Wednesday, May 12, 2010

(empo-plaaybizz) We don't like it, but we'll pay for it

Remember my post The Farmville Sociopaths? This was my post that was dedicated to an analysis of A. J. Patrick Liszkiewicz's speech-turned-essay which looked at the popular Facebook game Farmville - both the things that motivated people to play Farmville, and Liszkiewicz's views on how these activities contribute to society at large. (If you haven't read the article, Liszkiewicz's answer is "They don't.")

I revisited this article after seeing that Jake Kuramoto has weighed in on the essay, noting that Zynga is capitalizing upon a wonderful business plan, even though anyone who would have heard the business plan just a few years ago would have thought that the Zynga people were out of their minds.

But Jake and I initially glossed over one point that Liszkiewicz made which, in retrospect, is vitally important.

Let's say that I was to decide to go into the software business. I would want to make my software application as insanely great as possible. I'd talk to customers, think about user interfaces, look at the market, and so forth - all in an attempt to design some software that people would WANT to buy.

Chances are I'd fail miserably. I'd probably fail for a variety of reasons, but among them would be the fact that I'd be shooting at the wrong target.

You don't want to design a product that people want to buy.

Let's return to Liszkiewicz:

Farmville is not a good game.

What? The company is making money hand over fist, and it's not a good game? Liszkiewicz provides several reasons for this assertion, among which is the following:

Farmville allows users to spend their in-game profits on decorations, animals, buildings, and even bigger plots of land. So users are rewarded for their work. Of course, people can sidestep the harvesting process entirely by spending real money to purchase in-game items. This is the major source of revenue for Zynga, the company that produces Farmville. Zynga is currently on pace to make over three hundred million dollars in revenue this year, largely off of in-game micro-transactions....Clearly, even people who play Farmville want to avoid playing Farmville.

Now I have never spent money on Farmville, Farm Town, My Town, or whatever...but I have spent money on Starfleet Commander. Why? Because Starfleet Commander allows you to acquire resources in the forms of ore, crystal, and hydrogen, and there are times when you have too much ore and not enough hydrogen, and vice versa. Now Starfleet Commander allows you to try to find other players to exchange your virtual resources, or they can automate the process...for a fee, of course. And in my case, it's much easier to perform the occasional automated transaction, rather than trying to find the person with the right resources, and making sure that both have resources at the correct time (because of the mechanics of Starfleet Commander, my resources are often on "fleetsave" and therefore unavailable).

So note the distinction - people pay money for these games not because they WANT to, but because they HAVE to.

Let's look at another example - tax preparation services. People obviously don't want to pay someone else to do their taxes for them, but feel that they have to do so. Why? First, the tax preparer saves the person a lot of trouble, since the person does not have to prepare his or her own taxes. Second, the tax preparer (assuming a minimum skill level) can help the person avoid some costly mistakes that could result in audits and tax penalties.

Many scams use the same "you have to do this" motivator. Let's say that you get an e-mail that is purportedly from your bank. The e-mail usually includes a threat - if you don't provide your bank with your correct credentials, you will not have access to your money. Those who fall for the scam do so because they feel that they have to protect their money.

Now certainly wants have their place and can serve as motivators (you want to get that money from the brother of the deceased Nigerian government official), but when it comes down to it, needs are more powerful than wants. I could go into a Maslow-ian tangent on this, but as I said before, I've been out of academia for a while.
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