I’ve gotten a lot of great comments to my previous brief post on in-app purchases. Including a link to this recently published Wired article about adults who spend thousands of dollars playing iOS games.
Lee — who asked that we not share his full name, or any specific details about his line of work — is a single, 42-year-old businessman from California. He says that his annual income is “in the six figures.”
Lee says that spending money on games like Clash of Clans is actually saving him money in the long-run: Before he started gaming, he says he and a small group of friends would go out drinking, sometimes spending as much as $6,000 in a single night between them.
Lee stopped spending money on drinking roughly around the same time that he began playing Happy Kingdom, a Facebook game, with some friends. It was the first videogame he’d ever liked, and he became enraptured. He wound up spending nearly $5,000 in that game before trading it for Clash of Clans, but says that’s far less than what he would have otherwise spent on alcohol.
“I actually save money playing these games instead of going out and drinking,” he said.
You may never have heard of Clash of Clans, but it’s one of the highest-grossing games on the App Store thanks to players like Lee. …
Yep, I only first heard of Clash of Clans yesterday, because I discovered that it was the top-grossing game at the App Store, and I mentioned that in the previous blog post.
In addition to reading the Wired article, I also read through the comment thread, and the comments generally fall into two categories.
Category 1: People are crazy or addicted to be spending so much money on virtual crap.
Category 2: Spending a few thousand dollars playing an online game is no different than spending a few thousand dollars to go on a golf vacation. In fact, people will spend half a million dollars to join an exclusive private golf club, so how can we say that the guy spending $5,000 to play video games is addicted but that it’s perfectly sane for someone to spend $500,000 on golf?
But none of the comments anyone wrote were in my own third category. That is that our entire society and our entire economic system is based around people buying crap that they don’t need, but we are so used to it that we consider it normal and don’t even question it. There are loads of women in Manhattan who have closets full of $300 shoes, and this would seem like insane behavior to a woman in a poor country who can barely afford to feed her children, but it’s considered completely normal here.
It’s only when we see some guy dropping thousands of dollars on virtual soldiers that we begin to question the whole thing, and it’s only because he’s spending money for something that’s confusing to us. But I predict that this will be considered completely normal in another decade. If you remember back to the 1990s, people who spent hours a day surfing the web were considered to have an addiction problem, but today everyone spends hours a day surfing the web and it’s considered completely normal.
But should spending money on crap you don’t need be considered normal? I respect groups like the Amish who reject the materialism of modern society.
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When someone spends a thousand dollars on virtual soldiers, it's a commercial transaction so it gets measured as a thousand dollar increase in GDP. But is a purchase like this really making our country wealthier?
If GDP were to measure stuff like quality time spent with family and ignore purchases of positional status-whoring goods, we might not be the world's richest country.