Business Savvy vs Scammy Business

This was supposed to be a whole other blog post about One Year Ago – when the CCMBA Class of 2010D flew off to London all bright-eyed and full of wonder, not knowing the bitter trials and tribulations that would go with Discounted Cash-Flow analysis and Monte Carlo simulations.

I actually started writing that post, but as fond memories of debits, credits and failed attempts to get Partial Credit from the Financial Accounting final rushed into my brain, I decided to stop and check Facebook.

Just a bit under a year ago, as CCMBA 2010D was wrestling with Accounting Finals, the countdown timer edged closer to zero when – yegads! – the Learning Platform breaks down, preventing on-time exam submissions. Red flags are raised; the Bat Signal is fired up; Moscow rings Washington DC which promptly confirms with Durham NC to make sure that Armageddon is averted.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Shanghai, I go back to playing Mafia Wars.

I should have probably used that time more wisely and gone back through my answers, but this was at the tail-end of a 24 hour struggle against the forces of evil (the IASB and FASB). I was sleep deprived, and my body was going haywire on what has proven to not be the last of a string of caffeine overdoses.

At that point, I was physiologically incapable of caring any less – the more pressing goal was to reach for something less intellectually demanding, and more immediately gratifying. I needed to reach for… reach for Level 50.

So yeah, Facebook and Mafia Wars.

Funny thing is I haven’t touched that game, since. Or any other Facebook game for that matter… until I started putting things together for Ye Olde Blogge Poste, got sidetracked and decided to log on to Facebook. My current high-score on Bejeweled Blitz is 437,000.

The last 12 months of business education must have paid off, because I just felt myself getting increasingly bemused with the number of gimmicks thrown by these game companies left, right and center. First they pull you in with bright colors, happy-smiley cartoon figures and (again) immediate gratification via a proprietary delivery-system made up primarily by repetitive mouse-clicking…

And then they monetize it.

So, some things I’ve noticed before, but didn’t “really” take notice of:

1.)    Bundling dynamics. 5 golden coins for 5USD, or a power-up for 5 USD, or 5 golden coins AND a free power-up for the next 3 games for 10USD. Dan Ariely would be proud.

2.)    Free advertising and lead generation. Invite your friends! Free stuff! Brag about your new high-score! Free tokens. Just how cheap can lead generation get?

3.)    Low buy-in. Everyone’s got a marginal utility curve. You can buy an iPad for the 500USD you will have in 6 months, or you can buy Texas Hold’Em Poker chips for the 5USD you do have now. Equal happiness? Click! Cheap and immediate gratification.

4.)    Process flow analysis. You have 30 minutes ‘til your carrots are ready to harvest. Idle time? Thankfully you’ve got a whole link bar of other games, just above the fold. Don’t be a bottleneck! Click on them and make yourself useful for those next 30 minutes.

5.)    The Freemium concept. All levels are free to play for as long as you want. However, some of the bosses can only be defeated using super special weapons. Click here and buy now! Click! Cheap and immediate gratification.

Now, just to clarify, I find absolutely nothing wrong with the things I’ve mentioned above. It’s a business, and businesses are meant to make money. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with monetizing search (ask Google!), so there should be nothing fundamentally wrong with monetizing time wasting activities. Then again, my head might be confusing “wrong” with “illegal”.

I guess, the question now becomes is there a line between having acute business savvy and being a slimey, scummy 2.0 version of a snake oil salesman?

When does knowing how to make money out of other people’s psychological predilections for obsessive compulsive mouse-clicking turn into a vile and devious form of revenue management which depends on App emails telling people that someone’s got a crush on them?

Hey, it’s money!

People might not like you, but you can’t argue with success.

Seeing as I see nothing wrong with above-mentioned activities, should I even be thinking out loud?

Yeah, maybe. Someone email me, quick! I need to get some more ideas on monetizing leads and how to increase my own CTRs!!!