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My family just got a new game, Rummikub. The last game we bought was Yahtzee. We bought both of them at the shop, and paid $28 to $40 for each one.

We didn’t have to buy either one. Instructions for both are available on the Web. Rummikub can be played with two standard card decks and two jokers. Yahtzee requires five dice and some custom scoring sheets, but the sheets are also on the Web.

So, why did we pay for these games?

In the case of Rummikub, the plastic tiles are easy to use and will last longer than cards. Durability is a reason to pay more. On the other hand, they are also likely to outlast my kids’ interest in the game. In the case of Yahtzee, I have to admit I was annoyed when I realised what the big box actually contained.

By revealed preference theory, we were willing to pay for these games, even though cheaper versions were available. Why?

  • I think, first, that we cannot discount ignorance. I didn’t know what Yahtzee was, so I didn’t make an informed decision. Rummikub? Well, we had played it at a relative’s house. I suspected that it could be played with cards, but hadn’t really looked that hard.
  • A related factor is convenience. Everything we needed to play the games was in one place, ready for use. No searching needed! We spent a little money to save a little time.
  • Uncertainty also came into our decision. We could have learned more about the games before we bought them. However, without conducting the search, we couldn’t know what we would find. They were ‘unknown unknowns’, to use a memorable phrase. We could decide to conduct a search, but without knowing what we would find, it was hard to decide whether the search would be worthwhile.
  • One really important reason was the rule books, the official rules to both games. We now have a way to resolve our disputes when we play. We are also ready to play these games with other people. We can participate in a common standard, or at least we have a way to find out what it is.

And this takes me to my point. The main thing we bought was reliable information. We felt that it was better to spend some money than to spend time on a potentially fruitless search. We also wanted to guarantee that we had some common understanding with the rest of the world. We bought membership in the network or community that plays Yahtzee.

That reliable, useful information, which in turn allows us to interact easily with others, cost money. All this talk about the explosion of information, costless information, ‘information wants to be free‘, and the like, isn’t the full story.

I have two new games to prove it.