Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
 
Wasting money

This post is going to be politically incorrect, at least in the context of the egalitarian "on the internet we are all equal" culture you hear so often argued. Of course that pretense equality ends as soon as you look up, because the real world is very inequal, and is often getting more so. So when I thought about it, I felt nearly priviledged when I looked at my recent impulse buy of The Sims 3. Not just that I could spend the money for the game without thinking, but also that I have an internet connection which allowed me to download those 5.6 GB in two hours, and a computer on which the game runs very smoothly.

I'm an impulsive spender on computer games. Which means that much of my spending isn't very wise, and some of it is even wasted. I buy games some of which I end up playing them very little. I wasted 100 bucks on Free Realms trading cards, and never used them much. My life-time subscription for LotRO was used only for a few months. And I'm planning to blow 100 bucks on Luminary once the item mall for that one opens, mostly for items of convenience like unlimited teleports and bigger inventory, but also to explore what works and doesn't work in the microtransaction business model.

Hey, you there, I can hear you groaning in the back! The internet, and especially the games community there, is one of the few places left where conspicuous consumption isn't welcome. That has to do with its demographics, which is still mostly in the teenage and young adult age bracket. 100 dollars or euros is a lot of money if you are at college and live of an allowance from your parents and flipping burgers. But the average age of the gamer is going up, and so is his average disposable income. Being called a nerd went from an insult to a mark of pride, and part of that is the realization that being a nerd has a lot of earning potential. At least if you manage to leverage your interest in technical stuff into a degree in science or engineering, instead of becoming the proverbial guy who plays WoW all day long in his mother's basement.

So, having earned that money myself, I'm not ashamed to spend it freely on games. When I observe what other men my age spend their money on, for example my neighbors, I must also say that gaming is comparatively cheap. For what a BMW or a big SUV costs, you can buy a *lot* of games, including the machines they run on. When I spend money on things like microtransactions, or I insist on actually paying for all the games I want to play, instead of just downloading them "for free" from Bittorrent, I often end up getting negative comments from those determined to get the maximum gaming experience at the minimum cost. But of course in the end it is me who subsidizes them: Game companies simply wouldn't make any games if nobody was paying. If I point towards trends where by design (and not by piracy) some players pay more and get more out of a game, that isn't necessarily bad news for those with less money. Because the other side of the coin is the opportunity to legally play high-quality games for free. And if somebody absolutely wants those advantages one has to pay for, well, maybe he should think about leaving his mother's basement. Sorry for sounding like Gevlon there, and unlike him I am *for* welfare. But I don't think that those who receive the welfare should spit on those who work hard to pay for it.
Comments:
"My life-time subscription for LotRO was used only for a few months."

Regardless of your free income, that was a poor decision then. (But you knew the risks when you decided to splash out.) (It's like me buying Spore on impulse and getting bored with it really quickly :) )

But I'm sure you can see that there are issues with game design where spending more gives an advantage, even if it isn't your money to spend? It's the same reason I prefer non-collectible to collectible card games - I just think the design of a game is more solid when it's complete straight out of the box.

So I don't think the problem is necessarily people being jealous of those with more money to spend on gaming. There is something more to it than that.
 
But I'm sure you can see that there are issues with game design where spending more gives an advantage

Oh, totally. But unlike others I think a game design where of two players with equal skill the one spending more money coming out ahead is exactly as bad as when the one spending more time comes out ahead.

And I do resent the guy living in his mother's basement playing WoW all day then telling me how superior he is, because he has all those shiny epics and titles. And then going on to tell me that a game where I could be ahead of him, because I have the same skill and more money, is inacceptable.
 
You make a common mistake - although you, as an economist, should know better.

The amount of money you earn in our society has only very little to do with how hard you work. It is determined by supply and demand of the work you offer and the wealth of the society in which you work.

Therefore there is no moral reason to assume that you have earned your money in a moral sense.

Most people in the world work a *LOT* harder than you and me. From a moral point of view they have earned the money a lot more. But such a system hasn't been developed yet and is probably doomed to fail. (Labor)Markets provide *enormous* productivity and efficiency through incentives to balance supply and demand.

However, since you have earned your money only in economic terms, but not in moral terms, you are in no position to argue that you work hard for the wealth of society.

Others are working much harder (i.e. bakers wake up at 4:00 in the morning 6 or even 7 times a week). But the work they do meets not enough demand and/or can be supplied by many more people. Therefore their monetary benefit is lower; but they not necessarily work less hard.
 
