A problem derived using game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma was first put forth by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher. Adapted over time, the classical prisoner’s dilemma goes like this:
Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?
Making the most rational decision, and acting solely for themselves, the best option for both prisoners is to defect. Under any circumstance, betraying their partner by ratting them out will generate the best possible aggregate result for the prisoner. However, because the choice to defect is both prisoners’s best move, it assures that the outcome will be a 5-year sentence for both of them.
Flood and Dresher’s problem illustrates the challenges involved in acting beyond one’s own personal gain, choosing instead to act for the good of the group. If everyone acted in this non-selfish manner, the group would thrive more richly than it would acting solely in their own individual best interest. But, because of the issue of free-riders, and as this game theory problem illustrates, there are significant hurdles that must be overcome in order to achieve these non-self-serving results.
One of the biggest challenges facing electric motorcycle manufacturers comes in the form of customer education. These companies must wrestle with not only how they convert current internal combustion engine (ICE) motorcyclists to electric motorcycles, but also how they will bring current non-motorcyclists into the industry. Not an easy task to begin with, the problem is compounded by the nearly non-existent marketing budgets these companies operate on. There is no question that there is a need to putt forth the argument for electric motorcycles in the industry, but with making that case comes a marketing decision that exemplifies our Prisoner’s Dilemma problem.
Who will take on the burden and challenge of educating an industry centered around the internal combustion engine, when doing so surely means a great investment in capital and resources, and also when the desired affect will bring no exclusive benefit to the company? That is to say, what company is going to take the time and money to begin changing the way motorcyclists think about motorcycles, and develop a market for electrics, when the return on that investment helps them just as much as it helps their competitor?