The Tragic Cost of Pac-Man? Yeah, Whatever.

by Seanba on June 1, 2010

Remember how cool it was when Google turned their homepage, and logo, into a playable version of Pac-Man?

Google Pac-Man

I thought it was rather charming at the time – and just further proof that Google is the kind of modern, fun, and productive company that other software development studios should emulate.

But then came the news that Google’s Pac-Man ate, or gobbled, or devoured, or simply took a bite out of our global economy/market/productivity – to the tune of 5 million work hours and … get your best Dr. Evil voice ready … $120 million dollars!

Damn. Talk about a buzz kill … and complete nonsense to boot.

The source to the claim was a blog post from RescueTime under the alarming title, The Tragic Cost of Google Pac-Man. From their post:

This weekend, we took a hard look at Pac-Man D-Day and compared it with previous Fridays (before and After Google’s recent redesign) and found some noticeable differences. We took a random subset of our users (about 11,000 people spending about 3 million seconds on Google that day) The average user spent 36 seconds MORE on Google.com on Friday.

And RescueTime crunches the numbers further to find:

If we take Wolfram Alpha at its word, Google had about 504,703,000 unique visitors on May 23. If we assume that our userbase is representative, that means:

  • Google Pac-Man consumed 4,819,352 hours of time (beyond the 33.6m daily man hours of attention that Google Search gets in a given day)
  • $120,483,800 is the dollar tally, If the average Google user has a COST of $25/hr (note that cost is 1.3 – 2.0 X pay rate).

Hmm … well, that’s interesting – because I did my own back-of-the-envelope calculation and came up with a different figure:

100% Bullcrap 

First and foremost, there’s just no way that a sample of their userbase can represent the global population of Google visitors. When they write …

If we assume that our userbase is representative …

… they are committing a mortal statistical sin. At best, their sample can only represent the population of their userbase. Nothing more.

Further assumptions needed to make their conclusion work are just as nonsensical:

  • The half-billion unique Google visitors came to the site on their employers dime
  • These folks (500 million of them!) came at an average cost of $25 per hour
  • That Google Pac-Man caused an increase in slacking off, instead of substituting for other mental-break activities available to us each day

I don’t really blame RescueTime for playing fast and loose with numbers like this. Copious amounts of lost productivity is an important narrative for them, and although their tortured statistics may turn off people like me there’s little doubt it was anything but a net positive for them.

I just wish agents reporting on the news (including trusted news outlets) would apply some skepticism before parroting stuff like this – but of course they didn’t – and that’s tragic.

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