When Money Is The Biggest Motivator

Motivation is finishing the raid before your wife yells at you to get to bed

Motivation is finishing the raid before your wife yells at you to get to bed

It’s been proven that money is a poor motivator. Wait, let me caveat that. When it comes to motivating people into doing mindless, repetitive, physical tasks, money works perfectly well. Give someone more cash for every rock they shift or hamburger they flip and, lo and behold, they shift more rocks and flip more burgers. But when it comes to intelligent, cognitive and creative tasks, money is utterly worthless at a motivator. Once someone has enough cash to live decently (and reach the final stage in the hierarchy of Maslow’s needs if you want to get all brain sciency about it), then they look for other factors to motivate them, namely things like autonomy, mastery and purpose. This is why companies like Google give their employees a ‘free’ day each week to do with as they please and why the team at Bethesda made practically a whole new, better version of Skyrim when given a free week to do so as they wished after it launched.

And why am I saying all of this? Well, I guess it just kinda annoys me when I see people trying to use money as a means to satisfy themselves – it’s contrary to everything we know about behavioural science and, frankly, seems kinda backwards to me. Whilst I know that the process of earning cash can give a big adrenaline boost, personally I think the resulting satisfaction and sense of accomplishment is short lived and ultimately hollow. In fact, pretty much anything of worth in, well, ever has been created through the desire to learn and accomplish rather than the desire to earn cold, hard cash. For all of the greatest achievements in life, money has come as a side effect rather than from an explicit purpose. Even in the technology world, icons like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were never motivated by money. Love them or hate them, cash was not their primary motivator.

I suppose I get frustrated at the corporate world of today when money becomes the sole motivator behind projects and, unfortunately, this attitude seems to be seeping into the gaming world, especially MMORPGs. Ironically as much as World of Warcraft opened up the industry to the mass markets, it’s success also put enough blood in the water to draw the money sharks from miles away. Suddenly, MMOs were proven to not just be a popular gaming genre but also a stupidly lucrative one. Now we get MMOs not being made for dozens of millions of dollars and the concept of modest long-term profitability but being financed for hundreds of millions of dollars and the concept massive, short-term profit. And as such, the creativity of our games is suffering.

Of course, as someone running a small business myself, I completely understand and appreciate the need to generate profit. However, I also sometimes feel like one of the few sane people on the planet who thinks that generating enough money to provide a good and comfortable (hell even very comfortable) living for everyone involved is enough and that the satisfaction of doing so through producing high quality, well crafted products should be the primary motivator. Isn’t it about time that we realised that there’s more to life than making money?

So I get sad when I see news like Blizzard laying off 600 employees. This from a company that’s generating hundreds of millions of dollars profit a year. Call me a dirty commie but it seem rather… strange?… unfair?… perverse?… that so many people will lose their jobs in order to maintain a high profit margin. Ironically, it’s also us – the customer – who’s going to suffer as the quality of service and speed of development decreases because there are fewer staff to meet our demands. Downward spiral anyone? Again, I refer to my earlier point about short-term, high profit thinking.

I won’t even go down the route of suggesting that had Blizzard been able to keep up a faster release cycle, subscription numbers wouldn’t have dropped so much recently but I won’t. How they choose to develop their games is up to them and all I can say is that it’s a shame that the people behind the business are putting money before all else. If they’re going to accept that Blizzard is incredibly slow at not only releasing new games but also maintaining their existing ones (i.e. expansions for WoW and SC2), then they should put their money with their mouth is and prize this perfectionist attitude above all else. Not cull hundreds of jobs just so their own tardiness doesn’t effect the bottom line of their quarterly reports.


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  1. mynsc says:

    Just because Blizzard is generating a nice yearly profit, this doesn’t mean they should over-staff a department, just because they can afford it.

