Tobold's Blog
Monday, May 04, 2009
What is your time worth?

I was a bit surprised by what I considered a disproportionate response to me having spend 100 bucks on Free Realms, and me having spent 4579 hours on World of Warcraft. Some people were surprised I was spending "so much money" on Free Realms, while me having spent the equivalent of a part time job on WoW was considered normal, and well under the threshold of addictive behavior. But time is money. Multiply 4579 hours with whatever the minimum wage is where you live, and you'll arrive at a staggering sum of money that makes 100 bucks look like peanuts. So why are we dismissing the value of time so easily?

I think the problem is that not every one of our hours has equal value. I couldn't earn twice as much money if I spent twice as much time at work. After 8+ hours at work, I'm getting definitely less focused and less productive. And in most people's days there is a point at which they have done everything productive they could possibly do, and still have some time left for entertainment. How many unproductive hours you have in your day depends on many things, like your age, your school / job hours, and your family situation. But it isn't as if you could spend every hour of your day on something productive.

When you were discussing what amount of time spent on WoW would be addictive and what not, I was thinking that putting a number to it is nonsense. What you need to consider is "If I weren't spending this time on WoW (or whatever other MMO), what would I be spending it on instead?". If the answer to that is something like "watching TV", then you aren't addicted, you're just making a totally valid choice between various forms of entertainment. If the answer is "I'd study for my exam" or "I'd work harder for that promotion" or "I'd renovate my house", then there is a problem. And it isn't just a problem of "addiction", it is also a financial problem. If you're not getting that good grade, that promotion, or your house renovated, you're losing something of financial value. And that financial value is far, far bigger than the cost of a MMORPG, even with microtransactions and RMT.

Personally, I never considered myself addicted, because there honestly isn't anything I missed out on due to me playing World of Warcraft. Actually I *did* get that promotion recently, payrise included, and there is nothing to suggest that I didn't work hard enough at work, or neglected my family (I get a lot of hours out of *not* having children). But the consequence of that is that I only spend hours on WoW that would otherwise have been unproductive anyway. Which in turn limits the focus and energy I can put into the game. Playing Free Realms, or soloing a quest in WoW, can be done for pure relaxation, with very little focus and energy, and is thus perfect for non-productive hours. But the real top-end raiding activity in World of Warcraft requires a lot more concentration, focus, and energy. It is not that I would be totally unable to do that, but I do notice it does reach the limits of what I can do spending only unproductive time on it. Remaining focused in a raid until midnight has a price, especially if you need to get up early and work the next day.

So maybe this train of thought leads us to a better definition of what "casual" is: A casual player is somebody who isn't willing to spend potentially productive time in the game, because he uses that productive time for something which is more important to him. That leads to casual players preferring content which can be done in unproductive time, without much focus or energy.
You can play around with definitions all you want, but think of other activities -- playing tennis, working out at the gym, playing Warhammer miniatures -- and if you spend 10-15 hours a week doing these things, you probably wouldn't define yourself as "casual." Just imagine a friend who works out at the gym every day for two hours. I doubt you would say he's casual about working out. You'd probably say he's very dedicated and intent on working out. And after four years of two hours a day in the gym, he'd probably have a great physique to show for it.

I will say one more thing. People who don't have a drinking problem never even ask themselves if they have a drinking problem. If you ask that question, chances are you probably do.
The reasoning is not quite correct.
People will be amazed if you put X amount of money in a toy/game/dvd/hobby they don't do themselves. It's a matter of POV.
It doesn't matter if you are casual or not. If they don't value the hobby itself, evry penny you put in it is too much.

On top of that, it's a matter of big numbers. 100bucks sounds a lot if you pay it upfront. (a strange comparison, but why people find it more dramatic when an airplane crashes and kills 100people, while 1 car-accident with 2 people only get some shrugs, yet the total number of deaths with cars are way higher than airplane-crashes). You should have to feed the people who regret not paying for a life-sub for lotro, but still paying a monthly-fee....
What is the value of time? Isn't that one of the great dilemmas of MMORPGing? Does it make a difference whether or not you are enjoying yourself while you play? Is there a difference between the player who says "I spend 4579 hours in World of Warcraft and I enjoyed every minute of it" and the player who says "I had to go through 4579 hours of tedious grinding but at least I got this cool epic gear for it".

I don't accept your contention that anyone who chooses to play when they could be doing something more productive has an addiction problem Tobold. Lets face it there is always something more productive you could be doing whether it is cutting the grass, leaning to speak Chinese or figuring out how to solve World Hunger. You are not taking into account plain old fashioned laziness or even people making their own personal choices.

