[MUD-Dev] The Price of Being Male

Richard A. Bartle richard at mud.co.uk
Mon Jun 30 11:10:15 New Zealand Standard Time 2003

On 29th June 2003, Edward Casronova wrote:

> But what I had to ask myself was: How can that not be evidence of
> systematically different treatment of women by men?

OK, here are some other possibilites, none of which I necessarily
agree with but all of which could answer your question:

  1) Perhaps fewer women are into the whole power-gaming thing (that
  you describe as the reason people buy higher-level accounts). This
  reduces the demand for female avatars, which in turn reduces the

  2) Women in the real world are paid less than men, on
  average. Perhaps they can't afford to pay as much for their
  characters, so the price falls until they can?

  3) Perhaps the people who manufacture characters so they can sell
  them on eBay skew the market by their own preferences for what
  character genders they play?

  4) You say that most characters are bought using the "buy it now"
  button. Perhaps women prefer this method of purchase, and
  therefore fewer of them go to auction, meaning that the price of
  female avatars is lower because the demand isn't as great?

  5) According to your Table 1, 10.4% of female users have a male
  main avatar and 18.3% of male users do.  According to Table 2,
  20.1% of all characters in the auction are female.  Assuming that
  this reflects the general preferences of the player base, perhaps
  it indicates an over-supply of female characters, in which case
  the price could be expected to be lower than for male characters.

  6) The price of a level for high-level characters is more than for
  low-level characters, but your regression rules may not fully
  capture the impact of this. According to Table 3, a higher
  proportion of female characters are offered for sale at a
  lower-level than for male characters (27.4%, as opposed to 20.1%
  female avatars overall). This may be because male players who were
  experimenting with cross-gender play tired of it, but the reason
  doesn't really matter; if you're not weighting the effect of
  levels properly, the lower price of female characters could
  primarily be due to the influence of their level.

  7) Perhaps female players rate a character's appearance higher
  than male players? They'll pay premium rates for an exotic female
  dark elf, but they rate other races much lower than do male
  players. If they won't pay for female characters in general, the
  price will drop, although it's "balanced" by the extra they'll pay
  for the few combinations they do like. Again, the mathematics you
  use only approximates the effect, though, and may do so badly.

  8) It could perhaps be to do with the way that the auction site
  presents characters for sale. It appears that Playerauctions.com
  has changed the way it lists items since you acquired your raw
  data, so I can't be sure about this, but it's not inconceivable
  that the descriptions of characters or the order in which they are
  presented influences a player's decision to bid or not.

  9) You don't include equipment as a factor (except by not
  accepting characters that have been stripped of it), linking this
  to level instead. Perhaps you should have included it? Maybe the
  equipment that typically comes with female avatars is, for some
  reason, not as attractive to potential buyers as that which
  typically comes with male avatars?

  10) Perhaps more women are TOS-abiding than men, or believe that
  buying characters is wrong anyway, or regard auctions as some kind
  of competitive male thing. This would mean that fewer of them
  would be available to buy avatars, therefore anyone who wants a
  female avatar can expect to pay less to get one.

  *) This is a meta point.

  You ignored auctions where the sex of the character being sold was
  not described. If you're drawing conclusions about the impact of
  an avatar's sex on its price, you really do need to examine
  these. None of the musings I've given above may be correct, but if
  you look at the prices of gender-unstated characters and they
  don't fall between the prices for male and female characters then
  it blows your sexism argument out of the water.

Overall, the data you present in your paper are solid and throw up
some interesting questions. It's in the interpretation that there
are issues. If you've unearthed a discrepency between the apparent
values of male and female characters, that's notable; it's worth
featuring in the title of your paper even if it is mere noise
alongside the effect of levels on character values. The problem is,
in the speculative part of your conclusion you suggested that one
explanation for it may be for reasons of real-world discrimination.
Whether you expected it or not, this is a particularly
headline-grabbing hypothesis that could be misquoted for years by
people with an axe to grind. A lot of the flak you're getting is
because people either take it personally (you're indirectly accusing
all male players of sexism) or they foresee the damage that could
result if writers take this hypothesis and run with it.

Although your suggestion may indeed be true, as things stand it
isn't by any means the only explanation - or even the best
interpretation - of your data. To find out why there's a price
differential between otherwise "equal" male and female, we really
need to ask the players who bought one character why they didn't buy
a different "equal value" one they could have got cheaper.

I guess we'll have to wait until Nick Yee runs a survey to find out
if your suspicions of sexism are correct!

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