some classes. One class was a special topics course, taught in the economics department, called the “Economics of Compassion”. The course was co-designed and co-taught with Mark Isaac. That semester I was approached to teach a special section of that course to the Social Justice Living Learning Community (SJLLC) at FSU — about 30-40 self-selected students with a passion and desire to make the world a better place. The folks at the SJLLC understood that, if you want to change the world, you better start with learning how it works. That’s where economics comes in. My job was to put parameters on people’s utopias.

In that class, we covered a wide-variety of topics related to poverty in the United States and the developing world: the history of charity and public assistance in the United States as well as philosophical conceptions of justice. It was a fun class. Because they were freshmen, and didn’t have any background in economics, I made an extra effort to do activities and experiments to make the economics more relatable to students.

Fast forward to 2011. Walter Yuan (MobLab CEO) was visiting the FSU campus and looking to demo MobLab. Since the SJLLC class was about to cover our unit on price controls, I had them participate in double auctions. One with price controls, the other without. It was one of the most memorable educational experiences I ever had. The baseline showed a smooth convergence the equilibrium prediction. The double auction with the price ceiling was chaos. Once the frenetic burst of trades stopped, buyers started yelling at sellers, “Post some asks!” and “Why aren’t you selling anything? We’re posting bids, why aren’t you doing anything?” The sellers of course shot back, “If we sell [at the max price] we will lose money!” It was chaos! I remembered that visceral reaction, the frustration, and the silence as all students waited with no trades happening … tick-tock, tick-tock, until the clock timed out. They felt the shortage. Students would stop me on campus (sometimes years later) saying they remembered playing that game.

Around the same time, I was listening to an archived episode of my favorite podcast, EconTalk. This podcast featured an interview with Milton Friedman. Because of the recent SJLLC experience with the double auction, one particular exchange stood out:

Russ: I feel we’ve made some progress [on price controls]. I’d like to think it’s because of economic education, obviously coupled with a great deal of experience . . . [But, these recent examples of not using the price mechanism] seem to be a paradoxical pattern.

Milton: There’s nothing paradoxical about it . . .A large fraction of the population had personal experiences with [price controls] . . .Twenty or thirty years from now, after there is nobody living who had experience with price controls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it come back again.

This was a remarkable insight. Once I write it aloud here it will seem plain, but, at the time it really was eye opening: There is an important role for experience and feeling in learning. This made sense. In high school, we learned about the Rhetorical Triangle. Every good argument relies on three components: logic, emotional appeal, and credibility. These were like three legs on a stool. If you only have one or two out of the three, the stool is less useful. My own lessons suffered because they lacked that experiential component. To this day, I think the best games are the ones that frustrate students. For example, people remember being the sucker who chose Cooperate in the Prisoner’s Dilemma when their partner chose Defect. Beyond emotional appeal, experiments are fundamentally for theory testing and help to give reason for confidence or skepticism about a theory. This helps with credibility.

Later that year I would join the PhD program at FSU. Over those years I still kept in contact with people at MobLab and when I was on the market in Fall 2015 Walter invited me to dinner with future MobLab colleagues and our advisor, Al Roth. It was a terrific dinner and I could tell that MobLab was a family and had a genuine vision for helping to change education. A couple months later, my wife and I decided it was best to take the plunge with MobLab. What a ride! The team has been great and I’m proud of how we’ve developed the product in the past two years. While there are too many things to list, here are a few highlights:

  • Developed new games: Production Entry/Exit, Loan Market, Pit Market, Consumer Choice, Double Marginalization, Kagel-Roth Matching, Beer Game, Ultimatum Game Strategy Method, Display Ad Auction, Principal Agent Game, Commons Fishery with Quota, Voter Turnout (1 and 2 candidate), Monopoly with Third Degree Price Discrimination, Monty Hall, and Limit Pricing (soon to be released).
  • Improved a number of existing games.
  • Created pre-built curriculum like lesson plans, instructor workbooks, and student workbooks to lower costs for instructors wanting to use MobLab and maximize student learning from playing games.
  • Developed new product features like LMS Integration, PowerPoint Integration for MobLab surveys, and improved the Instructor and Student Consoles with our new Beta version.

There is a lot to look back on and be proud about. MobLab is going to continue to do great things. Incidentally, MobLab is hiring for economics, data science, sales, and account management. If you have good students to refer to MobLab send them our way. MobLab has been successful for two reasons (1) The people on the team are smart, hardworking, and really care about what they’re doing, and (2) MobLab represents the future of education. What do I mean? In our research lives, we develop models and design experiments (or think about ways to get experiments out of observational data). We are engaged in theory testing. But, we don’t engage students much in this scientific method or interplay between theory, experiment, and data. Many instructors are starting to see this is an area we can improve. That’s why MobLab will grow. Not only that, experiments are also fun! Not just for students, but, for us teachers too. They create an energy around learning that’s contagious.