    A lot of the customer service systems have been automated in the last few years and people have less and less reasons to contact support (just think how many tickets were being generated by raid leaders giving loot to the wrong person), not to mention that WoW has 2 million less users, so it really does make all the sense in the world to re-calibrate the customer service team.

    D3 has also probably gone gold by now and it will enter a new phase of post-launch production, so I’m thinking there is some re-organizing to be done there too.

    In the end, with more agile teams, they can focus on hiring more developers where it’s needed, helping them produce quality games faster.

    You’re also contradicting yourself a bit in the last two paragraphs. If their view would be only about short-term, high-profit thinking, like you’re suggesting in the first paragraph, then why would they go for a slow release cycle? A money hungry company that cares more about the short-term profit than the quality of its product would have launched D3 last year, with no second thoughts. Would that have been a better move for us, the customers? I doubt it.

    And not sure I even agree with being slow at releasing content… WoW had one expansion and 3 major content patches in the course of a year and several months later we’re already very close to a new expansion, with beta probably just around the corner. And the content produced is higher in quality than most, if not all, MMOs.

    • Gordon says:

      I just find it odd that when profit in companies start to drop, they start cutting back… surely then it’s the time to push more and try to increase revenue rather than turtle and kill customer service? Plus, are the salaries of 600 people really going to make a noticeable dent in the bottom line of a business like Blizzard? I now companies are driven by profit but I can’t help but feel a bad taste in mouth when I see stuff like this happening. It makes me like the company less and feel less inclined to support them through sales.

      • Windpaw says:

        Something that a lot of people forget is that part of business is centered around reducing costs. That’s why so many jobs are moving overseas and why companies like Blizzard will turn to employees that are historically seen as “disposable” when things start downturn a little.

        I totally agree with you. As much as I understand why layoffs like this occur – I don’t like it – I don’t like supporting companies that do it (particularly when it feels like they really shouldn’t have to.)

        Seeking Alpha has an interesting article about the layoffs and why they’re a “positive” thing for Blizzard and the folks that buy stock:


  2. bhagpuss says:

    I’ve long wondered how much sense it makes for video-game companies to be in the service industry at all. MMOs are a freakish anomaly in that they not only take many years to bring to market but after they launch the developer has to move into an open-ended service contract with the customers. Sony can’t possibly have imagined in 1999 when they kicked Everquest out the door that they’d still have day-to-day responsibility for it in 2012.

    I sometimes think you can sense the impatience of big gaming companies to be shot of older MMOs regardless of their profitability so they can get on and concentrate on something new. Even smaller companies that specialize in MMOs, like CCP, Jagex and Aventurine sometimes look twitchy and frustrated with the difficulty they have moving their customer-base on to the next product.

    It might make more sense for separate companies whose specialty is customer service to license the operation of MMOs from the video game companies that produce them. Which, of course, already happens widely in the F2P and browser market.

    • Anonymous says:

      The European version of DAOC, run by GOA, is a fine example of why having a third party operate your MMO is a bad idea.

    • Gordon says:

      “It might make more sense for separate companies whose specialty is customer service to license the operation of MMOs from the video game companies that produce them”

      I had some terrible experiences with this when Mythic outsourced all of their European operations for both DAOC and then Warhammer Online. The result was just terrible customer service and slow patches as ultimately the local supplier was unable to match the technical knowledge of the original developers.

  3. ScytheNoire says:

    This is because the company now is owned by Activision who solely cares about profit and appeasing the shareholders, most of whom are probably not gamers.

    This is the new Blizzard. They care about nothing but getting your money. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll even buy another Blizzard game. I’m kind of fed up with them.

    My opinion: the best games are made by companies who don’t have to answer to Wall Street, but rather can focus on what they do best, making great games. This is why private funding and avoiding unneeded big publishers like EA and Activision is the way to go today if you want to make a great game.

  4. Milady says:

    “it’s also us – the customer – who’s going to suffer as the quality of service and speed of development decreases because there are fewer staff to meet our demands.” Actually, it’s the support team who is getting culled, so there is really no repercussion in the games per se.