I just wish I could control my urge to spend on games. You got any tips on that?
 
"But unlike others I think a game design where of two players with equal skill the one spending more money coming out ahead is exactly as bad as when the one spending more time comes out ahead."

Oh, I agree. But it does depend how you define 'coming out ahead' to some extent. In any hobby I can think of, regardless of how much money you spend, there will be some things you can't do without putting in the hours. Cash gives some advantages, time gives others. They may or may not be equal. Hopefully you pick a hobby where your resources will make it fulfilling for you.

ie. I have a friend who's a very keen cyclist. But it really does take time and commitment to build up the fitness required to cycle from one end of the UK to the other in 6 days. Money buys better equipment but that alone can't do it.

Clearly gaming isn't like that, but how interesting can a hobby really be if you can throw money at it instead of time, given that the whole point is that you want to spend time doing it? (rhetorical question, I don't know the answer although I think that making people grind for gear isn't it :) )
 
The problem with welfare, or socialism(if you prefer to remain politically incorrect), is that eventually you run out of -everyone elses- money.

The basement dwelling gamer is such a dramatic and over-reaching term, that it does you injustice to even see you use it in this context. I'm quite surprised to even see you pursue this line of logic, as it is fact that having either more time or more money doesnt make you, me or anyone else a better gamer.

The problems here are twofold: one is due to the bussiness model the gaming(MMO) industry chose to use in order to generate revenueup till recently; and secondly- over time we're seeing the results of changing ideals among gamers who either have more time than money, or money than time. As a result, the industry is making changes to accomodate both types of players.

But please, dont take a game such as WoW, which was -designed- to be a level grind and just so happened to favor the proverbial "basement dweller", and insist that because you "could throw money" at it to make things even, that it should , in fact, all of a sudden allow you to do that.

What you seem to be railing against are game design and revenue generation methods in use by the majority of game developers, but you seem to be taking it out on those gamers who are playing the games as they are/were designed to be played.

Rest assuered that there are those of us out here who could care less what you spend on your gaming habit, nor whether or not you feel inclined to spend lots of money to level your perceived playing field.

I want to play and discuss games, not get caught up in some long winded debate about "caste" systems, which is exactly where this is heading.
 
Actually I wonder why the current "theme" of this blog, the balance between players with much time/money, is treated by you in the way it is, Tobold.

If you want to eliminate (or reduce) the meaning of time differences in an MMO, why don't you propose ways to do just that?

More (unlimited) rest time, for example or diminishing returns on time investment (worse drop chances, less exp gain etc..)

You could imagine several ways to balance time differences between players without introducing a balance that depends on money differences.

I'd really like to get an answer on that comment :)
 
Imagine a teenager on a summer day during holidays. He wakes up and thinks "I really, really, want to have an epic horse in the game I'm playing, and I'm willing to work for it all day". In the current design that would mean him spending all day in front of the screen farming elementals or something. In a microtransaction design that would mean him going out mowing lawns in the neighborhood to earn the money to buy that epic horse in the item shop.

What I'm saying is that obviously the version where that teenager is mowing lawns is more in line with society's criteria of success, and would by more people be considered to be healthier and better spent. The version where the more time you spend in the game, the better you feel there, is a form of escapism. The proverbial basement gamer is a caricature of that, but not only are there existing cases, but the caricature serves to point out why the design is unhealthy, teaching players a mode of behavior that will make them be considered losers in the real world.
 
So that is what it is really about:

You don't want to reduce the meaning of time investment in an MMO.

You want to transfer Real Life economic success into MMO-success?

IMO that is only half-thought-through.
What about the teenager that wants to help old people, because he thinks that is the *right* thing to do. And who wants to do it without getting anything in return?

Your example focusses society even more on the economic success. The teenager learns that becoming a workaholic-banker is the most successful and most desireable way to live your life.
He would never ever join "Doctors's Without Borders", because their economic success is abysmal.

Do you really want this kind of society even more than we already have it?
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Oh, btw, how do you feel about microtransactions in Sims3, Tobold? (sorry if this is off topic, just I'm curious. Everyone I know who owns the game likes it but isn't happy with their charging model.)
 
"My life-time subscription for LotRO was used only for a few months."

If you ever do decide to revisit LotRO one day, you at least picked up your lifetime sub when they were at its cheapest.

I can't remember the exact details, but I think I only needed to subscribe somewhere in the region of 12 months to pay for mine.

