“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it… gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
– Milton Friedman
Hello and welcome to another Free To Play. The recent entries in this series have been using examples from gaming to illustrate major points of libertarian thought, and today, I want to go straight for the jugular. I’m going to be using two very unpopular items: Call of Duty and the free market. While I certainly have a deep love for the latter, in the interest of proper disclosure, I will state that I am NOT a fan Call of Duty, and I will try and keep things level. Sure, I could make a joke about how Call of Duty is the gaming equivalent of “Copy and Paste: The Series” or how the only colors CoD developers believe in are “50 Shades of Brown”, but I’m above such talk. The free market also gets a bad rap, but I could go on for days about why it isn’t bad. However, today I want to discuss why Call of Duty proves that the market works. I know, it sounds weird on its face. I use something I hate to explain something I support? Beyond that, how can something that is so universally reviled as Call of Duty prove the market works?
That’s just the problem. Call of Duty is not universally reviled, in fact it’s downright celebrated in many circles. One of the things I love about Gaming Rebellion is that we are a collection of diverse gamers. No two of us have the same favorite game ever, or have the same lists of games we’re excited for. If you are a gamer with friends who game, you know there is one friend who seems to only play Call of Duty. Instead of having a bevy of upcoming games they’re excited about, all they care about is the next annual Brown of… I mean Call of Duty. All they want to play is CoD, and they couldn’t care less about anything else. Annoyingly, many of these CoD players seem to think that “hardcore gamers” by definition have to be deeply into CoD. They are, of course, as wrong as the people who seemed to believe Obama deserved a Nobel Peace Prize, but I digress. The CoD only gamers exist, and they are legion.
That’s not to say that the only people who buy and enjoy CoD are those “CoD or nothing” gamers. The fact is that Call of Duty is a multimedia powerhouse, and the numbers speak for themselves. Call of Duty: Black Ops II, one of the best rated of the entire series, was until the release of Grand Theft Auto V, the highest single day release of any media ever. Any media. Think about that for a bit. This means that out of all kinds of media – games, movies, music, books etc – nothing had ever had a release day as profitable as Black Ops II. What’s very interesting is that while GTA V took its crown a year later, that would mark the first time in 5 years that a CoD title didn’t break the media release day record. In the US alone, release day saw the sale of 7.5 million copies, grossing $5oo million. To put it in perspective, with its average price of $400 this means that in one day, Black Ops II sold enough to pay for all the Playstation 4s that have been sold in its home country of Japan since launch.
So there is obviously a large pool of consumers who want to purchase the newest CoD game and want to do it on the launch day, and that’s okay (although I am not one of them). However, the beauty of the free market is that nobody tells me I have to buy CoD, or that others aren’t allowed to. Within a week of the release of CoD Black Ops II, we also saw the release of Epic Mickey 2 and New Super Mario Bros U, which have very very little in common with Black Ops II. Of course, these weren’t the only games released that week, or even that month, but it shows that gamers of all stripes had a variety of new games for their chosen systems that week. There were niches of all types that catered to the vast majority of gamers. Even today, on a week that the newest iteration of the CoD series releases, most gamers can find a release of some sort that scratches their proverbial itch.
That is the true strength of a free market. In a market that is allowed to flourish on its own, without needless government intervention, the items available cater to a wider array of tastes. Instead of being forced to accept only one type because there are no other options or because the majority favors it, we are allowed to choose the option that we prefer, regardless of the choices of others. We’re not bound by the “tyranny of the majority” that so ruins pure democracy. While of course the choices of others does impact what options remain available, the sheer fact that you can choose from the options however you want without pressure or even force from others is a powerful argument for the free market.
So how does this involve CoD further? Simple: CoD proves that the market best responds to the actual demands of consumers. I know that many of us gamers, whether intentional or not, tend to operate in a vacuum chamber around our gaming preferences. The fact remains that many people love CoD. People that may not even consider themselves gamers will nevertheless be found forking over their $60 for the annual
rehash release each and every year. Instead of going by what the internet gaming community may scream about Call of Duty being “not worth the money”, the market allows those who like the game the opportunity to buy it in droves. Though the argument over who’s truly a “hardcore” gamer will never end, gamers on both sides can seek out the games they actually want to play and buy them, without ever once having a game they dislike rammed down their throats. While the others are buying CoD, I can happily buy an RPG or platformer or whatever else I want without having to buy CoD because the majority of people that day preferred it.
