Signifying Nothing

This is a rant…

Recently it came to my attention that I was probably paying too much for my car insurance. Not because I saw a Geico commercial or anything, but because I was randomly musing about the fact that we have two cars, one a 1997 Volkswagen Cabrio and the other a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, and they are both (obviously) old, 15 and 14 years old respectively, and that they probably aren’t worth very much, each is worth – in theory – about $2,000 for private sale or maybe $1,500 trade-in value. We currently are sporting a policy with a $1,000 deductible. Given the worth of the cars, any accident which is going to cost more than the deductible to fix is going to be 50% or more of the value of the car, thus the insurance company is likely to just “total” the car and cut us a check instead of paying for repairs. So, it seemed silly to me to pay them what I was paying them for them to not really cover anything.

So, I called them up and cut my insurance payment in half, maintaining the medical coverage and the liability (damage to other people). They were very happy to do it and thanked me for my continued business and all was right with the world. Until…

Money to Burn
Like any average American, I have so much, I can do this. Not.

A couple hours later, I’m sitting there smiling about the money I’m going to be saving when it occurs to me that the value of my cars hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years. They’ve hit a sort of “value plateau” where the fact that they are running in good condition is the bulk of the value. Which means that I’ve been overpaying on my insurance for a couple of years. It’s going to total out to probably around $600 a year that I save, which means I’ve probably paid $1,200 to $1,800 for coverage I didn’t need.

Being a software developer, I know that it would be painfully simple to have a program that compares the coverage on a vehicle to the vehicle’s reported value (using something like the Kelley Blue Book as source) and this would generate a list of people to whom you could contact, by mail or email, and make them happy by offering to adjust their rates.

Of course, I know why they don’t do this. Something like auto insurance is seen by people as being required but interchangeable. They have to have it, and they pay more attention to the ads the companies run than to their actual policies. Most people will go to another company, get a quote and switch insurers before ever considering calling their current insurer to see if they can get a better rate. As such, companies focus more effort on signing new customer than on retaining existing ones.

For a non-insurance example, look at your local cable company. When was the last time they called to say they were running a special for all existing customers? Never, that’s when. The half price deals are for new or returning customers. Or for people who call to cancel. If you don’t leave and don’t complain, they’ll happily charge you twice what they charge new people, returning people, or people who threaten to leave.

Lesson: call your cable company every six months or so and threaten to cancel. Tell them you are switching to satellite, and then accept the new rate they offer to keep you.

You can probably do this with your garbage collection too, if you have to pay for it yourself and there is competition in your area. I’ve had the same company for a couple years, but where I was originally paying $30 a month, I’m down to $10 because they’ll “price match” any competitor’s offer, I just have to prove it’s a real offer. But they know who their competitors are, and they know what they charge. Why aren’t they sending out a letter to all their customers saying, “Hey! In appreciation for using us, we’ve reduced our rates!”

The other main reason they don’t randomly call existing happy customers to offer new lower rates is because those customer are, apparently, happy overpaying. Why would they throw away that money? Sure, being awesome for your customers might breed some loyalty, but loyalty is nothing in the face of cold hard cash.

Where am I going with this?

I have no idea. It all folds into that idea of “enough” I suppose. Some of these companies are making lots of money in profits, and they don’t reinvest that money into making the company better, nor do they reinvest it in reduced prices, they take it out of the system. Maybe they spend it back into the system somewhere else, but not at the rate it would get spent back into the system in the form of a few dollars into the pockets of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands. Despite what the self proclaimed “job creators” tell you, a person, or small group of people, earning $5 million a month aren’t going to spend $5 million a month, but a million consumers saving $5 each on their bills are incredibly likely to spend that $5.

It just seems logical, for the better health of the entire economy… which is probably why I’ll never run a company or be in politics.

Bags of Money

I wish I was posting to tell you I won the lottery and would from this point forward be wiping my ass with hundred dollar bills, but I didn’t and I’m not.  Besides, I’d pay someone else to wipe my ass with hundred dollar bills.  Duh!

Anyway… One thing people often complain about in the design of games is the over emphasis on the monsters you fight in an MMO of being “floating bags of experience and loot”.  Seriously.  Think about it.  In a game that is a grinding exp-fest, you track down monsters and then beat them until they break and gift you with progress.  In some games, like WoW, they try to wave a hand over to the side to get you to forget about the bags of exp by hiding them behind quests.  It’s still the same thing though, to the point that when a player enters town and sees a sea of quest icons floating over the heads of NPC, there is often a rush of excitement at all the exp and loot you’ll be earning.  Any time a player focuses too much on the bags, they usually experience a decrease in “fun” while “progress” speeds up.  This leads to many players grinding the bags until they reach the “end” where, I’ve been told, the game really begins.

