Relative Value of Money

Gaming has gotten pretty complicated for me these days.

The annoying part of this situation is that the complication is all by design. Clash Royale recently celebrated its 1-year anniversary, for example, which means I have been playing this mobile game off-and-on for about a year. Just the other day they teased a “one time sale” that included 100,000g and a Magical Chest for roughly $25. At the stage of development I’m at in the game, that amount of gold would effectively allow me to upgrade two units. Two. For $25.

And I was seriously considering it.

The only real thing that stopped me was that the deal wasn’t as good as the prior deals I did take advantage of. The $25 thing was only a “x4 value” whereas I dropped $25 on a different package several months ago that was a x10 value. At the time, it offered a rather significant boost of power, and allowed me to finally snag an Ice Wizard, which I have used in every deck to this day. Conversely, it is not entirely clear that upgrading two units for 100,000g would see similar returns.

In addition to Clash, I am playing three separate gacha-esque games with similar payment models. Four, technically, if you include Fire Emblem: Heroes in there. I haven’t spent near as much in those as I have in Clash, but I do boot them up every single day for the feeling of incremental progression. And all of them are offering “amazing” deals for $10, $25, even $99.

Then look what happened with WoW. There is currently a “sale” on character services, which means it “only” costs $18.75 for server transfers. Since I had over $180 in Blizzard Bux from cashing in WoW Tokens, I decided to use some of those funds to move the survivors of Auchindoun-US over to Sargeras-US. Moved about four toons thus far, and thinking of a fifth. That’s $75 already. Not $75 from my bank account per se, but I could have nearly bought StarCraft 2: Legacy of the Void and 50 packs of Hearthstone’s latest expansion with that same amount of funds.

All of this is why I take a somewhat adversarial stance with game designers. If these were all B2P games, we would not be having this discussion; instead I would be lamenting about how there aren’t enough hours in the day to play all these great games. Instead I’m talking about services within a game, or progression boosters, any of which are more expensive than actual, other games. I just bought Mass Effect: Andromeda from GMG for $41 and some change. That’s roughly two character transfers in WoW, or a few unit upgrades in Clash Royal.

Now, there’s the argument that there aren’t that many games you could even play for a whole year and not tire of. Doesn’t Clash Royal deserve my money for how much amusement it has generated? Isn’t plopping down some cash on these games technically cheaper than paying full price for new releases every few weeks/months anyway?

I think those are the wrong questions, and intentionally engineered to take advantage of cognitive dissonance. Because we aren’t asking those questions up front – we are asking them after having “invested” dozens (or hundreds) of hours into the game. If you told me at the beginning that it took 50,000g to upgrade units in Clash Royal, I would have balked. But having stewed in a pot of nearly boiling water for a year, it all seems reasonable. “Of course it makes sense that I used to get upgrades every three days, and now only get one a month.” Not really, no.

(Especially not when they end up nerfing units a month later. No refunds here.)

The value of money is mostly relative. Going from making $20k to $30k is life-changing, whereas going from $100k to $110k is likely not. However, money is also fungible. Dropping $10 or $25 here and there might make sense in the context of whatever game you are currently playing long-term, but those same dollars could buy anything else.

It is important, IMO, to consider the full picture of what your gaming dollars may or may not be purchasing. A server transfer in an MMO that will save your waning interest may seem a bargain. Hell, it might actually be a bargain in the final analysis. Just be cognizant that the decision should not be “do I spend money or not,” but rather “do I give up X or not.” I decided that two unit upgrades in Clash Royal isn’t worth half a Mass Effect. Framing it this way helps me resist all the fallacies (Sunk Cost, Gambler’s, etc) working on the decision to make it seem reasonable (when it is not), and gives me an answer I can live with.

Maybe your gaming budget is such that you don’t mind dropping hundreds of dollars a month into whatever. In which case, feel free to Paypal some my way, chief. Otherwise, we all have to look out for each other a bit, because the game designers and the in-house psychoanalysts on their payroll certainly are not.

Posted on April 6, 2017, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. These f2p games are all amazingly bad value compared with games of the past. If you bought every Hearthstone expansion and adventure released so far, you’d have spent something in the range of 300 dollars so far. And that’s only the expansion preorders; to get all of the cards you would have to spend at least twice that. Compare with Diablo 3, where you spent 60 for the base game and 40 for the expansion and nothing else (RMAH shenanigans aside).

    The best thing to do is to play all games f2p and view that as part of the challenge. I don’t know if it works for every game though.


