Sunday, September 22, 2013

Money Is Not Time

There is an argument among Free-2-Play advocates that "money is equal to time". The argument goes that some players are time-rich and cash-poor, while other players are time-poor and cash-rich. MMO design usually favors the time-rich players. These F2P advocates argue that F2P levels the playing field, allowing cash-rich but time-poor players to use money to make up for their lack of time.

I think that Diablo 3 has shown that this is not correct. Money is not a substitute for Time.

This is because games are emotional experiences. Only, the emotions evoked are not the standard ones, but flow and fiero. The emotions of engaging in an activity, seeking to defeat it, and the payoff from defeating a hard challenge, or finishing a long task.

But these two emotions require time. You have to spend time to get into the flow. And fiero is very often related to how long you spent working on the activity.

When you substitute money for time, there is no flow, and no fiero. There is no emotional attachment to the event, or to the payoff. And that makes the game itself less compelling.


  1. Extremely well put!

    This is a great way of explaining what's wrong with some F2P.

  2. I have been saying those exact same things on every heated period of the discussion. I certainly used worse expression mainly due to the fact that i am not a native english speaker and therefore i am limited. But the fact remains.

    More than what you are saying though i also believe that money abundance is far less fair than time abundance, while both favor their respective whales, a) the world in general views money spent far worse than time spent and b) the percentage of people globally that have time-to-spare is ENORMOUSLY more than the money-to-spare percentage.

  3. The games are not made to bring flow and fiero to players. They are made to bring money to developers.

    In the case of D3, Blizzard gets your money when you buy the game. The rate of player retention doesn't matter. Removal of AH is probably caused by the costs of maintatining it which are not repaid by cuts off the deals.

  4. It all depends on what you want to get out of an MMO. If you want "to win the game", then the next question is "by what means?" If the answer is "by any means necessary", then the F2P store option comes into play.

    But if the answer to the first question is not "to win the game", then the entire discussion around the cash store falls apart.

    There are plenty of reasons to use a cash store, such as vanity items or instance unlocks, that have nothing to do with winning. The concept of winning gets the most play, however, because to a console gamer that is what is most important. You don't find very many console games where the journey is just as important as the ending.

    And really, to a certain subset of the gamer populace, a "pay to win" cash shop is no different than dropping an extra $300 on a new graphics card to get an extra edge.

    I'd argue that there is no "right" way to play an MMO. Some people look for those emotive responses you talk about, and some don't give a damn. Trying to say "you're playing it wrong" by using a cash shop is like telling a fish that it doesn't know anything about proper swimming technique.

  5. @Redbeard What definitely made our favorite genre wither over time was the turn around in developer focus in what the players THINK they need.
    It used to be a niche genre mainly from devs loving what they were doing and creating worlds they liked or thought they liked. And most important they all loved to create and were more focused on creating a "good" gaming experience (flow and fiero) than a financial success.
    Those devs were definitely of higher intellectual capacity of what their playerbase then and mmo tourists now.
    Since the insertion of software vendors/companies building "MMOs for the buck", there rose the issue of what the players need.
    In the old days the developer set the rules and they were only bent when needed or proven wrong, NOBODY would play an MMO only to show off to the in-game community and therefore the phrase "what you want to get out of an MMO" was completely invalid.

  6. Very true.

    I am sad to admit that I have botted in several MMOs and have only ruined the experience for myself. I used to love WoW but after using bots to level and bots to make gold I no longer have any attachment to the game. I recently purchased a whole new account to play with so that all achievements would be mine.

    However, I did buy the flying goat mount through the Blizz Store and am happy with the purchase despite not putting any time into it.

  7. I think you're over-generalizing again with F2P. What you're really talking about is P2W elements found in many F2P games but not all of the various F2P models themselves, some of which have no P2W elements.

    That there are players who are time-rich and cash-poor (and vice versa) is a true premise, almost trivially. While some may argue that P2W levels the playing field, I think we're in agreement that this isn't true in all cases (though it may be in some). With enough money, those paying to play can actually quite quickly outpace those with infinite time (in some games) thus seizing the advantage.

    Diablo 3 has not shown that money is not a substitute for time. In fact, I think it showed quite the opposite. Those with a lot of time had all the best gear early on and were even able to capitalize on their excess gear. Those with money were able to get all the best gear early on. Both, in D3, were probably on a fairly even playing field (in terms of loot and progression) given the nature of the game and finite set of items and properties.

    As soon as you mention that games are emotional experiences, you add in a third variable. This brings in the notion that money can't buy happiness.. By what I think is a fair extension (and what you're saying), money can't buy flow and fiero.

    I would suggest that people who pay to play, however, are after more of a momentary pleasure than a prolonged happiness and feeling of accomplishment. Happiness is not the same thing as pleasure. Who can say if gaming should bring happiness or pleasure? Except that most games are played briefly and then discarded for another game in a series of momentary pleasures. So again, perhaps this is another advantage to those paying to play except in some rare cases where games have a very high longevity (such as WoW) - but such a player could still extract the same momentary pleasure from WoW and move on as usual.

    I think such people would not agree with your conclusion that games they pay to play are less compelling. Instead, they maximize their pleasure of a game in the moments before discarding it in a minimum of time and in exchange experience a broader spectrum of games than those who play the same few games for years on end.

    And so, Time is money, wherever money is accepted in exchange. But now we're back to a trivial truth, having buried the interesting stuff in the middle.