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The Nerd Tax: Merch ‘For Gamers’ and the Financial Sin of Early Adoption

Gamers are used to being slapped with the all-too-common upcharge for being an early adopter. Or, lately, buying into a fad based around the mythic consumer known as “gamer.” We’ve all fallen prey to the siren song of buying merchandise that is seemingly meant exclsuively for us, “The Gamers.” After all, it was only about fifteen years ago or so that the demographic of video game-playing consumers were rarely, if ever, courted by normal purveyors of goods. These days everything is covered in RGB LED lights and specifically formulated with our gaming needs in mind. And while I guess it’s interesting that we’ve moved into a place where gaming is no longer a freak niche but part of the mainstream cycle of goods, it doesn’t mean I want to keep paying top dollar for the “privilege” to have snacks and shaving cream tailored to hobbies. It’s a nerd tax, plain and simple, as well as the sin that comes along with early technology adoption. And yet, I’m just going to keep buying stuff, aren’t I?

nerd tax early adoption

There’s a Penny Arcade comic from 2006 that I always think about when it comes to new technology, early adoption, and selling merch to niches within niches. Titled “Treachery In 1080i,” the strip focuses on main character Gabe’s need to come up with a good reason for being an early adopter of the now-defunct HD-DVD technology, despite the fact that the only DVD’s available initially included Phantom of the Opera, Doom, and the Joss Whedon-created Serenity. In the accompanying podcast for the creation of this strip, Penny Arcade founder Jerry Holkins says jokingly that it’s a nerd tax and the publishers knew exactly what they were doing by making two of the handful of initial HD-DVD offers a Firefly product and a special effects-filled video game-adjacent disaster like Doom.

After all, the nerds are the ones who are going to be buying this thing at full price, right? Well, history shows that almost nobody bought the HD-DVD player at any price, at any time. Joke’s on them. Regardless, this isn’t the only time we see an upcharge in things or a comically high price for something meant to be for that mysterious consumer known as gamers. Just this past week or so I brought news to this site about a team-up between luxury furniture maker Herman Miller and everyman computer hardware company Logitech. The Embody Logitech x Herman Miller chair comes in at a cool $1,500 and has such new features as… um… Nothing. The Logitech Embody is no different than its standard counterpart, minus the fact that it has a bunch of Logitech G logos plastered all over the thing. (Editor’s Note: Herman Miller says that this version of the Embody has an “additional layer of foam” for posture support, “new technology to keep you cool,” and the original design is enhanced with research into “how gamers sit…in partnership with Logitech G.”)

nerd tax early adoption

Besides a new coat of paint, there’s little to no difference, and despite the fact that the Logitech model costs the same as the standard Embody there’s still a nerd tax at work. By and large, I’m willing to say that this chair would never be on the radar of anyone in the gaming space, save for an influencer with too much money on their hands. However, both companies know full well that if you say you’re making something for gamers in mind that you’ll manage to snag yourself a few whales in the process.

Because–and I feel like I failed to mention this despite it being the most important part–gamers are suckers for this kind of thing, and it works on us because we’re so willing to open up our wallets in order to be catered to by normal companies. There’s no denying it. Just today I went to Ikea and got a new desk. But, not just any desk: The “gamer-centeric workstation” Fredde desk made with gamers in mind. Nevermind the fact that said desk is almost twice the amount as their standard office and work desks. After all, this one has gamer hooks. Hooks! For gamers! Think of the possibilities.

And I knew all of that. Even so, I started looking at this metal monstrosity that is now sitting in two boxes at the bottom of my steps, thinking “Well…the dedicated computer tower tray is nice. And those hooks would be useful.”

nerd tax early adoption

Yes, it’s me: The dumb-dumb who totally buys anything “gamer-centric.” I talked yesterday about my recent pandemic penchant for buying sponsored advertised crap on Facebook and that includes energy drink specifically formulated for gamers. There’s no trying to be woke here, folks. I am just as bad as anyone about buying things just because a company slapped some RGB lights on it. I even considered buying new ram for my computer this week that had RGB lights, despite the fact that the lit-up version was double the price of the exact same product sans lights.

It’s a pernicious trick, but it works. Marketing works. And the same thing will happen this holiday when the PlayStation 5 sales push begins to roll out and many us you start hemming and hawing over whether to buy-in now or later. You might even tell yourself that the launch line-up doesn’t look that good, or that you should wait until an updated SKU beyond the initial run comes out. After all, what if a PS5 Pro comes out down the line?

And yet, you’ll probably still buy it, won’t you? Don’t feel bad. I’ll be right there with you, gamer energy drink in hand and gamer desk ready and waiting. After all, we’re all in this together. We’re gamers.