Learning practical real world lessons and skills from playing video games and online games is nothing new. A lot of people nowadays acknowledge the benefits that playing games can have. And with the ease of access for mobile games, anyone at some point in their lives has played a game or two. Except maybe if you’re living under a rock.
After recently seeing a tweet from Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke saying that he “learned more about building businesses playing Starcraft,” I knew I had to write about my own experience with a particular online game and some realizations that came to me during playtime.
I firmly believe that I learned more about building businesses from playing Starcraft than I’ve learned from business books
— Tobi Lütke (@tobi) April 1, 2018
In this essay, I’d like to make it easy to read for non-gamers. This means I’ll by cutting back on the use of too much game jargons. I’ll describe most of what needs to be explained in layman’s terms, I promise. This way, non-gamers can hopefully resonate with this story better. Additionally, I’d like to state that I’m not sponsored by the game or company I will mention (although I wish I was). I just really love online games of particular genres and sharing the insights I get from them.
Okay let’s begin…
Back in June of 2017, I had been playing Path of Exile. It’s an ARPG or Action Role Playing Game developed by a New Zealand-based company Grinding Gear Games. The game revolves around controlling an avatar, customizing its skills and abilities, making it stronger, and killing monsters. It also involves going into different maps to kill monsters and collect the loot they dropped. Basically a lot of monster killing involved. Now that’s just an oversimplification of what this game actually is. It sounds like majority of the games out there but there’s more to it than the core gameplay. It’s the features and intricate details of the game that got me hooked. However, I’m not going to get into that because this article is not a game review.
I had been playing that game for several months already. I think I’ve logged about 2,000 hours or more. I was unemployed at that time, fresh from graduation, but I decided to take a break for a month before looking for a job. That’s why I had a lot of time to kill and most of it was spent playing that game.
In the game, there is something called “leagues.” It’s comparable to a television show’s season (US) or series (UK). It’s a whole different server that is only open for a few months. I usually play leagues servers instead of the main server. In leagues, you start back to level 1 and complete certain objectives or do as much as you want until the league ends, when all your accomplishments, items, and characters created will be transferred to the permanent server of the game. After that, you can decide to start again and play the new league or go play at the permanent server with your transferred character.
For that league I had a personal objective. I want to acquire one of the rarest and most expensive items in the game. By expensive I don’t mean measures of real money. I’m referring to the currency used in the game as a measure of how expensive the item is. But that item also has a value equal to real life money which I will explain later.
The item is called “Headhunter Leather Belt,” which has an ability to temporarily steal the powers of certain monsters you kill. Aside from being really powerful, it’s hard to obtain. There are sets of conditions before you can obtain this belt and most of it is based on how lucky you are.
What I planned to do is to save enough in-game currency and buy it from other players. Even that however is a herculean task. The belt costs 80 exalted orbs. Exalted orbs are the second rarest currency in the game. So rare that some players often react ecstatically when it drops. The first being mirror of Kalandra, which has a drop chance equivalent to winning the lottery. Let’s do a little math: 1 mirror of Kalandra can be exchanged for about 200 exalted orbs and 1 exalted orb is equal to 100 chaos orbs which are one of the common currencies people use to trade but it’s also quite an uncommon drop.1 Okay, if you didn’t follow that, here’s a shorter comparison. 1 exalted orb can be estimated to be around 50 Philippine pesos (PHP) each at best. So multiply that by 80 and you get an item that can be worth 4,000 PHP, but sometimes real-money-traders sell it for 2,000 PHP or below.2 Yes there are in-game items that can be worth that much in real life!
For the beginning of the league, my focus was on creating a character that can quickly finish one map after another. Maps are items at the end part of the game that you insert into a device which opens a portal to another area. The area contains a ton of monsters and a boss at the end of the map. The more maps I can complete in a short period of time, the more currency I can gain and the faster I’ll be able to save up. Continuously killing monsters in the game to gain wealth is referred to as “farming” and longer periods of that is often called “grinding.” Remember this because I’ll be using these terms frequently in this story.
I farmed for a few weeks in order to get my character to its maximum farming potential. The initial step was to save currency to buy equipment I needed such as specific armor, weapons, accessories and other items used to make a character stronger. I got lucky with some items particularly with my armor which I found in a map. The rest of my gear I had to trade for. Building my character itself was costly but worth it because at that point I had created a character that can clear an entire map within a matter of seconds. 45 seconds at best to be exact. After fully gearing my character, I had half a month left to be able to farm currency for the Headhunter. I optimized everything I can optimize within the game in order to increase my chance of gaining currency faster. One example is using the same type of map over and over again in order to reduce unnecessary time spent inside an area. One particular map that had no tricky corners and zigzags and is only a straight path is called the strand. I farmed in the strand for majority of the time. It’s not the most fun way to play the game but my goal wasn’t really to have fun that time. It was to be efficient in gaining currency.
It came to the point where I would sleep at 6 a.m., wake up at 3 p.m., immediately sit down and play, taking breaks only to go to the bathroom. I would eat in front of my computer. This continued for several days. Days would just pass by like this. This game was truly a time sink. It was a time of escape, when nothing else existed but the game world and my desire for the Headhunter.
In the game there is a guild system where other players interact, team up, or help each other out. It was one of the things that made this game enjoyable because I was interacting with other people as well. My guild saw how hard I was working to farm currency and they commended me for it. I was praised every time I update them about my progress. During that time it was safe to say that I was the top farmer of our guild as other members were just playing casually.
