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Candy Crush Saga and the Erosion of the Middle Class

candy crush sagaFor those living under a rock, Candy Crush Saga is an incredibly popular and quite good free to play game where you match gams candy under various conditions, like taking certain jewels ingredients to the bottom of the board in a certain number of moves.Its free to play meaning you don’t have to pay a cent to play until you get to the  the insanely hard levels that populate it after awhile.  At that point, you will have to pay for buffs or extra moves/time/lives or be in for a painful play experience. While King.com, its developer, says 70% of the people on the final level never paid a cent, that 70% basically had to learn how to game the game  to do it.

But Candy Crush Saga is only the tip of the iceberg of free to play games, games which free to play but uses various psychological tricks to get to get you pay. While I could spend this entire article talking about how games like Monopoly Hotels and Beat the Boss aren’t really games at all but rather cash machines for greedy developers, I won’t.

Instead I’m going to argue that the rise of the free to play gaming system is rather a symptom of this:

Low wage workers strike in NYC

The rise of free to play gaming is actually a symptom of the erosion of the middle class in the United States. 50 years 61% of adults were middle class, now 51% are. Right now wealth is more unequal since the Guided Age of the 1890s. Low wage workers across the nation are striking because they can’t afford to survive anymore  Even Walmart, which had a food drive for its own employees,  is beginning to realize its profits depends on people having money to spend.

At first glance, there is no direct correlation between free to play gaming and the erosion of the middle class. In fact, it would be nearly impossible for me to paint a direct correlation without doing serious research for months and writing a several hundred page book. Still, there is some sense to this on the surface.

Gaming is not an essential purchase. One can do without it. As more more and people balk at the high price tag of consoles and $60 games, they’ll naturally gravitate towards lower priced games, namely free ones. However, free to play games are not free to develop, therefore developers have to resort to using shady tactics to make money. In essence, games like Candy Crush Saga are the direct result of a downward pressure on gaming prices, which while nobody will say it publicly, I believe its because its the result of people not having the money to throw around anymore.

Even despite the free-to-play tactics, only 1-5% of free to play game players monetize, forcing game developers to rely on “whales,” or taking advantage of people’s addictions. We can debate the ethics all day(and I fall on the side of its disgusting) but the gaming industry in a sense has been forced to into this model to survive.

Poor people were never really able to afford expensive gaming consoles and games. It was middle-class millennial kids and teens with large amounts of disposable income who could(AAA gaming is aimed at teens for a reason, they have the disposable income to spend on gaming). But these millennials are now adults and not making nearly as much as their parents did. And as they marry and have kids, they may spend money on games for their children. Except the cost of raising a child is rising at an alarming rate. Combined with lower wagers overall, guess who is not buying a $500 Xbox one and the games necessary for Microsoft to make money?

The console of the 1%

The Xbox One is the console of the 1%. The PS4 is not far behind though.

 

Now the PS4 had a great launch and the Xbox One did alright for having a $500 price tag, but I question whether in six to eight months we won’t be seeing a giant nose dive in sales as the sheer number of people who can and will afford a console at original launch price  peters out. Remember that earlier this year, the game industry was in dire straights, with a major publisher going bankrupt and the WII U is a failure. The forces behind gaming’s woes haven’t shifted just with the launch of two new consoles (although evidence points to Nintendo’s woes being of its own making). Still, consider that Microsoft is heavy using free to play game tactics. Is Microsoft being greedy, or is Microsoft using these tactics to extract more money out of a fewer number of players? While I personally believe its the former as I ditched the 360 after my last one broke because I didn’t want to spend $70 on an Xbox live subscription in order to be advertised to all day, the latter could very well also be a factor as well.

King could jack up the price to $30 with none of the shenanigans, but who will pay that much anymore.

King.com could jack up the price to $15+ with none of the shenanigans, but the game would fail.

Again, I can’t really make a direct correlation as its all circumstantial. But the circumstances is what gives my theory weight. Which is more likely, people not willing to throw $30 at a mobile game as good as its 3ds counterpart, or people just don’t have the money to throw $30 upfront anymore?  Games are not immune to economic forces and therefore must respond to a player-base with less money to throw around. But developers need to get paid regardless.

At this intersection lies the free to play game, games which have to be free to get the largest number of people playing, but have to actually make money. While we’d love to blame greed(and there are some cases), the real answer probably lies with an industry responding to a poorer player base and their own to need to pay their workers and make their investors money.

All I can say is play the free-to-play games that respect the player and deliver an actual game(like Candy Crush Saga, Temple Run 2, and Plants Vs Zombies 2, which is from Monopoly Hotels developer EA mobile no less) and if you can afford it, throw the developers a few dollars now and  then, they need to eat too.

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