Given all my glowing statements about MobLab, why am I leaving? I miss the classroom. I miss seeing the light bulb go off for students and see them get passionate about economics. Also, I miss doing research and there are some projects I’m very excited to start. I love MobLab and I am grateful for the past couple years and looking forward to using it in my own classrooms for years to come.

Jackie Edwards on Mobile Game Design as a Career

Excited to introduce Jackie Edwards, a software developer with a passion for teaching IT to young adults, in conjunction with our You Asked, We Answered blog category.

Can you combine your love for mobile gaming and economics?    Yes!


6 Steps to Create a Successful Mobile Game
By Jackie Edwards

In 2016, almost 21,000 mobile gaming apps were added to the App Store in just one month. From games like Candy Crush to Pokémon Go, mobile gaming is taking the market by force. Mobile media is taking over our lives and with mobile usage expected to grow immensely in the next couple of years, mobile gaming will account for 42 percent of all gaming sales. If you’re a developer, here are some tips on how to create your first indie mobile game.


  1. Budget Your Time and Your Money

You need to determine what your budget is before you embark on your journey to develop an indie mobile game. Mobile games can cost anywhere between $0 and $900,000 and your budget and availability will significantly determine what kind of game you can develop.

MobLab Q/A: In terms of time, it takes our team about two weeks to take a game from conception to completion with variability depending on game parameters, testing, changes, and balancing other projects.


  1. Choose Your Genre and Do Your Research

It is important that you conduct a lot of market research before investing in the development of your game. You will want to develop a game that is popular and targets your fanbase. In 2016, the top grossing iOS games were strategy, role playing, adventure, action, and puzzle, respectively. You will also want to figure out how you want to set up your monetization system.

MobLab Q/A: We rely on insights from our advisory team to obtain feedback on our games to  ensure they match the economic rigor and learning objectives intended for students. In terms of pricing, offer a variety of different pricing structures to allow instructors and institutions to meet the differing needs of students.  


  1. Develop Your Concept

This is where you will use many of the skills learned in video game design schools. Pick a theme that you know will resonate with players and be sure to stick to it. Make sure that everything you add to the game from your characters to the storyline matches your theme. Since mobile games are generally compact, it will be very easy for your players to know when you steer away from your theme.

MobLab Q/A: When a story resonates with students, they are more likely to behave in alignment with the economic theory. When trying to gamify a theory, thoughts go into interactive roles for each player and creating clear decisions on each screen to achieve overall learning objectives.  


  1. Choose Your Technology Wisely

What you choose as your engine will drastically change your mobile game. Some options to consider include the following.

  • Cocos2D which is an open-source game development suite that is compatible with Swift and Objective-C.
  • Unity is a mobile game engine that can support C# and UnityScript, which is designed just for Unity and modelled after JavaScript.
  • PhoneGap lets users use their own existing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills to create a mobile app by embedding a web view in the app.

MobLab Q/A: We mainly user Phaser (which uses Javascript and a prebuilt library). We also natively design our Android/IOS mobile apps.


  1. Market Your Game

You will need to focus most of your time on marketing your game. Be sure to create a blog or website that serves as a hub for any updates you may have pertaining to the game. You will want to start this early on, before the game is completed, so that you can generate interest. Also be sure to reach out to indie game reviewers and ask them to review your game. This will give you free press and media coverage.

MobLab Q/A: Beyond our website and blog, our outward facing team arranges campus visits and presents at economic conferences. We make customer support the highest priority, since word of mouth and customer referrals is crucial. 


  1. Plan for Changes and Upgrades

One thing that is different about mobile games from typical PC or console games is that you will constantly have to add changes and updates to your game to keep fans interested. Since people spend a lot more time on their phone than in front of a computer or television screen, your players will also blast through levels faster. This means that you constantly have to build add-ons and upgrades. You should design some of these prior to your first release just to be prepared.

MobLab Q/A: We recently released a MobLab Instructor Beta and plan to release MobLab Student Beta at the end of the year. The new design and added functionality brings our app to the forefront of ed-tech gaming apps and keeps our product relevant with the ever mobile app industry. 


If you haven’t gotten into the world of mobile game development, it’s time to start. With these six tips you can get your break into the expansive industry.

If you are interested in joining the MobLab team, please visit our jobs page for a listing of open game development positions. 

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize!