On another note, it would be interesting to see how much revenue Turbine earn from lapsed lifetime subs such as yours.
 
Oh, btw, how do you feel about microtransactions in Sims3, Tobold? (sorry if this is off topic, just I'm curious. Everyone I know who owns the game likes it but isn't happy with their charging model.)

Let me write the answer to that and to Nils' "You want to transfer Real Life economic success into MMO-success?" into a separate post, before this comment thread completely derails.
 
"When I observe what other men my age spend their money on, for example my neighbors, I must also say that gaming is comparatively cheap"

I do agree on this.
But my suggestion is to produce a "AAAAA MMO" that costs about 500€ to begin with and 50€-100€ the month flat.

Microtansactions are not only costly (and therefore cannot exist in a working market economy unless the game is also massively superior to the cheaper ones).
They also create powerful characters in-game without any previous achievments in-game; something I'd never buy. It steals the illusion of a world of it's own.
 
@Nils - "You want to transfer Real Life economic success into MMO-success?"

I don't think F2P games and such are transferring economic success into the games.
They're transferring our welfare systems into gaming. You can play for free as long as those who pay also keep playing. The only difference is that those who do have money to spend, aren't forced to pay (yet? :P).
And just as in the real world, those who don't have money, enjoy benefits others paid for, and at the same time spit in their faces for being able to afford more stuff than they can.

Personally, I'm definitely not playing any game of this type. Not as a non-paying player, nor as a paying player. In real life I'm forced to support a socialist system like this, I'm not even thinking about supporting such a system in a game (or anything else).
 
It's not just a case of people being able to spend money to get ahead, though. From the developer's point of view, it's a much better business model. No, not because we can nickel and dime a player to death, but because it allows people who have the means to truly support our games.

Tobold says he's willing to throw down $100 on Luminary once he can. That's great! I'm glad he's able to support a game he likes, even if part of that reason is as research for the benefit of the rest of us.

The flip side is that it's harder to support a cool developer in a subscription based game. When we relaunched Meridian 59, there was one person who really wanted to support us. They got 6 accounts, for a total of $66 per month for 12 characters. M59 wasn't built with altitis in mind, so there's really not much utility someone is going to get with that many accounts. I appreciate that the person was eager to support us, but there just wasn't much they could do in terms of buying services from us given that we were sticking with the subscription business model. It makes me wonder, though, how many other people would have been willing to spend more, but just couldn't quite justify "throwing away" a lot of money on "useless" accounts.

I think a lot of people are very short-sighted in their dislike for the microtransaction business model. I think most worry they won't be able to "keep up with the Joneses" when really the reality is that they will have a good game that can make money despite lower populations. The fact that people aren't limited in how much they can spend doesn't mean that every dev is going to soak everyone for as much money as possible. Really, it's going to potentially open up the gates to more interesting types of games that you might not mind spending a bit more on, because it's a lot closer to what you really want.

My thoughts.
 
Summarizing my objection of microtransactions:

I don't care how much an MMO costs. I'd gladly pay up to 10 times as much as for WoW, if the game was really brilliant.

I DO care if the game is not a world on its own, but influenced by
1) How much apple grow in the garden of the players
2) How much grandmothers of them are still alive or
3) How much RL-money they throw at the game.

The in-game world should not be affected by the outside world - or at least not more than necessary.

This applies to the in-game WORLD and its characters! Therefore I have no problem at all if an in-game character is sluggish. (The player not investing much time).


This is my opinion and this is the reason why I dislike most microtransactions.
And I have a feeling that many other players share this opinion - even though they might also object the idea of more expensive MMOs - something I do not. Not at all!
 
Microtransactions, where players pay extra money to give their in-game characters advantages that they did not achieve through game-play, have this serious disadvantage: they break the fantasy. They stop it being a role-playing game. I can't believe in a fantasy world where some characters are handed advantages through some sort of "Deus ex machina" process.

In WoW, when I meet a level 80 character in the latest tiered armour, I know I've met a character who has achieved a lot.

Once that fantasy is broken, once the world is no longer believable, why bother playing?

That's why players and Blizzard complain so much about gold-sellers. Once you can buy stuff in-game with out-of-game resources, the game is no longer internally coherent, and many players will eventually choose a more coherent game.

Those that remain and are happy to buy in-game resources with out-of-game wealth won't be playing an RPG. They'll be taking part in a fashion parade.
 
