Utility versus entertainment

The other day a friend was showing me a feature of his rented Car2Go. Because your only cost is a per-minute rental rate (the company takes care of everything else), it is in their interest that you get good gas mileage, and in general avoid doing things that add to wear and tear.

To this end, they provide a little game for the driver. The better you drive — accelerate smoothly, get better gas mileage, brake properly — the more points you score on a cute little game that is displayed on a screen near the dashboard.

My friend was quite addicted to this game. He said that not only does it lead him to drive better, but he also feels great whenever he manages to return the car with high scores.

I found the whole thing fascinating. “They are not just providing a rental car as a utility,” I said, “They are repositioning it as entertainment.”

He pointed out that cars have always had an entertainment component, and on one level I had to agree. After all, the utility of a $250,000 BMW as a vehicle for getting from one place to another is not what justifies its high price tag. At that level you are paying for the entertainment value of driving around in a beautiful high status car.

“But this is different,” I said, after thinking about it for a few minutes. Traditionally the entertainment value of a car is intimately connected to its ability to raise your social status. The game on the dashboard of the Car2Go has nothing to do with social status, unless you happen to tell your friends about it and they happen to be impressed.

You are playing a computer game, pure and simple. The rental company might be deriving a utility benefit, but to you the value of this game rests almost entirely in the entertainment value of playing it.

I would argue we are seeing here the emergence of something new, evidence of a fundamental shift in society: The information economy is now becoming so dominant, that it is even starting to take over the manufacturing economy.

One thought on “Utility versus entertainment”

  1. I feel quite motivated by these games. In my case, a MOOC and a voluntary activity. I learn some math from a site that provide energy points and badges. I don’t miss these points and badges. I don’t have a facebook account, so I can not show the points and badges to others, but I just collecting them.

    A voluntary site that has a framework for some video translation of a MOOC. When I translated the strings (a part of the web site), my name is hidden, but if you log in the framework site, you can find out who did it. Recently these data lost. I immediately complained them. They answered that your translation data is all kept and I can actually see that. That’s important, but the data of who translated are gone. I found that is a big part of my motivation.

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