Why do woke economists think managing videogame markets would make them better?

Surveys in recent years demonstrate a clear trend of Western youth turning their backs on capitalist democracy and expressing increasing levels of sympathy towards more collectivised alternative economic and political models like socialism.

How can we get Gen Z to abandon these fashionable opinions?

Simple. Just tell them that, under Marxism, they wouldn’t have any good videogames.

A clip is currently going viral online of an interview with leading US Marxist economist Richard Wolff, in which he is asked by an interviewer “Under your [desired] system of worker co-operatives, would I still get my PlayStation 5?” The true answer is of course “no”, but this would be something of a propaganda own-goal, so Comrade Wolff actually replies as follows:

“Absolutely. You’d have to struggle a little bit for it. You’d have to talk to your fellow workers. You’d have to talk about the distribution of income. You’d have to compare your desire for PlayStation against all the other interests against all the other people … It would have to be a democratic decision.”

This illustrates perfectly why the world’s most successful videogame systems originated not in Communist lands like China, North Korea or the old USSR, but in free-market capitalist ones like the US and Japan, homes of Microsoft, Atari, Nintendo and Sony.

Guessing games

As fun, yet fairly costly, non-essential consumer electronics products, successful videogame systems have all been the natural product of entrepreneurial insight and risk-taking, not implausible collectivised workers’ communes full of Communist coding-geeks. Rather than Gosplan-type central economic planners taking such decisions, as under Marxism, in the capitalist West, bold and independent commercial gamblers have done so instead.

Put simply, when it comes to entertainment products like videogames, nobody knows what the public wants until they are given it: at which point, the market decides, spontaneously and unpredictably. There is no way to accurately determine whether the public will prefer any given videogame console like the PlayStation 5 – other than to put them all on shelves and see which happen to sell the best.

Thus, Richard Wolff’s fantasies about having to “talk to other workers” and “compare your desire for PlayStation against all the other interests [of] all the other people” are utopian pipe dreams. How is it possible for workers’ councils to “accurately” divine whether a PlayStation 5 is a more “rational” and “socially just” allocation of the centralised state’s limited manufacturing resources than an iPad, a laptop, or a digital watch?

Specialist Western videogame manufacturers themselves do not know such things. The industry has been characterised by cycles of boom and bust, littered with failed companies and consoles. Who now remembers the 3DO, Bandai WonderSwan or Philips CDi? Several formerly market-leading console-manufacturers, like Sega and Atari, have had to abandon the field altogether and humbly retreat into making third-party software titles for other people’s better-selling machines instead. Atari was once left with so much unsold stock on their hands they had tobury it all in the New Mexico desert.

Games of risk

Today’s biggest gaming giant, Nintendo, is an excellent example of the need for commercial risk-taking in this sphere. The company is over a century old, originally starting out way back in 1889 as a humble manufacturer of traditional Japanese Hanafuda playing cards. Before venturing into the world of Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pokémon, et al, for which it is best known today, Nintendo’s post-WWII CEO, Hiroshi Yamauchi, tried expanding his limited business down a number of complete and total dead-ends, including a taxi-cab division, and even a so-called “love-hotel”, whose rooms couples or prostitutes could book by the hour to enjoy illicit liaisons.

These ventures having failed completely, Yamauchi’s decision to branch out into videogaming in the 1970s could have made or broken the company. In the end, Nintendo won big, but the outcome was not guaranteed – a dice-throw difficult to conceive in Richard Wolff’s videogaming workers’ co-operatives.

It is worth noting how one of the world’s most famous and popular games ever, Tetris, may well have been developed in the old Soviet Union. But it took the intervention of an intensely capitalistic firm like Nintendo to buy the game’s licence with wise advice from international venture capitalists and turn it into a money-making hit. Uncomprehending Soviet central planners just thought the game was a complete waste of workers’ time. Maybe it was, but it still made its future non-Communist owners millions!

Crashing the game

Economic authorities in the US, Europe and Japan do not normally interfere in the world of videogames. Whenever they do, they are forced to backtrack, as with a recent anti-monopoly decision imposed by US, EU and UK financial authorities upon a proposed merger between the X-Box owner Microsoft and gaming software giant Activision-Blizzard. This caused so much fuss that it was quickly overturned before too much damage could be done to corporate stocks.