By now you have heard that Richard Thaler won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences because his, “… contributions have built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision-making.” What a bridge! To my knowledge, there are no sub-fields in economics that haven’t been infused with psychological insights. For example, see survey articles on behavioral and experimental economics and:

Also, current and recent AEA Presidents Al Roth (2017), Robert Shiller (2016), Richard Thaler (2015) are an acknowledgement that psychology and economics are at the cutting edge of the economics discipline. The entrepreneurship of Richard Thaler is a big reason for that.

Other people will write more thorough reviews of Thaler’s research. The review at Marginal Revolution, is the best I’ve read this morning. At MobLab, we have a number of games related to Richard Thaler’s research. Dictator and Ultimatum games help to showcase issues related to fairness, something Richard Thaler has written a lot about. Our survey-based experiments help illustrate the power of framing effects like mental accounting, endowment effects, acquisition utility v. transaction utility, and so on. This week, I will build into our pre-built survey-based experiments questions from his classic piece on constraints on profit seeking.

ultimatum game

Option A of MobLab's Sunk Cost Fallacy Survey

I have been a big fan of Thaler’s research and thoroughly enjoyed the books Quasi Rational  Economics and Misbehaving. If I were teaching a class on behavioral economics, I would probably use Misbehaving. It’s a good intellectual autobiography, helps show the evolution of the field, and also reveals neat backstories to different research topics. In Fall 2018, I will be teaching a class on State and Local Public Finance and I’ll be assigning his most famous work on Nudges which has vast implications for public pensions, tax compliance, and more.

Congratulations to Richard Thaler!

PowerPoint Integration: In the Microsoft Store

If you haven’t heard the news, MobLab’s integration with PowerPoint is now available as an “add-in” in the Microsoft Store. The integration will work for PowerPoint versions 2013 or newer. This morning, I opened PowerPoint, clicked the Insert tab, and  selected “Store”. Then, I searched for MobLab in the Microsoft Store, pressed the “Add” button, and the PowerPoint add in loaded onto my screen.

From there, I tested the add-in. The add-in worked as described in an earlier blog post. Additionally, I saved my PPT slides with poll questions to a USB drive and loaded the slides onto a classroom computer. PowerPoint prompted me with an icon to confirm that MobLab was a safe add-in. Easy. From there, the technology worked like a charm. Obviously, different campuses will have different IT restrictions. Check the classroom you plan to use in advance.

Linear Public Goods game data graphs

Students and Research

At CTREE Atlanta in 2016, Tom Nechyba gave an outstanding plenary on engaging students in research. Over at his Teach Better blog, Doug McKee provided a great take on the talk,

I found Thomas Nechyba’s talk on how and why we should get undergraduate students involved in research incredibly inspiring. The Duke Economics Department runs semester-long senior essay workshops so students aren’t working in isolation with their advisors. They’ve carefully analyzed several years’ worth of senior essays and found that the quality has gone up substantially since they started the workshops. They’ve created interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students to work on tough problems through the Bass Connections program. And they’ve overhauled the curriculum to give undergraduates the tools they need for research as early as possible. If only more departments would be this willing to try new things.

Tom and the Duke Economics Department should be commended. At MobLab, we’re trying to do our own part to help students get engaged in research. Our workbooks all contain sequenced games that can be thought about like a control and treatment. In that sense, ceteris paribus really comes alive. Also, the “Further questions” sections in our workbooks all have data related questions. You can never start too early!

Of course, we know that bringing a significant data component into a Principles Class is a huge undertaking. But, we can certainly start building the foundations by having students calculate central tendencies, conduct t-tests, and create other relevant graphs. Most importantly I think the games we do at MobLab spark intrigue and motivate students to want to know the answer to questions. This spark is needed for any good researcher.

Multilateral bargaining game

MobLab for Political Science Courses

MobLab has a number of classroom experiments related to political science classes.In addition to our games, we also have a survey technology where you can run polls in class (similar to Clicker, TopHat, Poll Everywhere, etc.). Currently we have been used in Intro to Political Science, Comparative Politics, and Political Game Theory courses. Our games touch on a number of topics (and we also have a survey technology to run polling questions and survey-based experiments):

  • Models of Voting
  • Models of Political Competition
  • Free-Rider Problems
  • Commons Problems
  • Coalition Formation
  • Coordination Problems

In each outline below, I link to our game guides and (where applicable) to our module guides. If you already have an account, you can check these games out in the game library. If you don’t have an account, create one. It’s commitment free and gives you access to all the materials. Here is the link to sign up.