At one point I had to lend some currency to some guild members, I didn’t really have to, but it was charity on my part since I was the wealthiest and it just felt right to give something to the guild. It didn’t affect my progress that much though but it was certainly a small setback. I had made more methods to acquire more currency aside from just killing monsters. I also sold expensive items and equipment that I found.
The most devastating setback came one night. Tired and sleepy, I was trading currency, buying on a low price, and selling for a higher. One time I made a mistake with my price listing. I forgot an additional zero at the end and made a calculation mistake. Within a matter of seconds there were so many people messaging me they wanted to buy what I listed on the trade site. I accepted the first trade and immediately after that I realized the mistake I made. From the 70 exalts I had saved up it went down to 50. Twenty exalts down the drain! It was heartbreaking. Only 10 exalts left and I could have had the belt but I screwed up and lost 20 off it. I tried messaging the trader for a trade back but they were ruthless. It wasn’t something I can report. It was an error on my end so there’s nothing I can do but grieve the loss. To say that I was bothered is an understatement.
I continued to play and farm, this time, double checking everything I put up on the trade list. Still, I could not shake off the feeling of losing hard-earned currency. After 3 days or so, I was back on track and regained the currency I lost. Still, it always crossed my mind that I could have had the belt if I only I hadn’t made that mistake. I told no one from my guild of the incident because I didn’t want to get laughed at.
Only one week before the league ends, I finally saved up the 80 exalts and I had more to spare. I went to the trade site and finally bought the belt from another player. At that point, I was literally shaking. It was the first time ever since I played that game that I had possession of a very sought-after item. An item that only a handful of players have. It was absolute bliss. The fun didn’t end there. It just got better from then on. Once I got a hold of that item, I was even more efficient at gaining currency. Only a few days before the league ends and I already managed to accumulate 40 exalted orbs! I bought myself another rare and powerful item with that.
The league ended with me giving away tons of currency to guildmates and friends. I still have the item to this date and don’t plan on selling it for real money. After the league ended I finally started job hunting and the rest is history.
So what are the real life lessons I learned from that experience? At first it seems like I just wasted my time for an entire month sitting on my butt all day. But I didn’t see it that way. Since I’m fond of drawing parallels in real life, Here are some things I realized from obtaining a headhunter:
The value of self-improvement and self-investment
In order to have a better chance of attaining your goal, you need to invest in yourself in ways that make you fit for it, like how I invested in my avatar to become a character optimized for quick farming and map clearing. I learned that tailoring yourself to become someone that is capable to do what you are trying to achieve is a good way to get closer to your goal. If I were using a character focused on a different aspect of gameplay I wouldn’t have saved up for a Headhunter in time before the league ended.
The value of persistence, perseverance and consistency
Farming in this game can be repetitive. I had to do the same map a few hundred times, over and over again, because it was one of the best maps for farming. In life, I personally believe that there are no best methods or best ways to succeed. I also don’t believe that persistence alone will lead to success. This also doesn’t take into consideration that success can mean a lot of things. But what I’m sure of is that persistence can get you far enough, it can get you somewhere. Persistence works, especially when you know when to push through. In my case I had a farming method that was clearly working and being consistent at it certainly showed results. If you have a goal that’s worth it, understand that it takes time to achieve it and you’ll be experiencing set-backs and failure. It’s at those moment when you need to keep pushing.
The value of having multiple methods of earning
Although also adding burden, it!’s certainly worth it. It’s something I did in the game that added variety to my gameplay. I was able to afford more things aside from the item I was working hard for. It made the quality of life in the game better. At first, I didn’t like the idea of trading and selling because it’s not as fun as killing monsters. But as time went by, I realized how much currency it was adding to the pile so I incorporated it in the game routine alongside farming. It’s probably harder to replicate in real life though because the game is fast-paced and a player can earn a lot in just a day. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s indeed a practice worth the trouble in real life, too. I’m sure a lot of young adults can relate with the need to have multiple sources of income as well.
Lastly, I’ve realized that the journey and the process of obtaining the item is what makes the item so worthwhile to use or play with. Just like some goals in life, the journey is often better than the destination itself. I can imagine that if I was just given that belt from the very beginning, I think I wouldn’t enjoy it as much and would just take it for granted. It’s a different kind of satisfaction to be using something you know you earned and worked for. It was no longer just a powerful game item. It was a representation of my hard work and effort. Still, this doesn’t apply to every goal in life. We should still have good judgment and be able to decide if a certain destination is worth the journey. In this particular story, the Headhunter was definitely worth it even if I’m no longer using it now.
More than just the usual fun of action packed games like Path of Exile, a game that requires you to grind and farm for a long time, teaches things that can be applied in real life, albeit at a more nuanced and reasonable pace. I don’t encourage anyone to sink too much time into games to the point of neglecting other responsibilities. What I do encourage however, is taking a second to look at the games you play and think about what aspect of it you can apply in real life. You’ll be amazed at the number of things you can learn from games beyond what they initially offer.
1. Exchange rate of currency in the game fluctuates depending on many factors such as duration of the league, number of players active, etc. Just like real world economy there is a form of instability in-game.
2. Trading items for real money is discouraged as it can ruin the game economy. I myself don’t practice it. However, I know people who do it, that’s why I know the real money prices of some items.
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“A lot of people nowadays acknowledge the benefits that playing games can have. Anyone at some point in their lives has played a game or two. Except maybe if you’re living under a rock.” | essay by @Overthinking_J, illustration by @sienandcamhttps://t.co/CicYyr7kLx pic.twitter.com/89mhd4tFYj
— Ibalio Stories (@IbalioStories) April 17, 2018