Thankfully for shareholders, this Western misstep was more-or-less a one-off. In an officially Marxist and much more economically centralised nation like Communist China, matters are different. In President Xi’s current alleged paradise of “Marxism with Chinese characteristics”, repeated government interference has continually stifled, distorted or crashed the entire domestic industry, making a Chinese equivalent of Nintendo impossible.

Due to its huge population, China is currently the world’s largest gaming market in terms of sheer player-base, with an estimated 696.5 million gamers, which should make it easily the most profitable global market. Yet this prize belongs to the US, with its own far smaller player-base of 209.8 million gamers. This is due to the Chinese government’s repeated interventions in the market.

In the 1980s and 1990s, foreign videogame consoles were only available in cheap, “cloned”, domestically-manufactured knock-off “shanzai“ versions, notably the Subor Xiaobawang (“Little Tyrant”) a bootleg version of Nintendo’s original 8-bit NES machine, advertised by Jackie Chan, and coming not with a Super Mario game, but a bootleg Super Mary one. Between 2000 and 2015, believing them to be “spiritual opium”, all sales of videogame machines were banned by the Chinese government – the unintended result being that, unlike in the West, PC gaming became the main popular gaming market.

Continual Politburo interference down the decade or so since has made it impossible for local companies to plan, grow and operate properly – some Chinese gaming firms are admittedly very large, simply due to the sheer size of the domestic market. But they could have been so much larger if they entered the international market.

Last December, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) managers accidentally caused a huge crash by announcing restrictive new regulations which wiped $80 billion from the nation’s major gaming companies like TenCent and NetEase. Two days later, some of the restrictions were reversed and the head of the industry’s governing body was unceremoniously removed.


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The next level of stupid

Most gamers care little about company stock levels – but they do care about what games they get to play, and in China, thanks to excessive state regulation, the choice is extremely restricted. In 2022, 12,966 new games were released globally via the leading online distribution-service Steam; Chinese gamers only got to play 468 of them.

The main problem is that every single release has to be approved by a CCP state censorship board, which can sometimes take years. Content is vetted by an Online Games Ethics Committee, which prevents games being published if they contain anything which “threatens China’s national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity”, “harms the nation’s reputation” or “culture and traditions”, or involves “violence” and promotion of “cults and superstitions” – hard luck if your game features ghosts, guns, criticism of Chairman Mao, or maps showing Taiwan as an independent nation.

Games are age-rated in the West too, of course, but this is pursued with a light touch, as with cinema releases, so that five-year-olds don’t get to end up playing Prostitute Slayer 2000, Corpse-Sniffer Chronicles, Super School-Bomber X or something.

In China, the situation is more restrictive. In 2020, the utterly harmless-sounding Nintendo Switch title Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in which the player interacts with cute talking animals on a desert island, was snatched from sale by censors after some players used it to spread pro-Hong Kong independence messages online.

CCP regulations are so loosely drafted as to make potentially anything bannable. One game, Risk of Rain 2, had its approval delayed because a single on-screen icon’s background was coloured red, which vaguely resembled blood. It was not blood, but still the colour had to be altered anyway! Aren’t Communists supposed to like the colour Red?

So, even if Richard Wolff was correct, and Marxism did give you a PlayStation 5, what use would it be if the only game you had to play on it was called Collectivised Farming Simulator 2024?

The free market has its flaws and perhaps natural monopolies and utilities like railways, energy grids and utilities, may need regulation. But when it comes to consumer products like PlayStations, X-Boxes and Nintendo Switches, surely the reverse is true.

Teenage or twenty-something gamers tempted by Professor Wolff’s ideological delusions should ask themselves this: would videogames in America really be any better if 81-year-old President Joe Biden was allowed to censor their content? If not, then why should 70-year-old President Xi to be allowed to do the same?  

Why is Marxist economics so attractive? Tell us what you think in the comments.  

Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name. His latest, “Hitler’s and Stalin’s Misuse of Science”, comparing the woke pseudoscience of today to the totalitarian pseudoscience of the past, was released in 2023.

Image credit: Bigstock


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  • James Dougall
    A little of Mr. Xi’s video games policy would do capitalist country teenagers a lot of good! Addictive and a waste of time!