Free Rider Problems – Our linear public goods game embeds students in a group with others. Each student has an endowment of money to keep or donate to a water sanitation project. It is privately optimal to keep money, but socially optimal to donate. This game illustrates the tension between what is good for the individual and what is good for the group. Across rounds, students often follow their dominant strategy to free-ride. In our public goods module, we suggest enabling communication too. When students can talk to each other you observe increased cooperation. This can open up discussion about social capital, differences between close-knit communities and larger communities, etc.

Public Good: Linear game

Commons Problems – Our commons fishery game embeds students in a group where each operates a fishing boat on a lake. The fish stock doubles at the end of each round, up to the maximum capacity of the lake. In each round, students can catch fish (without knowing how many fish others are catching). With groups N>1, the results are tragic. In our commons module, we suggest manipulating group size to illuminate the importance of property rights and also enabling communication to showcase how groups can form constitutions and administer verbal punishments to help preserve the commons.

Coordination Problems – Both of the above games help demonstrate tension between individual and group optimum. Enabling chat can also showcase how some groups can help to coordinate individuals to overcome free-riding or tragedy. However, because these mechanisms are non-binding we may consider them risky. The Stag Hunt Game can build on these games and discuss the idea of multiple equilibria and the risk associated with the Pareto Optimal (Stag, Stag) equilibrium.

These first three games can be thought about as making the case for government. The next three games help highlight topics related to how/when people vote and how politicians compete.

Models of Voting – Delve into the paradox of voting with our Voter Turnout Game. Students are embedded in groups where some students want a soccer club and others want a basketball club. All voters incur a cost to voting and know the number of voters in favor of each club. Students face a simple choice: vote and incur a cost or abstain and incur zero cost. Instructors can manipulate group size, distribution of the cost to voting, and the “party distribution”. These manipulations help illustrate the size effect, competition effect, the underdog effect and the cost of voting.

Political Competition – In the Two Candidate Election, students act as politicians who locate their policy decisions along a line. You can manipulate the location of the median voter. Across rounds, the two candidates tend to converge to the median voter.

Coalition Formation – In the The Multilateral Bargaining Game, students are zombies who make proposals about how to divide humans across a population of three zombies. After all proposals are submitted, one proposal is selected at random. Each zombie then votes Yes or No on the selected proposal. The proposal passes if it receives 2/3 Yes votes. Students learn quickly that when you have the power to propose life is good. Also, cutting out the third zombie is a good idea.

Multilateral bargaining game

Beyond the listed experiments we also have Prisoner’s Dilemma, Public Goods with Rewards/Punishments, Double Auction with Externalities, Cap and Trade, Trust Game, Bargaining, etc. You also can create your own matrix form games, for example, Chicken to help illustrate the Nuclear Missile Crisis.

Finally, our survey technology allows for instructors to run survey-based experiments in their classes. If you want to explore framing effects, you can create a question for Frame A and Frame B. The software automatically divides students into these two frames.

Thank you for your interest in MobLab! Please contact us at support@moblab.com with any additional questions.

Update: New Workbook Content

Today we updated our Instructor and Student Workbooks. The instructor side of the workbooks (Principles of Micro, Principles of Macro, Intermediate Micro) include:

  • General description of the game, learning objectives, time requirements, etc.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to implement pre-built curriculum
  • Videos that walk instructors through standard results presentation
  • More support videos and content related to running our games and surveys

The student side of the workbooks (Micro, Macro, Intermediate Micro) include:

  • “Warm-up questions” can be completed by watching video instructions. These improve comprehension on the rules of the game and concepts related to learning objectives.
  • “Thinking through theory” either preps students to see certain features of a game or helps to draw out features of a game after-the-fact.
  • “Experimental notes” prompt students to record decisions and make notes about experiences during a game. These notes are helpful during post-game discussion.
  • “Further questions” act as additional questions for reflection on the learning objective related to the game.

These workbooks lower the cost of instructor preparation for running classroom experiments. We estimate that an instructor will be able to confidently run a game in class, and discuss that game, with 30 minutes preparation. Moreover, the workbooks make integration with the course more seamless. For students, classroom experiments do not seem separate or “other” — they are not a diversion, but, part of the whole. Research suggests this kind of integration is crucial for achieving learning gains.

Finally, to help familiarize faculty and graduate students with pedagogy for teaching with games and introduce them to new features of our technology (e.g. PowerPoint Integration, LMS Integration, etc.) I will be doing workshops. Below is the workshop flyer from the University of Cincinnati. Contact us at support@moblab.com if you would like to set up a workshop in-person or over Skype.