    It’s a dire situation, and really sad, considering that, despite the loss of subscribers, Blizzard hasn’t but increased its profits by selling these passes and virtual items. I’ve got a few friends working there who tell me that the atmosphere has got really tense since the announcement. Only in Cork, 230+ people will get fired, out of 800. 1 in 4 people will lose their job, and as it is now with the employment laws, they will receive a meagre compensation and enter a market that cannot take them in. Yes, the business world is this cruel, but I wasn’t expecting this from Blizzard, to be honest. The company that valued teamwork and compromise above all (at least that’s what they tell their employees).

  5. Pathak says:

    Maybe Blizzard should take a note from their own story arc.

    When your planet habours a dark evil, not matter how much you think you are the gaoler, no matter how much you think you’ve distanced yourself, and no matter how much you think it won’t change you…. it will change you, it will devour your soul, it will eat you from the inside and you will become.

    Blizzard-Activision, say hello to your dark stranger, Activision. It’s cutting you.

  6. Azuriel says:

    Even in the technology world, icons like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were never motivated by money. Love them or hate them, cash was not their primary motivator.

    Oh, please.

    If Gates and Zuckerberg were not motivated by money, they would not be billionaires. Want to know someone who wasn’t motivated by money? Jonas Salk. He had the chance to patent the polio vaccine and become the richest man in the world, perhaps ever. Instead, he made it public domain. “There is no patent. Can you patent the sun?” That is a man not motivated by money.

    Let’s see Windows open up as an operating system. Let’s see a Facebook not selling years worth of your personal data to the highest bidder. Otherwise, I call BS.

    • Klepsacovic says:

      One vaccine, opened to the world, will save lives, permanently. One version of one operating system, opened to the world, is no longer generating revenues and no longer getting the funding to be updated, stagnating and becoming of no use to anyone until it is replaced by the profit-based operating system which has the funding to be updated and expanded.

      • Azuriel says:

        Of course! There has never been an open-source operating system, or open standards, or non-profit companies doing quality work. Nevermind Linux, Firefox, Wikipedia, Open Office, and so on. Silly me, must have forgotten.

        Capitalism and profit and whatever is fine. Just don’t conflate Gates and Zuckerberg as some kind of working man paragons, who really didn’t care about the billions they possess. I’m glad the Gates Foundation is off combating disease in Africa, but in the aggregate can you imagine how much capital would have been freed up by turning over that 85% Windows market share?

        • Gordon says:

          Unfortunately the sad truth is Open Office is dead, Firefox is getting killed by Chrome, Wikipedia is a charity that relies on donations to survive and Linux is so fractured that it will never be able to compete against Windows or Mac OS.

      • Gordon says:

        Sadly, I pretty much have to agree with this. It’s why the iPhone is a much better device than any Android phone.

    • Gordon says:

      I disagree, I think Gates and Zuckerberg were primarily motivated by their creations. I mean, Zuck not only passed up an original offer of $1billion for Facebook soon after it launched but then another $15billion bid by Microsoft. That’s not the actions of a guy motivated by cash alone. Like him or not, he had a vision for his product and no amount of money could get in his way.

  7. Kelindia says:

    I’m kind of tossed up on this issue. While I recognize that a company’s job is to be profitable I can’t help but feel that long term viability requires you to put the game first before money.

    What I want to know is why Blizzard didn’t significantly upgrade their hardware when they released Cataclysm. It was the perfect time to bring in supercomputers and potentially double the size of their zone wide pvp matches for one thing. We’d have better graphics additionally too but Blizzard cheaped out on us. WoW can barely handle 100 people fighting in one zone. Eve can handle over 1000 easily. Guild Wars 2 is expected to host battles around 300 people almost double WoW’s.

