Tenth Brown Bag – November 21, 2014


Isaac Knowles, PhD student, Department of Telecommunications, Media School

Is Scarcity Fun? Rethinking the Role of Costs in Game Play and Design

Playing a game requires consumers to incur many kinds of costs besides the initial price. They must also expend substantial time and effort overcoming in-game structures, called gates, which may prevent them from ever experiencing substantial portions of the game that they have purchased. To explain players’ apparent willingness to incur these additional non-monetary costs, scholars have usually referenced evolutionary psychology, self-determination theory, and the concept of flow.  In this presentation, I forward an alternative theory: Players are willing to purchase a game and incur additional costs if the quality of the game is high, and a game company creates gates and imposes costs on players in order to lower its own cost of production. Analysis of a mathematical model based on this theory shows how a game company’s gating and pricing decisions may largely be driven by the quality of their output and that of their competitors. The theory also helps to explain the existence of a substantial market for game aids, such as strategy guides, “special edition” versions of game software, and markets for virtual currency. Finally, it provides insight into the oft-maligned gating practices of game companies that use the increasingly popular free-to-play business model.

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