Why We Buy Things
Over the last year, I’ve been watching how people talk about the things they buy. And watching Kickstarters, buzz about games on Twitter, things like that, here’s the breakdown I’ve got in my head:
People buy things because…
- they hear the product is good.
See the emphasis on “hear”? That’s buzz. It doesn’t have to do if the product is actually good, but if it’s talked about as being good. There’s a difference that has to do with target audience and buzz spread.
- they want to engage in a conversation.
This covers people talking about a game for good or bad reasons. This is part of the reason I buy Vincent Baker games — they get talked about so much by my friends & folks on the Internet that I have to read to keep up. This is also why people go to movies that nerds hate on — they want to engage in the conversation about said hate.
- they want to engage in a subculture.
This is like the above, only wider. Works that are seen as formative in a subculture are often bought for this reason. It’s part of why some of the older indie/story game titles continue to sell.
- they want to support someone.
People will buy to support someone they like, even if the product itself isn’t terribly interesting to them. This is especially true I think of Kickstarters. There are some people I’ve contributed to where the product hasn’t turned me on, but the people seem cool so I wanted to support.
- they have bought into a brand.
People buy things because they have prior good experiences with a brand. Sometimes this results in sight-unseen purchases. I used to do this with anything Kenneth Hite wrote. (These days I don’t because my funds are stretched all over the place, but when Ken writes something it goes high on my consideration list.)
- they have bought into a cult of personality.
This is the more toxic version of above, and it happens often. It’s where rabid, unthinking fandom lives. That said, good money if you can make it happen, because people will forgive and excuse your faults when you reach that state.
- they are buying a story about themselves.
And this is the biggest one. This is a big reason why people buy limited editions and the higher end of Kickstarters. People like to tell stories about themselves, both to other people and to them internally.
I’ll tell you a story about the last one (that I think I’ve told before, but I tell it often enough to illustrate the point that I can’t remember where I’ve told it.) I was at a talk a year ago, when an artist was discussing her work. I won’t go much into that talk specifically, but when she was done, she said she had one of the ten prints here with her for sale. It was a couple hundred bucks, and back then I was a but flush. I liked her story, and I was struck with the desire to buy into that story.
With my phone in hand, I went up to her to buy the print. I asked if I could PayPal, and she looked iffy. Then I said “No, right now. I have PayPal on my phone.” She was amazed at this moment of technology. We exchanged money, and the story grew in that moment where I was the first person to e-pay her while physically present. I bought a neat piece of art with a story behind it, but what I really bought was a story that happens to also be represented by a piece of art.
None of those above are inherently bad (except probably the cult of personality). But they’re interesting, and if you’re selling, you should understand why people buy. Because to me, it doesn’t match with the priorities of a creator.
Speaking of, are there any I missed?