So, Darren, who has been outspoken in his opinion on $10 and $25 horses has written a little diatribe about how companies view players.  To be honest, for a “for profit” business, players are bags of money, just like the monsters in games are bags of experience.  The trick is for companies to get money out of the bags without the bags ever realizing that they are, in fact, bags of money.  So different companies toe different lines.  In the case of WoW, they’ve made their game “fun” enough that a whole bunch of bags people don’t mind $15 a month being taken from their wallet, and the recent foray into vanity pets and the sparkle pony is them sketching out another line in the sand, see if they can get a little more money from some bags people without losing too many of the bags people that are at their limit with $15 a month.

Obviously, there are many examples of games that have crossed lines and caused players to notice their bag-ness and they leave, and there are many examples of games where despite practically labeling their players as bags of money a segment of their players don’t mind at all (see: Zynga) to great profit.

I don’t really have anything to add to this, I just thought it was an interesting thing to notice.


At the end of the year, the blogs were alive with the sound of Real Money Transactions. Not that the blogs were charging money, but lots of the game developer blogs were talking about the subject. I’m not going to provide links because it was pretty much all of them to some degree, though Raph and Tobold has the biggest intertwining discussion.

My take on RMT… I don’t like it because of the way it changes player behavior. For an example of what I’m talking about, I’m actually going to step away from games, because the behavior I dislike is not specific to games.

Tickle Me Elmo.

The year that toy came out it carried a manufacturer suggested retail price of $28.99. However, the willingness of people to pay (reportedly) as much as $1500 just to have one of the limited production item in time for Christmas changed the market place. Without the lure of profit, the lines down at the toy store would have been kids and moms and dads, maybe some grandparents. Instead, stores also had to contend with people looking for a quick buck instead of a toy. That year, my roommate was working at Toys R Us. He pulled a few of the Elmos off the truck for himself, bought them, and then sold them for $600 each. All in all he got about a $3400 profit on a $130 initial investment. I would have complained, but it meant he’d start paying his share of the rent and bills.

Now, I realize and understand a parent’s desire to get the “it” toy for their kids. But having an inside man at Toys R Us that year, I later learned that after the holiday season, they had plenty of the Elmos at the regular $28.99, and if your child is going to throw a huge tantrum and hate you forever because they didn’t get a specific toy under the tree, the problem may not be the toy. Maybe.

RMT brings out some of the same behavior from players in video games. A player who would never sit in one area farming gold or potion reagents might do exactly that once they learn they can earn a nice supplementary income from it. I’ve even been tempted by it myself. During periods when my wife has been between jobs, I’ve tried to convince her to spend her days farming money or power leveling characters so that we could sell them. Ultimately, we never did that because I always came to realize I was succumbing to the “Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we?” attitude. I didn’t want to farm gold, but my own game had been affected by gold farmers from time to time that I wanted a piece of the action.

It is, in a way, just like the Elmo toys. Sure, a player could wait, he doesn’t need 100 gold right now, he could adventure around and the money will come, the game is designed that way. But if he’s willing to buy that gold from someone willing to eschew adventuring for farming, RMT is going to exist.

So, if you wanted to, how could you get rid of RMT? Many people have suggested things like limiting trades and making items unable to be traded… but really, even then you can’t entirely stop the RMT. If everything in the game was not dropable and you couldn’t trade anything at all, full account sales would increase. The farmer wouldn’t farm gold or items, he’d just level and outfit characters and sell the whole kit and caboodle. Really, though, seriously, if you wanted to absolutely remove RMT from your game there are only two ways to do it.

  1. Make it a single player game.
  2. Make everything (levels, money, items) available to every player for no effort.

Option 1 defeats the purpose of an MMO, and also doesn’t completely end RMT since someone out there somewhere will be trying to sell his strategy guide and/or walk through. Option 2 puts you on the field with First Person Shooters – there is nothing to gain from play, so the game play itself must be the draw.

Money is Time

Most MMOs have a monthly fee. Since Ultima Online, it has pretty much been the rule. Sure, you get the occasional one like Guild Wars that is free or some of the newer ones where you can start for free but the game has a velvet rope you cannot cross without paying (or in the case of Puzzle Pirates, making trades with people who paid). The current threshold for monthly fees is $15.

Tobold asks “How much would you pay per hour of WoW?

It is a valid question, and one I’ve been thinking about recently. See, I just canceled my WoW account. Over the last couple of months, I have played very little. too much work, going to see movies, playing on the 360 and the Wii… it all adds up to not enough time to play WoW. But the problem isn’t just not being able to play WoW, it is that I was also maintaining accounts for City of Heroes/Villains and Lord of the Rings Online, and while paying $15 a month to not play WoW wouldn’t bother me horribly, paying $40 a month to not play 3 games begins to be a bit silly.

