Saturday, August 27, 2011

More standard of living and video games

In my last post I made the point that video games have gotten super cheap and vividly more complex, but I don't think I hit home just how that factors into the cost of living. I showed that prices on console games had fallen by 40 percent in some cases, comparing the cost of a modern Xbox 360 game to a technically-inferior original Nintendo game.

A Nintendo Entertainment System game from 1987 - prices around $100 in 2010 dollars - is somewhat comparable in quality to a $1 mobile phone game. The graphics will be better today, and instead of buying a console, a lot of consumers will already have the phone. In effect, the smart phone could be considered a $0 console for some consumers.

Now here's a little J. Bradford Delong to get the mental gears turning:

But what if we took some other set of prices? Instead of taking a representative sample of everything produced in 1890, stuffing it into a time machine, bringing it forward to today, selling it; suppose we took a representative sample of everything produced today, stuffed it into a time machine, took it back to 1890, and sold it then at the prices that then prevailed?

Then we would have a very different answer, for a large chunk of what is produced now was unavailable back in 1890. It has a very high - in many cases an infinite - price.
When I was in high school, I remember seeing The Toy starring Richard Pryor on television and realizing that the spoiled rich kid in 1982 with his room full of arcade cabinets could never compete with my Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Channeling my own J. Bradford Delong, imagine a 10-year-old game like Halo set up in a LAN, with 16 player matches. What would that be worth to the Pac-Man and Donkey Kong crowd of the early 1980's? How about next month's Gears of War 3 and five on five deathmatches? Aristotle Onassis was able to finance the Olympic Tower in the 1970's, but the cost of one game of Horde 2.0 would have been too much for him - the price would have been infinite.

The improvements to the standard of living for video game is not tenfold, or even a thousandfold. It is so absurdly high it is impossible to quantify.

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