Bryan Caplan  

Fun Time: An Exercise in Transaction Cost Economics

Rent Vs. Buy Calculation... Heckman interview...

In case you haven't guessed, I'm not a practical person. I'm more interested in Why than How. I lack what Robin Hanson calls the "engineer's mentality" - the urge to construct a concrete product of use to other people. Once in a while, however, I face a concrete problem of my own, and no one steps forward to engineer a solution for me. Case in point:

I really enjoy playing games - role-playing games, strategy games, trading games, and lots more. And I find playing face-to-face with real people to be about a hundred times more fun than playing over a computer. A social nerd is a happy nerd.

Unfortunately, it usually costs about a thousand times as much to organize a group of live players as it does to just turn on a computer. People are busy, they can only do Wednesdays at 4:15, they cancel at the last minute after everyone else shows up... The transactions costs of organizing a group of adults to play a game are staggering.

One might think that this problem is insurmountable, and I should just grow up. But neither Peter Pan nor I care for this fatalistic attitude. There has to be a way, I kept thinking. And now at last I've devised a system to slash the transactions costs of live gaming down to affordable levels.

Here it is:

1. Email all of the gamers you want to include and explain the following system to them. Tell them to email you if they are interested in playing once or more. No commitment, no guilt if they turn out to be too busy.

2. Establish a regular place and time for your gamers to converge.

3. Do not bother checking who plans to show up, or reminding anyone.

4. Keep a large menu of games on hand.

5. Once you see how many people have arrived, match the game to the number of players, instead of the other way around. For example, if you get seven players, then Diplomacy is the obvious choice. If you have five, Puerto Rico is perfect. Four - try Settlers of Cataan or Serenissima. Three - why not Iron Dragon?

6. If you have multiple choices given your number of players, work it out on the spot, instead of soliciting preferences in advance from people who might not even show up.

7. If your game time is near a meal time, instruct all players to eat beforehand!

8. After the game, email everyone on the list about what game you played and how much fun you had. Instead of pestering players beforehand, just keep them in the loop - and perhaps make them try harder to attend the next game.

It's not rocket science, but it's good economics, and so far my social prototype has performed splendidly. Before I hit on this formula, I spent months trying to herd cats - to get a bunch of busy adults to agree to a time, a place, and a game, and actually follow through - and played one game for all my trouble. My new system has made it possible to play four games in a row, at a fraction of the transaction costs.

Needless to say, if you like my system, feel free to adopt and/or improve it, and tell me if it works for you too.

Next engineering project: Figure out how to slash the transaction costs of play dates for my kids. Any ideas?

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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
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The author at The Tao of Gaming in a related article titled The Economics of Play Time & Other notes writes:

    Some random and notes:

    Geeky economist Bryan Caplan analyzes how to maximize game session fun. And links to a picture of the Witch King ...

    [Tracked on June 20, 2005 9:34 PM]
COMMENTS (8 to date)
Alex J. writes:

Many game and hobby shops host gaming clubs like this.

Josh Edlin writes:

This is exactly how our gaming group works. I've been playing with them for several years now, and we've never found a need to improve on this system.

Lancelot Finn writes:

I love Diplomacy. I've never heard of Puerto Rico, or Iron Dragon. I'd probably be deterred if other games were on offer. And you can play Diplomacy with less than seven...

Timothy writes:

Well, if I ever move to the DC area, I'll be more than glad to join your D&D game. Just in case y'all happen to need a GMU fanboy with an encyclopedic knowledge of 3.5 rules.

asg writes:

Ew, you like Puerto Rico with 5? Puerto Rico is a great 4 player game but I don't like it with 5... too long, too much off-the-rails potential with one wrong move.

And unless you're gonna leave it set up, Diplomacy is going to take an awfully long time for one sitting. With seven I find the best thing to do is break into a 4 and a 3 player game. There are so few fast-playing, good 7 player games.

Jacqui Bankler writes:

Start a playgroup for your kids. A good number for a playgroup is 6 kids. Set up a weekly meeting time and everyone can meet either at a public place (park, indoor play area, fast food restaurant) or rotate among the different houses. It will probably work the same as your gaming group.

Half Sigma writes:

Diplomacy is the only one of those games I ever heard of. So if I showed up, but the number of attendees was not exaclty 7, then I'd be sort of screwed.

Brad Hutchings writes:

On the gaming thing... You might try hosting poker parties. Texas Hold'em is all the rage, but poker parties are more fun if you learn 30 games and mix them up as the deal passes. Then, after you have a good regular crowd of poker players that comes over every weekend for a few months, you can try assaulting them with RPGs. This was a strategy a guy in college used. Fortunately that night, I had to be somewhere in the morning, so I politely killed off my player with most everyone else and moved the poker party to my house.

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