Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 19, 2019
Why a sparkly pony is better than an AAA game

In a recent post on World of Tanks a reader asked why I would spend more on virtual items than it would cost to buy an AAA game. There are a lot of dimensions to the answer to this question, but ultimately it probably comes down to choosing depth over width.

I own a lot of computer games, 384 on Steam alone, of which only 112 were ever played. That is not unusual. More than half of all games bought on Steam get played rarely or not at all. Clearly the cost of games for most people is not a major obstacle. People spend more on a bottle of good wine than they spend on a computer game. For the cost of a one-week ski holiday you can buy enough games to entertain you all year long. The demographics of gaming have changed over the last decades, but the pricing hasn't followed. You now have customers that are adults with a certain disposable income buying games that are still priced like toys, not more expensive than a typical Christmas present for children. Some people buy a specific console just to be able to play one specific game, like buying a Switch just to play Zelda. As a hobby for adults, gaming is rather cheap.

So I could easily afford to play a different computer game every day of the year. But I don't. I don't think anybody does. Most games offer more hours of entertainment than I have disposable time per day, so even playing "through" a short game can take me several games. And then there are the evergreen games, I once called them lifestyle games, the sort of games you play every day for months or years. MMORPGs are typical examples. But this year my lifestyle game was World of Tanks. I played it most days of the year. I don't know exactly how many hours I played, but I went from 6k battles to 13k battles, so I played 7k battles this year, which probably took me around 1,000 hours. That is a lot, considering that I also have a full-time job. I would guess I spent more than half of my disposable time this year on World of Tanks.

And there you have all the ingredients you need for game monetization: Customers with a good disposable income spending the majority of their disposable time on a single game. If that single game sells you sparkly ponies for $100, these customers will buy a sparkly pony, rather than buying an AAA game. The question of whether that sparkly pony is an in-game advantage over a player who doesn't have a disposable income and is playing that same game for free is actually irrelevant. Does eating in a fine restaurant give you an in-life advantage over somebody eating at a fast food restaurant? Does driving an expensive car give you an in-street advantage over somebody driving a clapped-out second-hand car? The question isn't even necessarily part of the buying decision. You buy the sparkly pony because you want that sparkly pony, not because somebody else doesn't have it.

You’ll be surprised how many people want that sparkle pony simply because others don’t have it.

Funnily enough, a good subset of them also like to argue for the exclusive rights (mind you, not the option or an extra alternative) to “earn” it through in-game means, which usually involve some manner of gatekeeping that prevents a good many others from having it.
People buy things just to be spending money. People buy things because they're depressed. People buy things because they're not depressed. People buy things because they're bored. There's no rational logic to it.
I get as much, if not more, pleasure out of not spending money as spending it. Imagining owning something is frequently more exciting and enjoyable than owning it ever turns out to be. When the "something" is a virtual item that's orders of magnitude more so.
I always found that a highly suspect report. It ignores temporary free games from gmg etc, humble bundle and other bundled sales. I have a fair amount unplayed, but only 2 are actual purchases.
> You buy the sparkly pony because you want that
> sparkly pony, not because somebody else
> doesn't have it.

You buy the sparkly pony because you want to be noticed and "admired" by others who can't afford it. Brands like Gucci, Prada or Louis Vuitton based their entire business around the human need to be the center of attention. That sparkling pony is the equivalent of a Parada pag. If everyone had a Prada bag then nobody would even notice it and would sell for $50 instead of $2000. If everyone had your sparkling pony then you would be much less interested in spending money for it and that's why so many players are against "welafare epics" or "store mounts are bad because you have to earn them" in World of Warcraft.

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