PowerPoint Integration: MobLab Multiple Choice

Great lectures have great flow. With the new MobLab integration with PowerPoint, you can run polls from your slides. Soon MobLab will be available as an “add-in” in the Microsoft store. In this post I’d like to showcase the functionality.

To create a poll instructors select the content area of the slide, choose the My Add-ins arrow (in the Insert Tab), and choose MobLab. Instructors are greeted with a MobLab sign in page, sign-in, and choose their relevant class from a menu of MobLab courses. The size of the content box can be adjusted to fit the full screen.

Currently MobLab has two kinds of questions: multiple choice (single answer) and multiple choice (multiple answer). Instructors are prompted to give the question a name for their records (more on that later) and fill in the question text. Images can also be added and check boxes can be selected to indicate the correct answer. Whenever you are finished press “Done”.

Before pressing “Run” instructors can see the number of students logged onto their MobLab accounts. Responses can be displayed in real-time or after the poll is completed. Also, clicking on the picture causes it to expand to take up the content area.

Here are what the responses look like when results are displayed:

To finish the poll, select “Finish”. The “Finish” button will become a “Run Again” button so instructors can run the same polls for their next class. After pressing “Run Again” instructors can select the class name at the top of the PowerPoint screen (MobLab U in this case) and choose a different class from the dropdown menu. This will cause all slides to update to that new class.None of the earlier results will be lost or overwritten.

The results are saved to the corresponding class in the Instructor Console in a playlist called “PPT”. Each question in the PowerPoint slide is saved as a single survey activity. For example, if questions were asked across two recitations it would appear as follows:

For easy grading, select the class name in the upper right corner of the Instructor Console and choose “More…”. If you have integrated MobLab with your Learning Management System (LMS) you can send the grades to your LMS or you can simply download the performance. In either case, you can merge the two recitations by grouping students based on “Unique Activity Names”. This is where giving your survey a specific name is helpful.

We developed this feature for a couple instructors who asked us. No doubt there are many more who will want to use PowerPoint Integration. If you have any questions, please contact us at support@moblab.com. We are always happy to help!

Classroom Game Theory Experiments

MobLab in Managerial Economics and Organizational Behavior

We have a number of instructors using MobLab for their managerial economics courses. For example, see our conversation with Kevin McCabe. How does MobLab fit with managerial economics and organizational behavior courses? Really well. I would hazard to guess there are more applicable games than someone could reasonably play in a semester. What topics are covered with MobLab games?

  • Oligopoly
  • Collusion
  • Team Incentives
  • Equity and Fairness Concerns
  • Reputation and Trust
  • Asymmetric Information
  • Framing Effects
  • Competitive Markets
  • Coordination
  • Risk Preferences

In each outline below I link to our game guides and (where applicable) to our module guides. If you already have an account, you can check these games out in the game library. If you don’t have an account, create one. It’s commitment free and gives you access to all the materials. Here is the link to sign up.

For the oligopoly and collusion related topics, please see our post on Industrial Organization.

Team Incentives – The linear public goods game is the classic illustration of the incentive to free-ride in groups. In our Public Goods with Punishment and Rewards Game you can manipulate anonymity, enable chat, and allow for individuals to incur a cost to reward or punish other group members. This can be a great game to showcase the power of social sanctions and communication.

Public Goods: Punishments and Rewards game screen

Equity and Fairness ConcernsThe Ultimatum Game is a classic game to highlight equity and fairness concerns. It can be a great launching point to discuss how individuals evaluate outcomes and are willing to incur a cost to preserve norms.

Reputation and TrustThe Trust Game has been a workhorse game in organizational economics because, “Trust within organizations increases efficiency by lower monitoring costs (e.g. Frank, 1988), lowering turnover (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002), and increasing uncompensated positive behavior from employees (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Konovsky & Pugh, 1994).” (Johnson and Mislin, 2011). In essence, increased trust lowers transaction costs.

Asymmetric InformationThe Lemons Market is a classic representation of the problems associated with asymmetric information.

Framing Effects – We have a number of pre-built surveys to help illustrate heuristics and biases like anchoring and insufficient adjustment, substitution heuristic, mental accounting, availability bias, and more. Our survey technology can be used to create your own framed experiments.

There are so many other areas we could explore here: risk preferences, minimum effort (coordination), auctions (e.g. private value, common value, ascending, descending, etc.), basic game theory concepts, competitive market, long run equilibrium, bargaining, etc.

We are also in the process of creating a Principal-Agent game that should be ready by early fall 2017. Keep an eye out for that! Beyond games, it is worth mentioning that our survey technology can be used to poll students on class content regardless of subject.

Please contact us at support@moblab.com with any additional questions.