Cumulative Advantage (Matthew Effect)

How advantages can stack over time to yield increasing advantages.

An early advantage can sometimes lead to follow-on advantages or a feedback loop. For example, game developers with a hit receive great advantages over new developers. They have an established community, they have an easier time getting press coverage for future titles, they will receive more publishing and investment opportunities due to their track record, and monetary success for the first title makes funding follow-on titles much less stressful.

In game design, cumulative advantages can lead to more interesting gameplay, or create major balancing issues. Multiplayer titles must be especially careful with this. High-level players will often benefit from cumulative advantages for games with progression systems, advanced building mechanics, PVP, or competition for scarce resources. If this gets out of hand, it can make games virtually unplayable for new players.

Cumulative advantages also apply to personal development. If you invest time to develop yourself, mitigate personal biases, and become better at evaluating and making decisions, you will see cumulative positive effects in your career and life. This is why I am such a big advocate of the mental models framework – it puts people on a path towards success if they study them and act on them.

Into the Breach