I DO care if the game is not a world on its own, but influenced by
1) How much apple grow in the garden of the players
2) How much grandmothers of them are still alive or
3) How much RL-money they throw at the game.

The in-game world should not be affected by the outside world - or at least not more than necessary.


Why not add to this list:
4) Whether they have a job or not

I'd love to see a game where whether you have a job or not has no influence on the game. I hate the current model where not only it does have an influence, but where it rewards the players for not having a job.

If you claim that the current model of MMOs is fair and the only influence is skill, you are deluding yourself. The outside world has a HUGE influence on MMOs, much more than on any other kind of game.
 
"I'd love to see a game where whether you have a job or not has no influence on the game. I hate the current model where not only it does have an influence, but where it rewards the players for not having a job. "

So we are back to my original question:
Why do you want to adress this problem with money?
Why don't you adress the time issue itself, if that is what creates the problem?

Like I have already written above:
"If you want to eliminate (or reduce) the meaning of time differences in an MMO, why don't you propose ways to do just that?

More (unlimited) rest time, for example or diminishing returns on time investment (worse drop chances, less exp gain etc..)

You could imagine several ways to balance time differences between players without introducing a balance that depends on money differences."


Sorry for abducting the comments section by treating it like a discussion board, but I am really interested in finding out why you favor microtransactions to solve the problem of inequality of time instead of attacking it directly?


"If you claim that the current model of MMOs is fair and the only influence is skill, you are deluding yourself. The outside world has a HUGE influence on MMOs, much more than on any other kind of game."

Nobody claims this ...
I agree that there is a problem (severetiy is discussable) - I just don't understand your way to solve it. In my opinion your way doesn't solve it, but worsens it by also adding money to the time factor. You have to keep in mind that most people DO work AND earn much less than you do. There are actually 3 mio people in Germany who work fulltime and whose salary is adjusted by the state to be slightly above Hartz IV.
 
I am tempted to ask you not to begrudge those who aleady have much less happier lifes..

Apart from that, adding something like a lassitude to the game and make it have an impact on everything that a character can achieve could almost solve your problem of unemployed being advantaged. It also would fit quite well into the credibility, coherence of the game; not break teh fanatsy, but even add to it.

Above all it would solve your problem for everybody, not just for Tobold who has not enough (WoW)time, but enough money.
 
Please explain, what do you mean by lassitude, and how does that solve all the fairness problems of MMOs.

Of course you are right that this post is about somebody who is successful complaining about people with less success. But please consider that this thread would never have happened if the current general attitude wasn't so much the other way round: The real-life losers bragging about how superior they are to those which impede their game progress with things like a job or a family. Sometimes that gets just too much to bear, and so I rant.
 
I mean tiredness, "Müdigkeit" ;)

Blizzard already has this in the leveling game. If you log out in a town or tavern you accumulate rest-points. After loging in again you gain double exp for some time.

I suggest to vastly expand this:

For example:
- For 3 hours after logging in everything is normal.

- For the next 2 hours, however, you only gain 50% of your exp/honor, all item drop chances are decreased by 50% (also in raids). No legendary items can drop.

- After that for 2 hours you only gain 10% of exp, no 'epic' item drop for you (cannot be assigned to you - for a raid an average of 'hours-loged-in' could be used.)

- If you are still logged in (for 7 hours now) your character really needs to sleep: Your effectiveness in combat is reduced by 50% in addition to the penalthies mentioned above.

To make the penalthies undone you need to rest (be logged out or in a town) for at least for 8 hours.

The penalthy could be character based - so you could continue playing with a twink - or a twink on another server.

This is just some brainstorming right out of my head. Such a mechanism would have to be designed very carefully, of course.
So please don't pin point me on the details.
 
I love the disengeniousnes of the people who keep ignoring that time is a commodoty in all these games. In Wow for instance Time is King. The "basement dwelling" nerd with no job that can put 15 hours a day into his character has a huge advantage. Till that mechanic is moved I don't see the difference in RMT. I really don't see the difference between someone buying a level 60 or 70 character in wow to bypass that levelling and someone who has no job "grinding" to the top.

I find it sad and funny that people defend one and not the other. They are the same thing. Real world resources that affect thier position in the game.
 
I had a lot of trouble finding anything politically incorrect. I feel mislead and demand a refund.

