Worth and value (in WoW and beyond!)
Recently, Ms. Poisso over at WoWInsider posted a write-up regarding the nerfing of achievements and why she dislikes it.
She specifically references how ‘the Beloved‘ title was moved from the pre-5.1 requirement (and associated achievement) of requiring exalted status with 70 factions to now only requiring 60 exalted reputations. She’s “ticked off,” but not because the achievement is now less exclusive. She states that because “Blizzard later lower[ed] that cost, by definition, they’ve cheapened my widget. They’ve devalued something I felt was important, something I placed value on.”
Well, that’s sort of right, to the extent that the cost of the achievement/title was lowered and thus by definition ‘cheapened,’ but the conclusions she draws are incorrect. Let me explain…
On Value Systems, Stores, and Sales
I’m going to explain how value and worth are defined by using a more familiar setting: a regular old store. Let’s suppose that there exists in your town an electronics store that sells all things digital. Let’s call it Better Buy after my nearby electronics outlet. At this store they will have various products with various price tags. Each item with its corresponding price reflects what the item is worth to the store, i.e., it’s worth it for Better Buy to part with a close-to-the-top-of-the-line gaming laptop for $1800.
Now if I’m in the market for a close-to-the-top-of-the-line gaming laptop, I’m going to have a combination of wants and resources that I have to balance out as I shop around. In addition, I’m bringing my own, personal value/worth system. Now this isn’t as easy to see as the store’s as I don’t have a bunch of price tags in my bag, but it’s still there.
If I step into Better Buy, I’m going to see all their merchandise and what they value it at. Going to the laptop area, I might see a budget laptop for the low, low price of $300! While I have around $2000 to spend, I choose not to buy said budget machine because it doesn’t line up with my wants. Continuing on I see the super-deluxe-top-of-the-line laptop for $3000. Too much, unfortuantely… I look on.
I then am stopped in my tracks by the close-to-the-top-of-the-line gaming laptop for the reasonable price of $1800. I check out its specs and am pleased to find out that it lines up closely with what I was after. In addition, with its marked price, I can afford to buy it. Unconsciously my value system of the product is checked to see if I value this laptop at least as highly as Better Buy does. If I do, then that means that I want the product and agree that it’s worth at least $1800. Heck, maybe I’d even be willing to pay $2000 for the computer. If my personal value system doesn’t match, then I don’t buy the product as I think it’s priced too high or not suitably close-enough to my wants/desires.
Let’s suppose I’d be willing to pay my whole $2000 for the laptop, so I decide to purchase it. I take it home, set it up, install WoW, play, and am happy with my purchase. Not only that, I was under my original budget so I decide to bring home some great pizza and Crazy Bread from Little Cheeser’s to celebrate.
All is fine in the world until a fateful day next week when I get an email from Better Buy advertising my exact laptop on sale for $1200. My reaction is frustration, sadness, anger, because had I known, I would have waited a week to save an additional $600. I have a limited amount of dollars, to be sure, and I love to see each of them reach as far as possible.
Now if I were Ms. Poisso, after I see my laptop on sale and devalued/cheapened by the seller, I’d be ticked off. I’d be angry that the laptop I had so loved and valued is now no longer worth as much. But I’m not she – I hop on the computer, run a quick battleground and realize that my laptop hasn’t changed at all – I still love it! In other words, what has changed? Only one thing, how much the laptop is worth to that particular seller. It doesn’t matter why they decided to lower the price, it doesn’t matter if they were the manufacturer of the item, for whatever reason they decided that the laptop was worth less than it was before.
But this factor will have absolutely no effect on me unless the worth of the item to me is somehow attached to or dependent on the worth of the item to someone else.
Let’s move this back to achievements in WoW, now. Achievements can be viewed as the products that are available for sale in an electronics store – they all provide a certain amount of achievement points in addition to a few rarer rewards (titles, pets, mounts, etc.). This is what the player ‘gets’ when ‘purchasing’ one. But, like any economic transaction, there is a cost involved as well. For achievements this mainly comes in the amount of player’s time that has to be spent to earn the achievement. This is highly variable and truly well-associated with the rewards. Some 10-point achievements take seconds to earn, others take hours (or years even). Some are highly dependent on RNG, others are completely within a player’s control. A few require additional costs such as gold or mats in-game as well.
Now as I’m ‘shopping for achievements’ and looking through the interface to see what’s available I’m subconsciously checking Blizzard’s price tags (reward and cost system) against my own value system. For those achievements that are worth it to me, I spend time or other resources to earn. For those that either have too-high of cost or don’t provide desired benefits I pass over.
Thus, Blizzard devalued the cost of ‘the Beloved’ to them, and them alone. If this achievement, reward, and title were worth it for Ms. Poisso to spend her resources on when the cost was 70 exalted reputations, it’s illogical to assume that at 60 it wouldn’t also be worth it for her.
Her reasoning for why she dislikes achievement cost lowering (also called ‘nerfing’) simply doesn’t stand. It represents either a severe misunderstanding of cost/value systems or isn’t representative of her true feelings as for why it ticks her off.
The only reason I can come up with for legitimate anger over cost lowering comes when part of the reason you desire the item is for its high cost and exclusivity. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a fair reason to desire something and there are lots of real-world markets built up over offering exclusive items or services that are primarily just that – exclusive. There may be little to no distinction over the competition other than that one costs more or is more exclusive but these companies survive. That’s because many buyers value exclusivity and are willing to pay extra to stand out. It’s not part of my value system and I won’t get into the morality of it (if it’s a moral question) here, but it does exist.
I suspect that due to Ms. Poisso’s expressed frustration over this change, exclusivity might be more valuable to her in WoW achievements than she’s willing to admit.
So that’s all I had to say on that. Please don’t go around misconstruing value and worth, people. It also doesn’t hurt to be honest with yourself. Value and worth are personally defined and variable depending on circumstances and individual. The store’s price tag is only half of the equation. Feel free to point out any good counter-arguments or problems in my own understanding of this in the comments. Thanks!