The way I see to fix that would be to switch to hourly charges. It would be nice if I didn’t have to pay to not play but could still keep my account active. And that comes from a purely lazy point of view. With my WoW account canceled, if the wife and I feel the urge to log in, we will first have to go reactivate accounts, and the time it takes to go to the web page, verify or enter credit card information, and then get back to the game… if we aren’t playing now because of a lack of interest, jumping through hoops to play isn’t going to help.

I would love to be able to maintain accounts in all the games out there, paying for only the time I play them and not having to actually cancel and reinstate my account every time I lose interest. Without a guaranteed monthly fee I probably would have bought Vanguard after I upgraded my PC. Without a guaranteed monthly fee, I probably would have bought EQ2. Many games have and probably will lose my box sale because I just can’t afford another monthly fee.

Now… on the other side of the coin… I understand why developers like that monthly fee. It is much easier to budget. “X” subscribed players times “Y” monthly fee equals “Z” incoming cash minus “A” service providing costs equals “P” profits, which can either be taken to the bank, or reinvested into the game, or into another game. If they had an hourly charge, you might have “X” players, but only 30% of them might play more than 50 hours a month, and another 30% might play less than 5. The player numbers and revenue wouldn’t be a nice smooth pretty graph, it would be covered in spikes for revenue and it would be a never ending climb to the stars for player accounts. (Hint: the “total residents” in that link does not equal “paying subscriber”.)

I think I would even be willing to settle for a minimal account management fee, of about $1 or $2 per game, with an hourly fee above that for the time that I play. But how much is too much per hour? Without any kind of fixed fee, I think Tobold is pretty close to dead on with 25 cents per hour. If they tacked on a small fixed fee for the account, 10 or 15 cents an hour would be more appropriate.

Either way, I would love to have more active games and more options to play, if only I could afford to keep them all.

Hollywood and Your Money

People often wonder why Hollywood keeps churning out crappy movies. The answer is simple… because you people keep paying to see them!

This past weekend approximately three and a half million people (3,500,000) went to see “Big Momma’s House 2” making it the number one film of the weekend with its $28 million box office draw. It also happens to be the second largest January opening in movie history.

Look people, we have to work together on this. You can not just go spending hard earned dollars on junk like this. You need to support quality films, and I don’t just mean Oscar winning crap, because lots of those films are garbage too. Sometimes you have to stop and think, and if there are no good movies playing, don’t go to a movie. Go home and watch a DVD or play a board game or go out drinking with some friends. Anything. Anything, that is, except settling for some movie that isn’t really worth your $8 but you don’t see anything better playing.

Support quality entertainment, not garbage. At least not at the theaters. Wait for DVD… or cable… or broadcast television… If you go to the movies and nothing good is playing, vote with your feet and walk away. If you stop paying Hollywood for making crappy movies, they’ll stop making crappy movies.


As they say (or sing in this case), Money don’t get everything, that’s true, but what it don’t get I can’t use.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fireman. If there was a ladder set up, I ran up it. I would pick things up and run up it. I would run up them, get stuff from whatever was at the top and bring it down. I used to volunteer to water the lawn because.. it was on fire, and I had to put it out! My imagination was and is quite vivid…

Of course, I also wanted to be an astronaut. And a policeman. And a racecar driver. A doctor. A computer hacker. A superhero. Etc, etc, etc…

See the one thing missing up there? Not once while I was growing up did I actually think to myself, “When I grow up, I want to make money!”

I have to admit, I’m pretty well off in some respects. My family is fairly normal. No divorce or discord. I drive a car that I always wanted. A Jeep Cherokee, 1998, before they started making them all rounded and bubble-like. I have a woman that I love.

I still, however, also have many problems. The issue I have with my problems is that they can all be solved with one thing.


I don’t have any esoteric, emotional, philosophical, mental, relationship problems. I only have bill paying problems.

That being the case, when people tell me, “Money isn’t everything.” or “Money isn’t the most important thing.” I get a bit upset, because, well, to me, money is the only thing that can solve the problems I have. And of course, people only say those things when they mean “I’m not going to give you any (more) money.”

Oh well… this is my random thought… back to humming “Gimme some money” by Spinal Tap.

It`s MY day.

It’s my birthday, my b-b-b-birthday!

Feel free to send me money. I won’t be offended.

Happy birthday to me…
Happy birthday to me…
Happy birthday dear me-eee…
Happy birthday to me!

And don’t forget about the money.