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The Nintendo Switch and the fallacy of sunk costs

The Nintendo Switch and the fallacy of sunk costs

I was worried when I bought my Switch.

I got burned by my purchase of the WiiU, which I had primary gotten to play Super Mario Maker and potentially stream it. I kind of fell into a trap I’ve become more cognisant of lately: the “gotta play with friends while the game is still hot” problem.

It goes like this: a game releases to much hype and fanfare. In the first few weeks of the game, you want to be able to play with friends who seem to be having a lot of fun with it. Because of a progression system, the longer you wait, the harder it is to get to a level where you’re either not dragging them down, or the game isn’t fun for them to play with you.

Also, the longer you wait, the more likely it is for a new shiny game to come out and become the new flavor of the month. This means you’ve got a three choices:

  • You can avoid buying the game and miss out on that experience
  • You can buy in early and risk not liking the game
  • You can buy later hope to catch up, or hope that social circles haven’t been built up to the point where you can’t join the people you want to play with

This has happened to me a couple times: I bought and refunded PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS twice before I settled, mostly because I knew I wasn’t going to play alone. I bought SimCity (yeah, that terrible one) on Day 1. I re-suscribed to World of Warcraft: Legion for a month before I realized it was the exact opposite of what I needed. I have a dusty WiiU that is only turned on to play Breath of the Wild.

So yeah; I thought the Switch was going to be the same thing. While you can stomach an occasional $30 purchase that doesn’t work out, committing to a system that’ll run you over $500 CAD with a game is a bit of a harder hit.

Thankfully, I’m having a lot of fun with it.

I bought Splatoon 2, as I didn’t want to re-buy Breath of the Wild, and I didn’t think I would be taking the system out of the house much. The game’s really fun, mostly because I’m finding it’s getting around a lot of the anxiety I’ve written about in the past concerning getting good at a game and the time investment surrounding that.

Matches are three minutes at most, and I’m finding myself saying “Ah, one more!” and queuing up again. I think this is a good litmus test, because if I can do this, even when I lose, I am having fun just playing the game, which is a bit underrated. My problem is that I’m often more interested in the progress, what rewards that brings, and how I can make it work for me in making content.

In focusing on that, the basic act of playing kind of fades away, which heightens the desire to “make this worth it.” It also means a greater disappointment when you can’t make that happen.

Splatoon is a lot of things: it can be competitive while still having rewarding moments. It can be easy to shrug off losses. It can feel downright funny to consider that you are destroying children at (ultimately) a game aimed at them.

I’m also learning to analyze, adjust my playstyle, and learn how to play to strengths and weaknesses. Just the fact I can do that allows me to step away from that constant pressure on myself. Suddenly, I don’t worry about whether the Switch purchase was a good one. I’m not worrying about whether I should’ve saved for a Playstation 4 for Yakuza 0/6/Kiwami, which I know will be a more for-sure enjoyable experience. I’m just… playing. And having fun.

Maybe I just forgot how to do that. I feel like that points to a lack of stability: not having a stable job or future means you want to claw your way to something that feels right. For me, making things felt right, so it became natural to try to turn stuff you like into what you write about. Become good at games = have material to work with. Good material = money (hopefully).

Simple equation, but you kind of omit a lot of the other stuff. How well can you cope with loss? To what extent does your brain get in the way? Do you even like what you’re doing?

All that stuff catches up with me every once and a while, and potential negative answers to those questions throws a whole other load of possibilities: wasted money, wasted time, wasted effort. All of which, to someone seeking stability, is terrifying.

Ironically, that planning is kind of counter-intuitive. It’s putting the cart before the horse. While you might feel smart for doing it, that kind of success is usually something you decide how to spend only when it actually happens.

Until then, you’re probably just better off playing, learning and seeing what happens. You’ll probably end up a bit happier, and at least enjoy that journey a little bit more.


Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch.

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