Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
 
A theory of relativity of money

Chris is posting about the value of games, based on a post by Syl. In a world where we have everything from Free2Play games that can actually be played for free up to Kickstarter and founder packages where you can pay hundreds of dollars for a game that isn't even released yet, the question what games are worth appears to be worth asking. But then I have an even more difficult question: What is $1 worth?

Absolute poverty used to be defined as living on less than $1 per day (this has gone up to between $1.25 and $2.50), and over 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. The US poverty line is around $10 per day. On the other side of the scale there are over 5 million households in the US that are millionaires. Now take any number you like for the cost of a game, be it a $60 console game, a $15 monthly subscription, or a $25 sparkle pony. The conclusion will always be the same: Games are too expensive for somebody who lives on $10 per day, but extremely cheap for a millionaire.

I do not think that anybody can really have a neutral perspective on that, because we all have varying incomes and savings (or debts) and thus all value money in different ways. Most of us are somewhere in the middle between the poverty line and the millionaires. But I must personally admit of considering the idea to buy a new iPad Air for $1,000, just to replace a slightly slower and slightly heavier iPad 3. So buying something in an item shop for $10 is not much of a hurdle for me, because that isn't "rent money" or "food money" I'm spending.

I consider the value of money to be relative. It depends on where you are in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you are high enough up, you'd consider statements like "Can't buy me love" to be truths. If the price of a game doesn't add or subtract from your ability to fulfill your needs, and that game fulfills a need of yours, the game is well worth it. If the price of a game means not being able to afford a more basic need in the hierarchy, then the game is too expensive.

Comments:
Tobold, beyond personal wealth I'm interested in your take on f2p games exploiting the mentally ill, particularly those suffering from bipolar disorder...

I'm concerned that industrial psychologists are getting very specific when they go whale hunting...

Moby Dick was more ahead of its time than we realize...or rather, the exploitation of the consumer has simply gone on forever.


 
Currently there's no shortage of games that are essentially free in all regards, or very cheap. Someone living according to a First World definition of poverty probably has no cheaper way to while away their time.
 
The US poverty line is significantly higher than $10 a day. For just an individual, it's about $31 a day.
 
I'm interested in your take on f2p games exploiting the mentally ill, particularly those suffering from bipolar disorder.

I have absolutely no data on that subject. I don't even know if there are enough gamers with bipolar disorder to make it likely that they are targeted. But wouldn't somebody vulnerable to such targeting be even more vulnerable to let's say slot machines?

The US poverty line is significantly higher than $10 a day. For just an individual, it's about $31 a day.

$21 for a 2-person household, $16 for a 4-person household, and going down even further for larger families. Not "exactly" $10, but not "significantly higher" in some cases either. Because even if you have $31 per day, $60 for a console game is too expensive.
 
I'm quite surprised at how few millionaires there are. That's only about 5% of the population.

I'm at around the 60% mark in terms of household income, and those retirement calculators you can find online everywhere tell me that in order to retire I'm going to need to save 1.2 to 1.4 million before I can retire.

I would have expected at least half of the 40% of households above me to be at or around the million dollar mark, not a mere 5%.
 
But wouldn't somebody vulnerable to such targeting be even more vulnerable to let's say slot machines?

It's not by chance that slot machines and casino-style games tend to be heavily regulated in most countries (plus the fact that the government wants a share of the pie).
Videogames/online games aren't really anything new from this point of view. Gambling addiction has existed (and has been exploited) well before computers....
 
While all of that is true, what I find interesting about the subject is that there is also such a thing as a perceived norm of what things are worth. if all games cost 120$ on average, that's acceptable - out of necessity. if all games are 40$ on average, 120$ for any game suddenly seems outrageous. it's not just our subjectivity that dictates one dollar's value, there is a collective norm about it as well. I'd wager this is also true for very rich people (just substitute game prices for let's say average yacht prices or something).
 
Tobold,
I'm sticking with the "Ed Value," produced by my vastly uneducated NY D&D player and used by my buddy and I: a game should, at minimum, provide one hour of entertainment per dollar. By that estimate, a lot of indie games provide a wonderful Ed Value and a lot of triple-A titles do not. I don't strictly follow this, mind you, but it does register in my evaluation of whether or not a game is "worth" it.

Of course, by that principle, WoW is about the best game ever, which I firmly do not believe, but I'm not claiming it's a perfect system, just a good start.

Sincerely,
Stubborn
 
Following on Syl:

This gets similar to the "if you can't afford $15/month for a game get a job" argument.

My example is that if their are multiple gas stations on the corner and one is .01 cheaper, all things being equal, I'll go there.

How much I will pay for an AMD video card is determined not only by how much I value both video cards and performance but also by what NVidia is selling.

So I may no longer be willing to spend $60 or $15/month not because I value $ or the game differently but because I value it relative to the alternatives differently.