Conspicuous consumption does exist in online games, just not where you're looking. RMT of any sort, at least to me, is like being born rich: circumstances external to your in-game actions gave an advantage. It's not perfect, since we have more choice about opting-in to RMT than choosing our grandparents (despite my dad's claim that I chose poorly). Conspicuous consumption tends to occur among those who feel their worth is in question, so they must prove how much they have. This is why in some social circles you find people wasting vast amounts of money; it happens in all brackets ranging from poor to unimaginably rich. Virtually it happens as well in the form of expensive items like mechano-hogs or traveler's mammoth's.

As for buying vs. pirating games: I think most game prices are too high so I make the rational choice as a consumer: I don't buy very many games.
 
Tobold said:
But please consider that this thread would never have happened if the current general attitude wasn't so much the other way round: The real-life losers bragging about how superior they are to those which impede their game progress with things like a job or a family. Sometimes that gets just too much to bear, and so I rant.


I agree with you Tobold, you express here the thoughts of a silent (occupied) portion of players for which the demographics are growing with time.

Where I live it's over socialized with unlimited welfare, etc. Each time the government wants to reduce spending the protestors are out in the streets. When we look at who the protestors are well there students, people on welfare or unionized workers which are PAID by the union to be protesting. The average hardworking people who struggle with work and family are crushed by taxes and haven't the luxury time to be out demonstrating in front of the cameras.

I think there's a similar pattern with RMT protestation, the basement dwellers are more vocal on the subject. Keep on blogging cause you are the resistance!

The discussion is allot about having jobs, but there's also family (having children in particular) that limits the time available to GRIND (I chose this word especially of PLAY) to obtain more viable gear etc.
 
Wow, very straightforward of you Tobold. My opinion of welfare is the same. We need it and those who receive it should not receive it ungratefully or act as though they deserve it. I am also for helping people get back on their feet and helping themselves of course, though I perceive you are too.
 
Microtransactions in a PvE game don't bother me.

In a PvP game, microtransactions should not allow Player X to have better "stuff" than Player Y.

Otherwise, spending 12 hours in game or $50 to get an epic mount, or something trivial and fluffy, is the exact same thing.

Time is money.
 
"What I'm saying is that obviously the version where that teenager is mowing lawns is more in line with society's criteria of success, and would by more people be considered to be healthier and better spent. The version where the more time you spend in the game, the better you feel there, is a form of escapism."

That is a very interesting way to put it. It would make gaming more like other hobbies.

The alternative would be to make everything skill based. Of course that won't happen because the market for games requiring less skill is huge. No way would I play games if fps and platform were all that were still avaiable, since I suck at both. But when I was playing Wizard 101 it was a much healthier amount of time.
 
I used to spend lots of time in MMO grinding. Nowdays I just don't feel is worth it . I find myself playing on WoW private servers with instalevel 80/ free gear settings.

I would probably play on official wow server if it allowed me to get to 80 and my deadly gemmed /enchanted glad for a fee, (I know there is this thing called tourney realm - but its missing world pvp, bgs and even mobs to test your macros on as I heard - arena is good , but not good enough for $35 a month)

Now what I do have problem though is inbalanced gear -the one which is an abundance on private servers. The playing field should be level
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
Otherwise, spending 12 hours in game or $50 to get an epic mount, or something trivial and fluffy, is the exact same thing.

Veeery interesting attitude...
I'd suggest you get your hours in line with your $.

Lets say you work for a lowly $30 the hour netto.
That translates 12 hours to $360.


Apart from that, as much as people on welfare should be thankfull, many of those who work should also be thankful.

In a market society money isn't payed because you deserve it (morally). It is payed as an incentive to balance of supply and demand of labor. Ask Gevlon - he will agree so far. He just wouldn't like the conclusion that, since supply and demand are no moral values, you do not 'deserve' your money.

A market society doesn't distribute work and money in a way that has ANYTHING to do with justice, moral or even to those who deserve it.

Thus, if you want tell the people on wellfare that they do not deserve the money for doing nothing (you are right), please also regognize that the working people mostly do not derserve the money they earn or deserve a lot more.
Your income is the result of a supply/demand proportion that you cannot influence and that has nothing to do with moral.
 
I'd suggest you get your hours in line with your $.

I'm not sure his hours aren't already in line with his $. How many hours of earning gold would it take somebody else than Gevlon to make enough for an epic flying mount in WoW? And if you multiply that number of hours with something as low as minimum wages, you'd still get a price so high that nobody would pay that in dollars.

As I said in my post, even with microtransactions MMOs are still a cheap hobby.
 
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