Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 22, 2013
If time is money, what would be the exchange rate?

I appreciate the concise dry humor of Today's Gaming Drama. For example the post about Next Gen has IAP. (IAP means In-App-Purchase, the same what we tend to call an "item store"). The "drama" is about the XBox One exclusive launch title Ryse: Son of Rome. The review of that game on Polygon pointed out that you can buy 1,000 gold for under $1, but it takes on average over 2 hours to make the same 1,000 gold by grinding. One hour of grinding is "worth" less than 50 cents.

Now the reviewer was obviously quite angry about that time vs. money exchange rate. But having made the comparison for other games, actually an hourly "salary" of 50 cents is extremely generous. Take for example MMORPGs: The time vs. money exchange rate is designed for high-level players. Low-level players earn considerably less in-game currency per hour, and thus end up with ridiculously low hourly rates in real money. If you were to start a new account in EVE Online today without outside help, how many hours would it take you to make 1 billion ISK? Seeing how at a recent sale 1 billion ISK was sold for $20, you'd be lucky to earn a few cents per hour as a new player. Of course Gevlon is making 1 billion ISK before breakfast, and one scammer made over 1 trillion ISK from his activities, which probably worked out to be quite a nice hourly salary. But that is a bit like comparing Bernie Madoff with somebody working for minimum wages.

In most games the time vs. money exchange rate is considerably less complicated: There is less of a difference between how much virtual currency a new player makes compared to a veteran. And there usually is no way to trade virtual currency between players, so you don't need to worry about "Chinese gold farmers" ruining your game. At this point the question becomes simply: How much would a typical player pay to save himself 1 hour of grinding? And the answer is unlikely to be several dollars. Thus if in Ryse 1 hour of your time is "worth" less than 50 cents, it isn't because the developers are not generous, it is because the players aren't. You never get the actual option to "work" 1 hour and receive 50 cents, the trade only works in the other direction: You pay 50 cents and save yourself 1 hour. This isn't a salary, it is a price tag.

At this point of course you need to ask yourself why you would pay anything to avoid having to play a game for 1 hour. Ryse already costs $60, and then you get a game of which reviewers bemoan the "shallow and repetitive combat", with an option to rather pay some more money and get the same virtual rewards without having to play that combat. If I compare that to my most recent virtual currency purchase, which was in Marvel Puzzle Quest, the difference is not in the time vs. money exchange rate, but rather in the fact that I paid to have more options and ultimately do *more* combat, not less. Although I do have to admit that Marvel Puzzle Quest also has the option to buy the Iso-8 points you need to gain levels, basically the equivalent of buying experience points. But that appears to be rather a vanity option, because in PvP you'll just get matched against other higher level players, and thus a higher level isn't actually of any advantage.

In the end the flaw in reasoning is that we think that if for spending time in a game we receive a "reward", it means that we "earned" that reward for doing something productive. In reality all we ever do in a game is waste time, relax, be entertained. And the "rewards" we receive are just fake, a bunch of pixels with no lasting value. That we can buy those same rewards for pocket change should only serve as a reminder that they are just glitter and not gold.

I had been thinking about this with regards to gaming sites' fora talking about "f2p bad and preferring the fairness of sub"

In a world of PLEX ( or equivalent in Terra, Rift, Wildstar et al ) then you can buy as much of your fellow players' time as you wish.


I wonder if the "I can play this game for free; I beat the system!" players have different value they will sell their time at versus the "pay to avoid" players? Is will I spend $0.50 to save and hour emotionally evaluated differently than spending an hour to save $0.50 in subscription fees. I suspect many of the epeen crowd would see the former as lazy/casual and the latter as 1337.

I find the general consensus to be far from me at times. I read about running L1 missions in EVE for starter ISK and think doesn't that mission provide the same ISK that you could buy for a tenth of a cent.


Your last paragraph reminds me of one of my "troll but true" comments: P2W makes for a *better* game. If your enjoyment of achieving X in a game is diminished because I have X, then for me the game is better off without you.


I also would like to point out the sentiment is applicable OOG: that as important as RL$ and income and achievements seem to you right now, soon and forever "all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre!"
"Your last paragraph reminds me of one of my "troll but true" comments: P2W makes for a *better* game. If your enjoyment of achieving X in a game is diminished because I have X, then for me the game is better off without you. "

That's kinda like how the Olympics would be awesome if people could just buy places.

And the Olympic 100m men's champions are
- Usain Bolt
- a corsortium of 8 Malaysian businessmen!


Please stand while we play the Jamaican national anthem and the Malay national anthem (8 times).

... or maybe not.
I would say the difference is that a 100m race is "fair" to begin with, and adding money would make it unfair. A MMORPG is unfair to begin with (everybody starts their "race" at a different point in time and "races" for different amounts of time per day), and adding money just changes which part of the population gets the unfair advantage.

