Micropayments for an Active Fantasy Life

November 22nd, 2008

Did you know you get a new mount when you run those last three ALTERs in the frozen north? – Peter Norby

I’ve been following Andy’s experiments into pricing of Mechanical Turk (MTurk) jobs. He found that he had to pay $0.50 per to get someone to upload a photo of themselves. Which I find both interesting and puzzling given that my day job is largely about coping with folks uploading many (sometimes too many) photos of themselves, sometimes for free, sometimes paying for the privilege to do so.

MTurk therefore seems to create a problematic context for incentivising people, due, we can assume, to the largely unmotivating nature of small cash payments. Within the MTurk context the only way to increase the incentive is to increase the financial reward. Besides being boring, it also overlooks that this is not true in the wider world.

World of Warcraft has proven that people are willing to pour days and days of time into tasks, menial and complex, for significantly less tangible rewards: “gold”, prestige within imaginary organizations, vanity items for paper dolls. For example, a common daily quest might take a skilled player 15-20 minutes each day for which they will receive 10 gold (10g). Calculating a generous exchange rate (which exist only as black market) we get a rate of 0.5 cents per gold. For 15-20 minutes time a worker is receiving 5 cents worth of compensation.

There are a number of possible routes where this thinking could take you, informing how you design reward and compensation systems, and how MTurk should evolve.

But for me what this suggests is that Blizzard’s true business model should be to waive their monthly subscription fee on Warcraft, and instead sell folks with HITs (human intelligence tasks) to be completed the necessary access to manufacture compensation within WoW (gold, items, rep, achievements, and titles), with Blizzard acting as the brokers to control the market, manage inflationary forces, and create gold sinks to keep demand high, and therefore a supply of HIT workers.

The real problem with micropayments is that they’re trying to pay with real money, and money just isn’t as exciting as gold and a murloc costume.

update 2011/4/3: I still want a digital murloc costume, and I’m willing to work for it.

4 responses to “Micropayments for an Active Fantasy Life”

  1. Julien says:

    More generally, I’ve always thought mechanical turk (despite a very bad name…) could be a wonderful tool for developing countries. Your WoW approach could be very interesting : our kids would be $1 to get one other kids gold in a developing couutry. The western countries kid’s $1 is nothing compared to what it is for the little boy in Tchad, or Cambodia!

  2. Sam McDonald says:

    From what I have seen on Mechanical Turk, it makes very little sense for any American to do any work. Most jobs that I found would earn me much less than minimum wage. With this in mind I am very surprised with the amount of American looking people in Andy’s pictures.

  3. comapring WOW to MTurk is apple and oranges specifically in Andys experiment. The X-Factor is privacy not price of labor. granted when ppl have ‘gold fever’ they might not care about revealing their true identity and would do anything, but it would be interesting to test out in the side alley of a black market.

    Definitely agree about Blizzards strategy. I’m in Like With You is ramping up to do just that and has the potential to be succcesful.

  4. gus says: