05/26/2010 08:11 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pac-Man did NOT lead to $120M lost productivity, false arguments lead to false conclusions

The media is awash over the last few days about a piece of analysis from RescueTime, a time management firm that claimed that U.S. workers lost $120 million in productivity due to Google replacing their logo on Friday with a version of Pac-Man. Their argument goes something like this, the average amount of time spent searching on Google increased on Friday because workers were playing Pac-Man rather than working. This lost time can be converted into a dollar value by multiplying the productivity per hour.

Probably the biggest reason why this argument is incorrect is the assumption of substitution. This analysis assumes that the time the worker spent playing Pac-Man substituted for productive work. It ignores the fact that workers don't spend all of their hours at the office at work and so a certain percent of time everyday is spent on non-work activities whether that be lunch, talking around the water cooler, playing with their new I-pad, chatting with friends or any other of the countless activities available while we are at the office. The Pac-Mac entertainment could easily have substituted for other non-work activities which, of course, were not measured. Imagine someone has just spent 10 minutes gobbling ghosts and then realizes that they still have to do their work, they will either spend less time that work day on other non-work activities (water cooler, I-pad...) or they will often stay later. That is, the author's false argument about substitution also extends to the fact that the calculation ignores that many workers will end up spending a little more time at work in order to finish what they needed to accomplish that day. Project work is less dependent on hours and more depending on achieving milestones. Workers who are able to avail themselves to Pac-Mac games in the middle of the day may often be on project work and thus find themselves having to stay a little later to complete the work.

So, who was the winner in this Pac-Mac/Google controversy? Rescue Time of course, for getting fantastic publicity by writing a very cool, but also incorrect story. The media also won by getting people to read and discuss a fun, but misleading article.