Last Updated on August 14, 2017 by karwisch

The year was 1987. I stood at my dad’s bedroom door begging him to take me and my Ziploc bag filled with quarters to the arcade so that I could take another stab at playing Mrs. Pacman or Galaga. Sometimes you would wait patiently behind another person who had a stack of quarters balanced between the joystick and buttons signifying that they would be playing several games before departing. If they were terrible at the game you would watch them rapidly burn through their quarters and your wait would be short. If they were amazing at the game, you would watch them play eternally on just one quarter and your wait was never ending. Either way, it was never a big deal to wait for a game. It was also never a big deal to spend a dollar. Now, remember this is the 80’s so a dollar then is like a million dollars today.

Fast forward to present day where we stand in line to get the newest PlayStation or Xbox game. We stand behind 20 other shoppers, hoping we get to the counter before supplies run out. We are prepared to spend somewhere in the realm of $30-$50 for the thrill. If you are terrible at the game you might play it for a solid two weeks. If you are amazing at the game you might be finished with it before the end of the weekend. Sure you can take it back and trade it in at Gamestop, but you are still going to have a good $10-$15 burned for the privilege.

This past weekend I broke a fiver and gave quarters to my nieces and son to play the ridiculous games at the bowling alley game room. They had the absolute best time playing games that lasted about 30 seconds and maybe winning a starburst or, more likely, nothing at all. We left with big smiles on our faces having had a great time.

For the love of Peter, we will even put a dollar in a slot machine and laugh when we get no return on our investment.

So why is it that for a game on our smartphone we are willing to do anything and everything humanly possible to play a game without spending any money? I have seen people commiserate for twenty minutes over spending 99 cents on a game that everyone has told them is an amazing time and will take them a month to beat. Worse, if a person thinks a game is not as good as they expected, they will write a one-star review complaining that there is no way for them to get their dollar back. I have also watched as people play a game that gives them hours of entertainment and escape, but when a new bundle or level pack comes out, they will put the phone down in disgust saying “Well I’m not going to PAY for it.” They seem betrayed that someone would go and pitch, design and promote a game and then expect to get paid for their work. Unbelievable. The audacity!

So where is the disconnect? What psychology is at play here? Please educate me in the comments below.

Photo by Ben Neale on Unsplash