    Secondly on a speed of content Rift has output 7 major patches in a year. While these patches aren’t as polished, they have featured more content then WoW has overall. I can imagine being 20 times the size of Rift means you only get polish. If WoW was smart they would take a look at Rift’s content and steal the master mode dungeons, the zone events and the world event’s for new content. Chronicles would also be welcomed for WoW, as well as a Martydom BG.

    When you are making decisions that things are fine and good enough it’s only a matter of time until something better comes along to compete with you.

    • Gordon says:

      I can’t but feel that Blizzard, Activision or whomever, is resting on their laurels with WoW and content to just let is slowly die and make as much money as they can in the process. Why boost their development team and up their expansion and patch rate when they can just sit back, cull staff, and bring in large profits for doing very little? Makes me sad.

      • Wolfshead says:

        Exactly what I have been saying for the past few years but still weak minded people are foolish enough to keep playing WoW.

        All the “A” talent at Blizzard — if you can even call them that — are working on Titan. WoW is in cash cow mode. You’ll never see an ounce of innovation or boldness from WoW. Instead, they continue to bribe players with outlandish gimmicks like free mounts.

        But honestly Gordon, Blizzard has always been about the money. I’m not even a “famous spitfire pilot” but I’ve known that for years now. Glad you finally saw the light old chap :)

  8. vortalism says:

    Actually to put this into a new light, have you considered that Blizzard just can’t keep up with the amount of employees that they have. Once they were a mighty pillar of the MMO world 12 Million Subscribers…They still are pretty awesome but loosing that portion of their player base has probably made them rethink their decisions especially in Cataclysm, where they tried to reach out to an younger audience by going back to their old cycle of making it “more hardcore” which obviously failed miserably. They now realize that the MMO world doesn’t need them and that is why Mists of Panderia is how it is. They did this to satisfy not the new people but the people who are still here. So essentially they are at “Pray for the best, plan for the worst” so you can’t consider the loss of those jobs as something that Blizzard does in it’s arrogance to think they can pull themselves on top by discarding these jobs (which I definitely feel for :( ). So you have to think about it from this perspective: they are changing their mindset to focus on what they have and not what they want anymore and thus some sacrifices had to be made (unfortunately).

    • vortalism says:

      Did I mention that Mists of Panderia is bringing back a very obscure part of the Warcraft mythos which nobody but Warcraft fans would give a hoot about. Also many of the things they have done are these features that the players truly want (or at least that my friends and I want ;) ). Also with the Panderans and the return to a Warcraft 2 style Horde vs Alliance hoe-down this is not trying to cater to the new fans anymore.

      So just some food for thought.

      • Evlyxx says:

        Blizzard catered to the minority at the beginning of Cataclysm with hard heroics, challenging content and a healing model that wasn’t mindless spamming of quick powerful heals. They have since retracted that and in favor of a Wrath style of play to cater to the masses, don’t think for a moment they’re not catering to the masses their profits and the future of the game depend on it.

        • vortalism says:

          The masses that continue to play their game are being catered to with Mists of Panderia. Cataclysm didn’t work because people didn’t want this and Blizzard realized what went wrong.

          They can’t attract new people to WoW by going back to how they handled the heroics. They lost out on the potential new players and accumulated fans that liked the game as it was.

          This still doesn’t mean they aren’t doing it for money but they trying to make money off the players that are still there instead of attracting newer players. By using the things that the players who are still sticking to this game want they can keep the steady flow of profits. A new strategy for making money with WoW rather than trying to attract more people for potential bigger profits.

          That won’t work for them anymore. There is a certain point in every game’s life where they have to re-assess what is more essential to the continued success of their game. The reason Blizzard is catering to the masses for profits is because that works. That is what worked before and what might work in the future. Instead of a strategy where they attract more people to grow their player base even more.

          So I don’t think that I don’t believe that Blizzard isn’t doing this for cash, I definitely do. It’s how they are doing this to gain their money.

