When Money Is The Biggest Motivator
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.