Office Space

Office Space
All Work and No Play?

Richard Aihoshi | 30 May 2006 08:01
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Although not having anything to do with Li, another interesting type of sale involves power-leveled characters. You create a newbie of whatever race and class combination you like, pay about $250 and provide access to the account. Three weeks later, during which time you can't use the account, not even to play another character, your puny level 1 is now a powerful level 60. It's not as quick as buying someone else's level 60 character, but it's less expensive and a tiny bit more personal.

Many online gamers are vociferously disdainful about all the participants in such transactions: The original sellers, the middlemen and the final purchasers. Nonetheless, millions of people now play MMOGs. Even if only a small minority is willing to pay cash for virtual gold and characters, they still represent a sizable market. It has been calculated that the size of the virtual economy in a popular title exceeds those of many small countries. Although only a portion actually gets monetized, it's certainly enough to support many individuals like Li, who lives in a part of the world where making a few dollars a day is enough to live on.

The line between work and play may be even fuzzier when it comes to poker, which has skyrocketed in popularity during the past few years. Most people who have started or returned to playing are like Lee. They play as a form of recreation. Naturally, everyone wants to win. Some even study to improve their chances. However, they don't depend on poker for their livelihoods. In fact, quite a few people continue to play even though they're losers over the long term. It's impossible not to win once in a while, so an element of reinforcement theory undoubtedly applies. Occasional rewards, especially when received on an irregular schedule, tend to perpetuate the associated behavior. Another consideration is that some people don't really mind losing, provided the amounts aren't particularly significant relative to the enjoyment and other subjective rewards they receive.

For an example we can look at a Texan named Andy Beal. Several times over the past couple of years he has challenged a group of the world's very best players, collectively known as The Corporation. If you play poker or even just watch it on TV, you'll know names like Doyle and Todd Brunson, Phil Ivey, Ted Forrest, Jennifer Harman and Howard Lederer to be among the poker elite. Beal plays them heads-up, one at a time. The game is Limit Hold 'Em, a variation where the size of the bets is predetermined, not the better-known No Limit where you can bet all the money you have on the table at any time. Nonetheless, since they play with blinds (mandatory bets) as high as $100,000, the amounts won and lost can be substantial. Overall, the pros, who pool their funds and rotate different players in and out, are well ahead by perhaps $10 to $15 million. So far, that hasn't deterred the amateur Beal, whose net worth may exceed $1 billion.

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