 
@Tobold:http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-10-12-designers-question-the-ethics-of-f2p-design-at-gdc-online


 
sheep, you said entertainment per hour.

Can anyone honestly say that they enjoyed every single hour they played WoW? Never once did a grind to get something?

I'd propose another value, F/G.

F= Fun Time. Defined as time spent in activities that you would do even without any reward. No gear, XP, achievements, money.

G= Grind Time. Defined as time spent in activities you are only doing because you need cash, for an achievement, or Honor Points, or to make a potion, or because your Guild would guilt you if you didn't show up, or whatever. Basically if you've even thought about having a Bot do it for you, or just buying gold to skip it, it's G.

By F/G Tetris is all F. Call of Duty is mostly F. WoW has a lot of G elements. Leveling, honor grinds, dailies. By F/G, Warcraft is a pretty bad game, though it's not nearly as bad as EQ I guess.


Those values will vary between people, but I'd say on the whole the F/G of MMO's (if we're being honest with ourselves) is really poor. The fact that WOW tends to suck a tremendous amount of time does not prove it's entertainment value.
 
What counts as a grind though is entirely dependant on the player. I've done plenty of "grinds" in many games but they weren't always grindy feeling. People have different thresholds and sometimes grinding towards something is fun because you are progressing towards a goal. And Tetris did have plenty of grind, every time you started over you had to deal with the slow non-challenging bits at the beginning. Pretty much every "game" is a grind to someone and a pure thrill ride to another.
 
@jimr9999us: A badly gone wrong attempt at humor from a dev at some panel doesn't constitute "data". I didn't say that it couldn't happen, I said I don't know how many potential targets like that are out there.

It's not by chance that slot machines and casino-style games tend to be heavily regulated in most countries

I am not aware of any regulation that would prevent somebody with a mental disorder to walk into a casino and start playing with a slot machine. Where I live they sure check your age, but you aren't forced to do an IQ test to start playing.
 
Because even if you have $31 per day, $60 for a console game is too expensive.

I tend to shy away from the "it's your fault you're poor" line of reasoning, but you do see many unemployed people living off of government assistance with the latest console and a nice 55" LED flatscreen on which to play it.
 
Nowhere did I even remotely talk about whose "fault" poverty is. Because that isn't relevant at all in this discussion. Regardless how you arrived in a state of poverty, the fact remains that you need to watch your discretionary spending much more closely if you are living of food stamps.

The "cost of entertainment per hour" approach already assumes that the limiting factor is money, not time. If you have lots of time, but little money, you would want to buy the cheapest form of entertainment, offering the most hours of entertainment per dollar.

But what if you have a good income, but very little time to play? Isn't a more "concentrated" experience of a $60 game with 10 hours of gameplay a good choice if you barely have 10 hours, but $60 is pocket change to you?

Note that people go for different "Ed Values" already outside video games. An opera ticket costs more than a movie ticket. Going golfing or yachting costs more per hour than going hiking or playing basketball. Thus if a hypothetical player abandons golf in favor of triple-A console games, he probably still saves money.
 
"you do see many unemployed people living off of government assistance with the latest console and a nice 55" LED flatscreen on which to play it."

As many times as I keep hearing this argument, I have never once seen it backed up by any real data. Who are all these poor people who have $500 iPhones and $5k TVs? I've never met one, and I'm betting you haven't either.

The closest thing I've seen was actually done by Fox News. They listed off things like having a microwave, a washer & dryer, a dishwasher, cable TV, or a cell phone (they did not list smart phones, so I assume they couldn't find a substantial number of poor people who had one). I didn't see anything on their list that I considered a luxury, but Fox News managed to be all outraged anyway.

But hey, if you've got real data on this (and not just some outraged conservative who also has no evidence), I would love to read it.
 
If you take a global enough view, then the majority of gamers can't easily afford a computer - I.e. several hundred million young people in places like China and India with smartphones.

Even in the west, iirc the average android ap price was $0.06.

Re Casinos: online poker is legal in my state, so any "walking in" screening is not really relevant these days.
 
By F/G Tetris is all F. Call of Duty is mostly F. WoW has a lot of G elements. Leveling, honor grinds, dailies. By F/G, Warcraft is a pretty bad game, though it's not nearly as bad as EQ I guess.

Interesting analysis, but very very subjective. Let me provide a counterpoint:
- tetris is mostly G, the fun only occurs at the last level, when you're seriously challenged, all the previous levels are just grind to get to the (short-lived) final F experience.
- Call of Duty is a sequence of semi-identical missions, you keep playing them in hope that the next one will be as fun as it was the first one, when you find it isn't, you stop playing. A little F, followed by a ton of G and then quit.
- WoW "in general" is not a game, it's 10 of them, since there are a ton of separate activities. I focus on the one I care: raiding. I don't need to grind anything to raid except for the initial leveling (which takes what? 1/100 of the total game time?), then the raiding (F activity) provides all I need to keep doing it. All the side activities are optional, and can be done only if you enjoy them (F again).

See what I mean with "subjective"? :)
 
"It's not just our subjectivity that dictates one dollar's value, there is a collective norm about it as well."

Even if you rigidly believe in the theory that something (not for re-sale) is worth exactly what it's worth subjectively to you, we always deal in imperfect information. When we buy a game, we don't really even know how much we will like it, after all. Having a "normal" price for something is a form of crowd-sourcing its perceived value to users.
 
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Well I said it would be subjective. That said, the single player CoD missions are more a training mission for the multiplayer. That's how they can charge $60 for a 6 hour single player campaign. The multiplayer is where it's at.

Unless the game has changed quite a bit since my day, which is entirely possible, I don't think exclusively raiding involves no G.

When I was a hardcore raider I had to have cash. The last enchant I bought cost 6000 gold (this was in the one pre-Pandaria), which was right before it shot up to 12G. There are rep grinds to get the best shoulder enchant, money for repairs, pots, gems, all that.

All that was G. And then there's a fair amount of G in raiding itself. Running Karazhan for the 30th time was G; I was there for the guild not because it was a ton of fun. In fact I'd say the my most unpleasant moments of the game happened while I was raiding. Intense boredom and frustration, and you can't log out because people are depending on you.

But if you're having fun, that's great. But people burnout because F turns into G after a while, and eventually all of it becomes G. Even if you enjoy PVP, doing the 30th BG to grind honor points is pure G.
 
As many times as I keep hearing this argument, I have never once seen it backed up by any real data. Who are all these poor people who have $500 iPhones and $5k TVs? I've never met one, and I'm betting you haven't either.

You're making wild assumptions about who I am and where I come from. I don't form my opinions from any TV show, much less Fox News, which I don't happen to watch. I find that insinuation quite insulting actually. Believe it or not, there are people on the internet who didn't grow up in white suburbia and may have opinions based on actual experience.

I had this whole thing typed up about how poor I used to be and plenty of stories and observations about my neighbors, but let me just say this: having lived in a very poor neighborhood, it is EXTREMELY common to see someone with an awesome console gaming set up with a TV and surround sound... but no actual furniture in the apartment. A stereo or nice cell phone garners more respect than paying a water bill. It's better to have a large TV sitting on an old wooden, cable spool on its side than it is to have no TV but mattresses and a couch.
 
Even people in developing countries that live in abject poverty spend a fair portion of their income on what to the outsider might seem non-essentials, and do it at the cost of being less well nourished.

Quote from Poor Economics:

'...We were starting to feel very bad for him and his family, when we noticed a television, a parabolic antenna, and a DVD player in the room where we were sitting. We asked him why he had bought all these things if he felt the family did not have enough to eat. He laughed, and said, “Oh, but television is more important than food!”

After spending some time in that Moroccan village, it was easy to see why he thought that. Life can be quite boring in a village. There is no movie theater, no concert hall, no place to sit and watch interesting strangers go by. And not a lot of work, either. Oucha and two of his neighbors, who were with him during the interview, had worked about seventy days in agriculture and about thirty days in construction that year. For the rest of the year, they took care of their cattle and waited for jobs to materialize. This left plenty of time to watch television. These three men all lived in small houses without water or sanitation. They struggled to find work, and to give their children a good education. But they all had a television, a parabolic antenna, a DVD player, and a cell phone.

Generally, it is clear that things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor. This may be a television, or a little bit of something special to eat—or just a cup of sugary tea.'

http://pooreconomics.com/

People that like to see actual data should read the book or check out the site. Also parts of the edX / MIT course are still available I believe:

https://www.edx.org/course/mitx/mitx-14-73x-challenges-global-poverty-585

If you were in their shoes, there is most likely nothing you could buy for the price of TV that would improve your life as much as having a TV.

You could feed yourselves better for a few months maybe, then back to square one, bored out of your mind, and no place to go.

Another quote:

'These “indulgences” are not the impulsive purchases of people who are not thinking hard about what they are doing. They are carefully thought out, and reflect strong compulsions, whether internally driven or externally imposed. Oucha Mbarbk did not buy his TV on credit—he saved up over many months to scrape enough money together, just as the mother in India starts saving for her eight-year-old daughter’s wedding some ten years or more into the future, by buying a small piece of jewelry here and a stainless steel bucket there.'
 
Was gonna post something on poverty and gaming, but tracing back where this whole line started from, I guess blachawk is technically right in that Tobold is perhaps wrong to use the term "too expensive" to describe a $60 game in reference to someone in poverty. It is certainly a much more difficult choice, but not one that is made for them.

This seems to be much ado about nothing though since that's just a phrasing quibble more than something fundamental to the argument so it feels a bit silly to harp on it too much.

That being said, what pasuil has been talking about is really important as well, and the intersection of poverty with "discretionary spending" is a huge topic where there is frequently misunderstanding and demonization. It's only really tangential to the post though...
 
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