    • Agreed. I try to view the F2P restrictions on a game as part of the appeal of the game proper – if they are just annoying instead, then play something else. Of course, the devs always go above and beyond to make the initial $5 or whatever buy-in tempting as hell, which messes with everything.


  2. The f2p business model obviously works, however for someone like me I avoid playing them at all because there is rarely a pay cap, and the pay-to-enjoy ratio is never clear at the start. I have no idea if spending $20 will get me 85% enjoyment, or if I’ll need to spend $50, or even $100 or more. How many HS adventures and booster packs would make me “feel” competitive? How do you even measure that vs my skill level alone? And investing time in the free portion just to get a sense of what is limited seems like a waste.

    I think a hybrid model would work, as long as there is an upper cap that is reasonable. For example, the base game is f2p. There are in-app purchases for $1, $5, $10. Or, you can just spend $60 out the gate and get the full game, all skins, levels, units, etc. That way I’d know where the end of the rabbit hole is, and would help me decide whether I wanted to start down it in the first place.


    • Tobold mentioned that one of the Magic: the Gathering apps did something like that. You bought booster packs as in Hearthstone, but you could never get more than X copies of any given card. Thus, eventually, you would have 100% of all the cards after Y boosters.

      Probably the most fair F2P business model I’ve heard of.


  3. 200$ will buy me enough old and/or indie games to keep me entertained for the rest of my natural lifetime.


  4. I’m not sure I follow your logic about paying in CR.

    So instead of being able to play for free, and then dropping $10 or $25 when you feel like it, you’d rather they charge you a set amount up front? And remove the aspect of the game where people can pay (IE: fund development for others) more to progress up a ladder?

    And like you said, paying $25 in CR after a year+ of playing not just the game, but a game with all its frequent upgrades. That’s great value compared to some meh single-player game you will play and enjoy a tiny fraction of the time spent in CR.


    • Well, first, I don’t give the CR devs any credit for the frequent updates because the updates themselves are part of the payment model. Each new unit that comes out will get the whales to drop hundreds of dollars maxing it out from the beginning. There’s no way anyone “normally” has a level 5 Graveyard, for example. Same really for the balance patches. Keeping things balanced makes for a better game, absolutely, but it also ensures that people don’t max out just the imbalanced cards, but rather their entire collection.

      As for the fun part… yeah, maybe. It’s difficult to tell how much fun I’m actually having anymore. I peaked around 4300ish last month, getting the Challenger 2 chest. But I haven’t changed my deck in ages because I don’t have the gold to make it worth doing so.

      Right now I have 65k gold banked. Getting Zap to level 12 costs 50k. That kind of commits me to Zap, which is annoying, especially since they nerfed Zap previously to prop up Goblin Gang. Will they nerf Zap again? I don’t know. I spent months getting Furnace up to level 9 so I could reliably use it versus level 11 opponents, then the meta shifted, and now I’m kinda stuck with it.

      Point being, I’m having “fun,” but a lot of that fun is tied up in habit and historical fun, and not engaging fun. Nevermind how I essentially have no way to upgrade troops to try different decks at the stage of the game I am in. Paying $25 or whatever will recreate those heady days of last year… for about a minute, before I am probably stuck again.


      • The updates are part of the business model, but for a free player, they are free updates of pretty high quality (the list of games, in any genre/platform, I’d put ahead of CoC/CR updates would be pretty small). I mean, better updates for the cost, WoW or CR?

        Agree on legendaries at 5 being impossible right now for the average player, but that’s a problem for the top .01% of players to deal with, it has zero impact (other than funding updates) on everyone else, so who cares? And that has zero impact on any game mode other than ladder anyway.

        The deck switching once cards are lvl 11+ is tough, which is why I think SC are adding more modes focused on tourney caps. But again, its basically a problem everyone faces outside the tiny percentage who spend a ton of money. Also SC has been pretty good about the nerfs. I still use zap myself. Yea, its weaker, but it still has value, especially in the swarm-heavy meta. It’s not like HS ‘balancing’ where a card goes from must-have to pure garbage, or just gets outright removed from play.


  5. Maybe it’s an exception, but that’s why I love Marvel Heroes’ model so much. I did spend some money, but hardly ever because I felt the need to get more “power”. It was only to get some characters sooner than by just playing and waiting and also buying bank tabs (where it’s merely annoying to not have them, but you’re not required to have them, unless you’re a pack rat.)

    I do agree on the server transfer part, especially in WoW. In many games you have like a 1 in 5 chance of hitting the “correct” server when you start and sometime they even get merged and it’s in your favor, in WoW it’s more like 1 in 50 to end up on the same server as your friends do. The more popular the game, the more it’s your problem.


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