  9. shipwreck says:

    I think your assessment of money as a motivator is a fair one insofar as it has been proven the spiritually/ethically/psychologically we don’t _need_ (and ‘normal’ people don’t really want) lots and lots of money. However it has been shown that the Wall Street, high risk, obsessively corporate personality type has a deep, deep need to make more and more money. I’m sure there have been hundreds of dissertations written on the ‘why’ of it so I’ll leave that to the experts.

    Bottom line, corporate capitalism is about making as much money as possible. Corporations don’t live with a moral code or compassion, they live by the bottom line. So even if there are good people in the corporate world (which there are) they are either stymied by the system or unable, for one reason or another, to act on those impulses to run their companies with a little more care and concern for its employees and, hell, customers.

    I see a similar thing rising up with my beloved LOTRO. Since the takeover by WB the F2P store has taken a larger and larger role in the game and, while this has meant more money for the company and thusly more content, it has also presented some situations where it seems more and more apparent that the game is moving towards that bottom line and away from its fanbase. It hasn’t _directly_ affected the actual gameplay but it feels as though the swarm of shitbirds is circling around the largely untouched gameworld proper (ie. orcs are surrounding the Shire; I’m not confident that the Rangers will keep them away).

    So, bottom line is that whether or not guys like us, who would like to see games made for the sake of good games or art made for the sake of good art, have a say, when the corporate wheels start turning it becomes all about those dollar signs (er, pound signs?). I could write a doctoral thesis on the irony of this as it applies to LotRO but I’ll save that for another time.

    • Gordon says:

      I think the motivation factor is fair in that it only describes tasks that are cognitive or creative. You could probably argue that the guys on Wall Street aren’t really doing anything intelligent or creative and thus are easily motivated by cash.

  10. Snafzg says:

    As an aside, this is why I laugh whenever I hear conservatives screaming as loudly as they can “Corporate tax cuts create jobs!!!” And yet companies with billion dollar annual/quarterly profits continually lay off their workers.

    I’m not suggesting that having an bloated and inefficient workforce is okay if you’re making a profit, but aren’t there ways to strategically re-organize or re-align so that you keep those people working and become more efficient at the same time? That way, everyone wins…

  11. Reliquary says:

    And welcome to corporate America. I understand the economy is not is the best shape. I understand companies might be making less money. What I dont’ understand is companies are either doing layoffs and no pay raises, while at the same time the cost of living and goods is still increasing. This in turns leads to less consumers to purchase causing less sales causing… well you get the picture. My wife had to take a $4000 pay cut this year because of her jobs restructuring but did the Big Wigs at corporate take a cut to their bonuses or salary.. probably not. At my job we didnt’ get a pay increase but they said on the upside they will keep monthly/yearly bonuses. Lets see I dont’ get a monthly bonus and the yearly one for a regular joe is a joke. Why? It all has to do with those Big Wigs again they get salary, they put it into stocks and bonds and IRA etc to avoid taxes. Therefore they use their bonuses as their actual income and would be the reason the government taxed bonuses by 50%. Then you have the companies that fire a $60,000 a year employee saying the position isn’t needed, throws the work on his buddy also at $60,00. Then they say he doesn’t have the qualifications of the new position and let him got. Now they hire a new employee at $40,000 to do the same job as the two. Quality goes down, and profits go up. You can only go so far with profits before somebody or something breaks.

  12. Stabs says:

    It seems cynical to me. I don’t really know the operational arguments but it’s a shame the company doesn’t try harder to keep people. It’s like every other business in a society with a glut of labour, it doesn’t need to try and it doesn’t even need to retain staff as there will be loads of excellent candidate for every job.

    Stories like this just make me pine for the days when unemployment was a fifth of what it is now and companies worried about losing good staff.

  13. Edwin says:

    Really nowadays money is the important one for all human beings and its motivating the people in all situations. I agree your points and well written post also. Thanks for sharing this valuable information with us.

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