Similarly I cannot accept your definition of casual player being somebody who isn't willing to spend potentially productive time in the game. Many casual players waste productive time playing flash games when they should be working and many non casual players still pursue responsible jobs and look after their families. Take your self as an example Tobold. You appear to be on top of your job and real life responsibilities but you are very far from being a casual player. Sure there are people who spend more time in game and who have progressed further than you but you cannot in all honesty say that an activity that you have spend 4579 hours on and about which you maintain a prolific and widely read blog is a casual pursuit. MMORPGing is clearly an important part of your life Tobold and surely that is the real definition of a non casual player: Someone for whom gaming is an important part of their life.

GZ on levelling up in "World of Real Job" by the way.
I think there are a great many things one can do with one's life which are much more harmful than video games. Someone I know spends all her time worrying. If she has nothing worth worrying about she'll find something trivial to worry about like a character in a soap or whether Obama is superficial. She suffers sleeplessness and has needed quite extensive medication.

The mind is going to do something in your non-work hours. Video games are thought-provoking and intriguing, telly is often a rather dull opiate, gossip can be pernicious.

I certainly think gaming is a far more civilised hobby than some of the traditional working class pastimes: alcoholism, wife-beating, adultery, and street fighting to name just a few.

RMT games bring up a slightly different agenda though. I don't think anyone begrudges you spending $100 on a hobby Tobold, that's less that the price of a single golf club. I think people who play MMOs without spending extra through RMT are nervous that at some point these extra payments will become required. So we're not questioning or caring that you pay $100 to get some RMT perks. We're concerned that one day soon WE may have to pay $100 to play in the manner to which we have become accustomed.
"If I weren't spending this time on WoW (or whatever other MMO), what would I be spending it on instead?"
Interesting thought and it's true. At a time I was neglecting my duties because I'd rather play WoW. Now it's instead of looking to a movie or playing another game.

And following your logic, the defition of casual comes down to "not addicted". That would mean that all hardcores are addicted? I can't agree with that. Personally I see it as a mindset: arrive at the instance on time, bring potions, know the fights, know your class. Even if you only raid two days a week, if you do all that you're hardcore. I see casual more as a "slacker" synonym.
"A casual player is somebody who isn't willing to spend potentially productive time in the game, because he uses that productive time for something which is more important to him."
This is complete BS, by extending your definition it means that hardcore gamers are the one that are wasting their lives in MMOs (the mom's basement cliché). What you described is just what a "sane" gamer is, it does in no way describe a casual gamer...
>>This is complete BS, by extending your definition it means that hardcore gamers are the one that are wasting their lives in MMOs (the mom's basement cliché). What you described is just what a "sane" gamer is, it does in no way describe a casual gamer...

It's as accurate as anything else I've seen someone say, and it fits me to a T.

What is frightening is how some people "justify" how they arent addicted, as they say one thing and do completely the opposite. In my last blog post I made mention of how taking a 9 month hiatus from WoW improved my health tremendously. Not due to how long I was playing WoW, but rather how my eating and sleeping habits surrounding my play time were turning me into one big fatass. I alienated quite a few of my friends when I tossed out the truth bomb about how most of us were becoming fat asses, but I'm at least fixing my issues bacause I'm no longer in denial.

I know married people who are hardcore raiders who alienate themselves from their spouses in order to play the damn game. It happens every day in hundreds if not thousands of homes across america, yet these same people will make any excuse they can find to explain how they are in control when, in fact, they are far from being in control.

I am in the process of quitting WoW permanently, and will be deleting my characters on the day before my current subscription runs out, and I have found it odd that people have questioned my reasoning for deleting, offering "reasons" why I shouldnt. These are just games, and it's disturbing how people can place such importance on avatars, pixels on a screen, as they justify their reasonings for certain behaviors.
The whole casual thing is sort of funny. I think anything outside of work and family that you spend even 10 hours a week on is more than "casual." It's just that when you compare your time in an MMO against those players who are truly hardcore, 10-20 hours a week can seem like a casual investment of time when a lot of players are spending much more time than that.

If you spend four or five nights a week hanging out in a bar for a couple of hours. You are a barfly. In an MMO, people want to think that is a casual time investment.

If you spend four or five nights a week working out in a gym, you are a gym rat.

