The number one bestselling toy/games on Amazon today is a card game called “Cards Against Humanity.” Almost 14,000 Amazon shoppers have written a review of the game. Not only does this game hold the number one slot but the expansion pack, which contains an additional 100 cards is ranked number two in this Amazon category. Card games and toys with massive followings are nothing new in the world (Pokemon cards, baseball cards, etc.), but Cards Against Humanity is special because if you go to the game’s website one of the first things that you see are two buttons. The left button states “Buy now for $25” while the right button states “Download for free.” Why do people pay $25 when the company makes it simple to avoid paying them even one penny?
One potential reason is that picking the “Download for free” button results in a person needing to do a lot of work and to produce an inferior set of cards. This is not the case! The free download button has simple, easy to follow instructions that result in a professional looking deck of cards. The company even tells you where to buy a box that fits the cards you create.
A second potential reason is that doing it yourself might actually cost more out of your pocket than the $25 the company charges. There are many products where doing it yourself results in a person spending more money than just buying the item off the shelf. I used to cook my own bread in a bread machine. I got professional looking results when I used a mix, but the mix I liked cost more than simply picking up a loaf of fresh bread a the supermarket. The Cards Against Humanity website is pretty clear. It will cost you about 1 hour of time and $10 out of your pocket to create your own deck so this idea is also not correct.
One of my children said that no one prints out their own deck because owning an official deck is a cheap status symbol. They said buying a deck proves to your friends that you are not destitute. The idea of proving status by buying items which are also available for free can be traced back to Thorstein Veblen’s famous book the Theory of the Leisure class. (Available for free here and well worth the time to read it)
I think there is a simpler reason than status on why many people pay $25 and don’t print out their own decks. The company estimates it costs $10 to print out the deck. This means a person doing it themselves will only save $15. Doing it yourself takes time. The company estimates it takes 1 hour to print out a deck. They also suggest buying a box to hold all the cards at the Container Store. Unless you live next door to a print shop like FedEx Office or Staples it will take time to get to the print shop. Add in the travel time to the print shop plus time to get to a store to buy the container and my guess is that it will take most people more than 2 hours to create a professional looking deck of cards.
Dividing the $15 saving by 2 (or more hours) results in the average person valuing their time at $7.50 or less per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and many states have higher minimums.
Few people make their own sets of cards because it is just not cost effective way of spending time to make your own. Many “Free items” are only free if you don’t put any value on your time. If you play Cards Against Humanity with someone who printed out their own deck, they are telling you that they valued their own time at less than the minimum wage.