Despite all the vitriol and flack, however deserving, thrown at CoD and its fans by others, the market still allows them to have their place, which economics call a “niche.” I know it seems like forever ago, but think back to when CoD was the only
50 shades of brown ‘realistic’ modern military FPS out there. Though it was a small market then, there were gamers who desired this style and the market adjusted. What was originally a small group of titles has become a multimedia powerhouse that breaks sales records left and right, and all because the market adjusted to the rise of gamers who want such titles. There was no top-down direction that caused this, but rather it was a change from the bottom up. Consumers made their choice about what kind of games they wanted, and the game companies responded because they like making money.
This is part of what many call “order from chaos,” and part of what makes the market work so well. Instead of having to work within the rigid confines of a set order, the market adapts to the tides of consumer preferences by providing the items that people want. However, nothing about there being an obvious high seller means that other titles are nowhere to be found. At the same time thousands were lining up at midnight to grab the new CoD, you might have been on Steam picking up a new indie platformer or on the WiiU eShop downloading a Virtual Console classic. Because there are so many different tastes out there the market has to adapt and provide for many of these varying tastes or the companies lose out on those customers’ money.
Now, of course the market is far from perfect. Some tastes will never find even a niche title, and that’s to be expected. But let’s take a look at just how niche titles can get, focusing on just the Steam platform alone. Want a roguelike in space? Try FTL. Want a horror themed classic adventure game? Try Organ Trail. Want a post-apocalyptic RPG? If you want a traditional RPG try Fallout 1/2 or Wasteland 1/2. If you’d prefer that game with a FPS structure then you can play Fallout 3 or New Vegas. And those are just titles that were discounted the week I wrote this article. All of those varied games – among a few thousand of their competitors – means that nearly every gamer can find games that they will enjoy, often for a cheap price.
This brings us back to the original topic, Call of Duty. The game shows how the market works because the thousands and thousands who eagerly await each annual release shows that the market works because the game that more people – gamers and non gamers alike – seem to want is the one that sells the best. While it may not always be the highest rated game of that year, and in fact is usually not, even when it does break sales records, it still is sold in large quantities because the demand is still high. Despite all of the internet commenters – and I have most certainly been one of them – who decry CoD each year, there is nothing stopping others from buying the game. Playing right back into Friedman’s quote at the beginning, the market allows gamers to have the games they want to play, instead of what other gamers believe they ought to play. Does anyone really want a gaming world where we have to submit to the “tyranny of the majority” about what games we choose to play?
Ironically, CoD’s success proved that the market can adapt further by allowing avenues that people may not even be aware they want to tread. The runaway success of Call of Duty led to the development of actual realistic first person military shooters such as America’s Army and Arma, which allowed gamers who desired a more simulator style approach to the standard formula to play a game that suits their tastes. The market’s response to the CoD breakout allows a whole new genre to develop with no outside force besides people buying the games. Whole new games and game types come about simply because there is a demand and the market has an opening for someone to meet that demand. Because there is money to be made, developers will seek out the areas of highest demand, or of demand that has the least options for satisfying it, and us gamers will be better off for it.
This comes right back to the famous quotation from the father of capitalism himself, Adam Smith, as quoted in the image below. Call of Duty proves that the market works because a large portion of gamers are given the product they want by a company whose actions prove they give not one iota of a damn besides profit, so they offer the game annually to the rabid fan base. They stumbled upon a hit by simply changing a worn out formula and in doing so, satisfied a niche nobody knew existed. The global market is the single most complicated creation in human history, yet it runs upon simple economic principles. The very success of Call of Duty, despite the legions of vitriolic haters, is proof of this because no matter how loud some get, there are millions of others who want the game and the market offers them that choice. Because in the end, the market works for us because it lets us all be free to choose.
I hope you were given some food for thought, or at the least enjoyed this edition of Free to Play. As always, thanks for reading.
*CoD fans angry about my jabs towards your fav series, lighten up. I’m just giving you a hard time. I don’t like the series myself, but with the lone exception of those fans who believe that no gamer can call themselves anything but casual if they don’t play CoD for hours, I have nothing against you guys. What’s a little harmless ribbing between friends?*