I will say this again: If you've ever wondered if you spend too much time playing games, you probably do. You can use that formula for just about any activity. Clearly, some are healthier than others (going to the gym, for example), but too much of anything can be unbalancing.
Grats on your promotion, Tobold. When I moved across the country and started a new job last year, I made a conscious commitment to limit my WoW raiding time to twice a week. With my leftover time, I prioritized work. Didn't quite get a promotion, but I did get a nice bonus and better job security, which to me is more valuable than slightly-better epics.
Casuals want to relax in a game, Hardcore players search for meaning in game.
Theoretically, and I know this is horseshit, but you ought to be having FUN playing WoW at all times. The thought of paying someone to do it for you should be as nonsensical as paying someone to eat your ice cream cone for you. When you're at the point where you it makes sense to pay people to do parts of the game for you the same way you'd pay somebody to do your laundry or mow the lawn, you've crossed the line between good fun and bonkers. If the only thing keeping you from buying gold or buying leveling services is ethics/fear of getting caught/being cheap, you need to take a deep look at your relationship with the game.
My job requires me to do alot of thinking, so much that sometimes my head feels like mush when I get home. I'm not solving world hunger or anything but it's still fairly complicated. When I get home I have two young childeren and a wife. I spend 4 hours with them before my kids go to bed. At that point of the day I am mentally drained. Logging onto MMO's and playing with friends lets my brain shut off. I would probably lose my mind if I tried to do anything more productive in that 2-3 hour span a night I play video games. (I've tried taking college courses at night and nearly went nuts)

Now that being said I have friends that level my character for me in WAR when I'm not on. I play less than them so I don't have time to keep my character with the group. I don't dislike leveling, but I would rather play with my friends.

When I started playing WoW I had just got back from Iraq. All my friends were level 60 and I wanted to play with them. I didn't care about leveling. I paid a leveling company to level my priest up for me part of the way.

@ Toxic

Your Ice Cream analogy isn't really accurate. He isn't paying someone to eat the ice cream for him, if anything it would be paying someone to make the ice cream for him so that he can just eat it and enjoy it without the hassle. Now if you ENJOY making the ice cream from scratch you would consider this a waste, but if you simply enjoy eating it then it's worth the price.
Nobs: my point exactly.

WoW is a game. There should be no need to "make ice cream". It's already ice cream, its a bloody video game.

And I totally get where you are coming from Nobs; its far easier just to buy gold, and toons. Even if you make minimum wage its way more cost effective to get a part time job to fund you MMO needs.

But isn't that really CRAZY? Are we so used to the idea that games should largely consist of things that are so boring or time consuming that a guy with a job and a family's only way to play is to pay people to take care of all the boring bits?
Or more accurate, Nobs, I love eating Ice Cream, but I hate walking to the store and buying it then carrying it back home. So is there really a problem with paying someone to go to the store and get the Ice Cream for me?

Now when I want Ice Cream I just go to the freezer, and I can enjoy my Ice Cream without the boring, tedious trip to the store.

Of course some people get a kick out of going to the store. The sights they see along the way. The people they meet, both on their trip and at the store. They have a great time doing what I find tedious, and, oddly enough, they hate Ice Cream.

What is so bad with my neighbor paying me to go to the store to buy his Ice Cream? He gets out of doing something he'd really rather not do, and I get to do what I really enjoy. It's a Win-Win situation if ever I saw one.
... strange urge to go downstairs and get a chocolate creamsicle. Can't.. resist...
Cap'n, that's free market Capitalist gibberish you speak of. We will have none of that in this country, Comrade. Everyone will pay their $15/month and get on their treadmills, and they will praise Mother Blizzard for providing them the opportunity to do so.

*ahem* Sorry, that's the Old Country speakink.

My time is worth a great deal to me. So much that I will never pay a subscription to play a game, as it happens. Such a monetization scheme will never offer fair value to me. If I were addicted to the game and had no real life (but somehow held down a job to pay the sub and living expenses), perhaps things would be different.

We agree on principial I think. Games should be fun. Given the a situation where games stop being fun you either;

A. Quit
B. Keep playing
C. Pay someone else to do it

I prefer A and C rather than B. I would like to think that if it is a game then the whole thing would be fun but that's unrealistic. Games are meant to apeal to such a wide spectrum of people that you aren't going to like everything. Assuming one of those less enjoyable task are required to progress farther into the game we are then faced with what you have many people doing with buying gold or characters.

Not to mention time sinks keep people playing, which keeps people paying. I cancel my sub to a MMO as soon as I start to get bored. I can always resub later. The most fun I ever had in WoW was shortly after hitting 70 and doing all the 5 mans. I'm looking for the shortest path to get to having fun, not to get the rewards.
Nobs, the shortest path to having fun is to play another game!
How about your kids ? kids = timesink
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