It doesn't seem like your viewpoint has changed all that much, but I used to disagree with pretty much everything you had to say on this subject, and now I find I agree with everything you're saying.

I think the difference is that before you were saying that pay2win is fair because it balances the scales with those who can time2win, but now you're just saying neither pay2win nor time2win is really fair, and that MMO's aren't really about fairness at all. Would you agree with that summation?
Would you agree with that summation?

More or less. It just isn't that I shifted my opinion a lot, I'm just expressing it differently. I never considered MMORPGs to be fair. I was and am okay with pay2win in as far as it favors a different sort of players (the kind that is better for the financial health of game companies), but it just swings the pendulum to the other side, it never creates a situation that is "fair" for everybody.
That makes sense. I never have been a fan of 'paying 2 win' personally, as I'm generally looking for something on the more difficult side of things--I'd always rather pay to unlock more content. I think partly the way you're phrasing your viewpoint now puts the same opinion as you had before into a form that resonates with a broader spectrum of players; and partly I've probably gained some perspective on how a dev can serve different audiences with the same game, instead of just saying I'd always just look for a more narrowly focused game.
I think there's a fallacy in quantifying gaming time in dollars and cents.

I think we all have different playstyles. What some people see as grind others see simply as playing.

If we play for 50 cents per hour is it the case that we're dumb not to spend the time flipping burgers for $8 per hour or is it the case that we're smarter than the guys paying without getting paid at all.

I think it's a spectrum. I'm sure most of us if we were more rich than we could ever need would change our playstyles some. But not all that much. As an Eve player I don't want to be pvping all night in a string of expensive ships and getting them all blown up.

But the truth of the matter is it's daft to worry about how much one earns playing games as we don't play games because it's 50c per hour or $3 per hour but because we want to play games.
I would look at a 100m race like a duel or some kind of time sensitive battleground that opens once a day rather than the entire game. What's important is how the participants got there. If one person spends 3+ hours a day working out this is not unlike the amount of time spent playing an MMORPG that you argue is unfair.
I would argue there is a profound difference between "training" to get better at a game through increasing your skill, and "grinding" to get better in a game through increasing your gear. MMORPG make players believe that they just beat a harder challenge because of leet skillz, but in fact there is no challenge which isn't profoundly affected by the gear you are wearing.

And that is EXACTLY what makes people so angry about Play2Win. Imagine a World of Warcraft guild being able to buy best-in-slot epic gear directly from Blizzard and "beating" your guild by being faster to kill a raid boss. If raiding was exclusively about skill, that wouldn't be possible.
Is a 100m race 'fair' to begin with? Ben Johnson lost his gold medal because he got caught taking steroids.
Raiding is not entirely about gear, and it's not entirely about skill. But I have a feeling that you could have given most guilds best in slot gear for cash and they still wouldn't have beaten fights like hard mode Lich King or 0 lights in the darkness.
Well Nick, the difficulty of every raid boss I ever saw was basically getting 10-40 people to consistently show up and not rage quit. I'd guess that every single person in the raid having top tier gear would make it a hell of a lot easier, to say the least. Any group of people, regardless of 'skill' could defeat any boss in WoW IF, and this is a big if, they were willing to consistently show up, pay attention, and put in the time to learn the fight. If it weren't for the time wasting trash mobs and weekly resets it wouldn't even be that hard. With top level gear even the people who aren't very good would have a great deal of slack.

That group of Chinese gold farmers who decided to raid like it was their job back in BC basically killed every boss in the game in a few weeks of raiding in blue gear. The only genuinely difficult thing in WoW or any other MMO is being an officer in a guild trying to herd a bunch of people who can quit for any or no reason at any time. Everything else is simply repetition.
Training and grinding aren't mutually exclusive. Basketball players hoist up hundreds or thousands of shots per day. Dancers practice the same routine over and over. The difference is that in real life it all falls under training. In games people want to separate grinding from skill, which is ridiculous given how important repetition is to professional athletes.

"Training" and "grinding" in a game cannot be separated either. You get better at the game by playing it. Of course winning is profoundly affected by gear. That's the whole deal with rage timers, isn't it? But I can tell you that lots of groups with equivalent gear wipe whereas better guilds have success more often. I think we all know players in various MMORPG with great gear who suck; I can certainly name more than a few.

To your last point, nothing in the world is exclusively about skill. This doesn't need to be a requirement for an MMORPG. Doubt that anyone even believes it is, otherwise your character would raid naked. Hell, I've seen people tank a raid boss in fashion gear before.
The real question is: at what rate you'd be playing a game full-time and ignore your "career".

For 90% of the world's population, that will be about $5 probably. (Half of them will probably settle for a dollar).

If you retired, have a pension, medical coverage, you'll probably be happy at something about that as well.

Damn, I'd be a happy retiree if I made 1000 buck on top of my monthly pension, just by playing.

Disclaimer: I'm not retired yet.
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