Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Time, Money, and the Journey

A discussion of the Diablo 3 $AH took place on our TF2 forums, and someone commented:
it all just seems silly to me.. why play the game if you're going to buy your way to the end result? I've spent $4 on tf2.. and I still look at it as a waste.. items will come and go, and there is always trading.. same goes with diablo3, why pay for pixels that you can obtain yourself and they're obviously going to continue releasing bigger and better weapons that you're going to replace said weapon with, and I see it happen in WoW all the time.. people pay for gold, buy the new shiny off the auction house, and the next day they win a drop in a raid thats better.. $20 down for a days' virtual satisfaction. Its all fickle to me lol
The following was my response.

Diablo, like other action-focused computer RPGs, is designed to be very Achievement oriented. The heavy Goal-Oriented-Play coupled with high-accessibility (and very few set backs, i.e. punishment) fosters an environment where the ends of playing the game are the achievements themselves. For many Achievers, there is no longer any fun in the journey--they want as many vacuous trophies as quickly as possible. There is nothing wrong with getting your jollies from virtual shinies, but here is where the contention lies.

Traditionalist gamers have been, I believe, vaccinated from these psychological lures. They have seen leaderboards and Skinner boxes for decades. If they play a game, they enjoy learning the system, assuming that system is complex enough to hold their interest. If they play strategy games, they enjoy complex resource management. If they play RPGs, they like the journey. They are OK with gating content, with stratifying players into Haves and Have-Nots.

They have been trained to believe that Time and Skill equates to Power. To Traditionalists, games are a great equalizer. The Real World does not leak into their synthetic worlds, and each player's reputation (and Power) are built via in-game means only. This is a fallacy.

The person playing the game has a certain amount of real world resources and real world dexterity. Resources come in the form of Time and Money. Dexterity is both Mental and Physical. Different game genres tap these 4 attributes differently. MMORPGs typically require Time. TF2 takes Physical and Mental dexterity, as well as practice Time. What we are seeing in the Game Industry is the incorporation of Money resources.

This transformation is occurring because many Traditionalists are opting for other responsibilities: jobs and families. They no longer have 10 hours a day to throw at Everquest or StarCraft. They can't wait around for 2 hours to get a game started; they need high-accessibility games. Lowering the barrier to entry is also allowing brand new players to enter the scene. This is the explosion of Casual and Social gaming. These players have Money, but no Time. And quite a few of them are willing to trade their Money for Power. Believe it or not, there are markets that enjoy Paying to Win. This makes Traditionalists exclaim, "WTF ARE YOU DOING?!"

The Time-rich no longer have the upper hand, and that makes the status quo feel as if their time isn't as valuable. And they are correct: with the inclusion of Money, it inflates the resource supply. Buying characters, power leveling, and gold was and still is seen as cheating in various online games primarily because it devalues the achievements (i.e. Time) of players.

To more directly answer your question, "why would someone drop $20 for such an ephemeral trophy?" we really have to answer why humans trade resources for ANY status-signalling good. Fashion, competition, self-worth, belonging to a group: all of these are deeply rooted social instincts. The next time you do a farming run for a piece of loot, ask yourself why are you trading your time for these synthetic goods. And then ask if you'd rather trade money instead. If the goal is the trophy, it really doesn't matter how you got it. If you value the story attached to the trophy, then hopefully the journey is worth taking--and that is something money can't buy.