My Wife, the WoW Widow…

I really feel for my wife Amanda, she is a patient, understanding lady who has suffered my recent immersion into the World of Warcraft with only a few ‘discussions’ as to how long I should spend “playing *&%@#ing computer games” :).

For those of you fortunate enough to not have been exposed to what has been described as ‘online crack’ – World of Warcraft (WoW) is a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMPOG / MMOG) which has over 5 million subscribers all paying Blizzard Entertainment USD$14.99/mth to play on their servers. As part of my role at work, I’ve created a character and am currently addicted to the game and the fascinating social networking which goes on within it.

So the theory is, you create a character after choosing a faction, race and a class – then you spend many many hours online upskilling your character via quests, tasks and training all the while progressing through the storyline which ties all of these things together. As you progress up the levels the tasks get harder, the opponents get tougher, and it takes more time (and experience points (XP)) to level. Because of this, it becomes essential to group with others in the game to help you (and them) progress – no man (or character) can be an island in this game.
As an example, I joined a guild once I’d leveled up to a stage where I needed help to get quests done and actually found the process very frustrating as, due to the international nature of the game, often my guild mates would be asleep when I was online, or there would be a language barrier, or they’d simply be ‘clicky’ with other guildies from their part of the world to the point they would exclude all others.

I think I went through about 3 guilds before I was recruited by a high level player who was starting his own new guild with the specific intention of assisting lower ranked players. As an outcome, I now have a group of people who I can assist with their quests, and they can assist me – as well as providing a ready made group of people who, by virtue of our common ‘guildship’ can chat together within the game. Some of the discussions I have had in-game with these people have included chats about our homelife, kids and, the reason for this post – the reactions of our various spouses to WoW play. Interestingly enough, most of the people I interact with the most in the game are married with young families and both they and their spouses play and have several ‘Alts’ or alternate characters to supplement their ‘Main’ character and provide support in terms of running auctions, being bankers and possessing specialist skills and professions which allow them to create items that the ‘main’ requires in their game play.

Guilds, whilst being helpful in-game, are also becoming a means of introduction and specific social networking. There are some guilds within the game who use the WoW space to meet with others of similar interests and this group in particular includes some of the big movers and shakers in the IT industry.

So – once I’d established the usefullness of guilds (and found a good one) I started leveling up a lot quicker through the shared knowledge of other guild members as to the best way to approach each quest, direct assistance, and referral to sites built by the gaming community, specifically to provide walkthroughs of the different elements in the WoW space. A great example of the community which has built around this game is demonstrated by the website of the guild which I currently belong to. The guild, Genre X has an online space which lists the members of the guild, provides a forum for members to contact each other and discuss ‘stuff’. Drilling down from the members list, one can view the equipment, bag contents, skill level and professions and quests of each character. This information is provided by plugins to WoW which capture this data in-game, on the fly and, via another tool or a manual update, allows the extracted data to be posted to the website to allow others to see the characters progression. This is invaluable to help guild members of similar levels see what quests they have in common, or to identify which characters in the guild might benifit from a recent item drop which your character can’t use but isn’t worth selling on the Auction House. By virtue of the community the website creates, all guild members are strengthened either directly through support on their quests, or indirectly via sending useful items to each other. As an example, as I leveled, I was getting better drops (things left behind when I defeated an enemy) which, if I couldn’t use it, I could sell to in-game vendors, give to a guild member who could use it, or – put into the Auction house to make some money, and here where the game takes another interesting turn.

In-game, everything either costs money, must be made or must be fought for, and out of this there is a very strong ‘virtual economy‘ which has spilled over into the real world and is creating a opportunity for some people to trade real money for virtual goods as shown in these articles ( [ Link 1 ] [ Link 2 (Subscription Required) ] [ Link 3 ] ). Now, while the virtues and ‘fairness’ of trading real world money for virtual world goods (or even characters) could be discussed until the cows come home – the reality is, it’s happenning – a search for “WoW gold” on eBay or even the local NZ auction site de jour ‘Trademe‘ will show just how many people are making financial gain from intangible, virtual goods. Now, while I haven’t payed real cash for virtual stuff, I have traded favours in-game for items and assistance. I’ve created cloaks that people need to complete a quest in exchange for virtual money, assistance with a quest of my own, and even for some virtual ham steaks for my characters pet dinosaur! When one steps back to look at the situation it is both facinating and insane (in fact – if you check out the GoogleAds over on the right hand side of this page, you’ll see a couple of WoW gold ads have appeared there already!).

More later – I gotta jump online and check on my auctions…

[Update: 01 May 2006]

Time Magazine has listed Rob Pardo (VP Game Design, Blizzard Entertainment) as ‘Architect of Virtual Worlds’ putting him in the top 100 people who shape our world.

Here’s a link to the article, and a brief excerpt.

Posted Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2006
There’s a country of 6 million people that’s not on any map. It’s called World of Warcraft, and it’s a virtual country, a computer-generated fantasy environment that you can access, for a monthly subscription fee, via the Internet. It’s also one of the most immersive and successful video games ever created, and it could be the future of electronic entertainment.

It takes an obsessive mind to make sure there’s something interesting going on everywhere in an entire world, all the time, for both newbies and veteran players. If anything, he’s almost too good: some players have a tendency to confuse their virtual lives with their real ones. WoW is so addictive that among gamers, it’s known by the nickname Warcrack.

Nice… so it’s not just me then :)