World of Warcraft as leadership incubator and education platform

Just a heads-up that I’ve written a small piece for the ABC Technology site on the use of MMOs in education and business. For the seasoned virtual worlds watcher there’s nothing earth-shattering in there, but it’s a useful overview for the newcomer or casual observer. Obviously these concepts don’t just apply to World of Warcraft (WoW), but as the behemoth in the arena it’s one of the better showcases.

I wrote recently on the lessons the latest WoW has for virtual worlds as well, if you’re interested.

For those of you out there playing through the new Cataclysm content, is there anything that’s really impressed you or frustrated you so far?

World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm: lessons for virtual worlds

A Cataclysmic Westfall

I’ve covered my experiences with World of Warcraft a couple of times here, and I’ve now been playing for more than three years. Even if you don’t play, you may have heard that Blizzard Entertainment are about to release the third expansion / fourth instalment for World of Warcraft, called Cataclysm. It’s a fairly standard formula now for MMOs – release an expansion every couple of years to keep current players interested, draw back some of the player base that may have already left, and ideally drag in a bunch of new players. Cataclysm is likely to do all of those things, but on top of that I’d argue it’s caused an interesting phenomenon: a fairly widespread sense of loss. It’s also I believe set a new standard in transitioning to a new expansion. Let’s look at both issues in a little more detail.

The loss

This expansion involves a continuation of the WoW storyline whereby Deathwing causes an enormous amount of geographic upheaval on Azeroth. Think tsunamis, earthquakes and the like. There’s now water in a lot of places where there were villages / encampments / quest zones. There are now gaping chasms in areas, including key cities like Stormwind. It’s very exciting to explore all the changes, but that’s also where the sense of loss kicks in. Over the past three years, I’ve become attached to a lot of areas in the game, and I’m actually not happy that some have changed. Take Gadgetzan for example – one of its key striking features was the fact it was in the middle of a desert. Now it has water right at its eastern wall. Although I never would have thought so, I miss how Gadgetzan used to be. Like any loss, over time I’ll incorporate it into my experience but I’ll still remember what it used to be like.

Is it a life-changing loss? No – not even in the context of my character’s life. It’s more the jarring sensation of a new visual in place of three years’ experience. Expecting permanence in a virtual world isn’t reasonable, but it does happen to be a very human trait, as is a reaction of anxiety to change. It’s not a new issue by any means for virtual worlds, but this is one of the bigger examples. Once the full expansion hits the servers on December 7th, the scale of the changes will be fully apparent. I’m sure no-one will need counselling on their loss, but there’s certainly some interesting further research potential.

The transition

It’s a common story-telling technique: build tension over a period of time prior to a major event. Blizzard have done this with each of their expansions (although I felt the pre-Lich King one was a little half-baked), and the Cataclysm lead up has been no exception. I’ve really enjoyed the storyline over recent weeks and loved the feeling of crisis in Stormwind as the changes started occurring. Aside from the rightfully expected story transition, I’m equally impressed at how they’ve managed the technical transition to the new content. From what I can gather, essentially all of the content for the expansion is likely sitting on your hard drive now, with your license key purely unlocking it on the 7th. Additionally, a lot of the smaller new content can already be explored, helping to build excitement when it’s all revealed. Finally, the staged download of the new content works well, with background downloading as you play. Again, none of it is specifically surprising but the implementation has been relatively smooth and Blizzard deserve kudos for it.

The sum-up

On the gaming side of the virtual world equation, the means by which end users are hooked into the product are extremely well established. When an MMO is around long enough that people are emotionally affected by changes to it, you know they’re probably getting a few things right. Less rigid environments like Second Life, Blue Mars, OpenSim grids and the like, can only translate such lessons to a certain extent. What they can mimic 100% is integrating the technical side of things with the user’s experience. That hasn’t changed in decades but it seems there’s still a lot of catch-up being done in that regard.

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

warcraft_deadspider 1. The announcement of Second Life Enterprise has certainly sparked some discussion. There’s some interesting debate here and some barely amusing coverage here – surely the ‘flying penises’ anecdote has been flogged to death a few dozen times by now?

Finally, here’s a great example of how the standalone offering is already being used (although it could just as easily have been done on the main Second Life grid).

2. World of Warcraft continues its work on extracting as much money out of players as possible. fatfoogoo argues it’s the next step toward microtransactions in the MMO. I’ve already had one guild member fork out US $10 for Lil’ K.T.

3. UK-based Second Life resident Tyche Shepherd does some amazing work crunching data over at her Grid Survey site. On the SL Universe forums a few weeks back, she posted some interesting information about the level of private ownership of mainlaind sims in Second Life. 70% is privately owned, the rest by Linden Lab.

4. Lost amongst the clamour around Second Life Enterprise, Linden Lab have released Q3 economy statistics. More than a billion hours have now been clocked up in-world by Second Life residents and Australia continues to be a significant player in terms of user-to-user transactions and hours spent. All the details here.

A detailed map of Stormwind vendors and trainers


A detailed map of Shattrath vendors and trainers

This map has been updated and is now located here

A detailed map of Dalaran vendors and trainers

August 2012: This map has been updated and moved to here

Virtual Gold Farming explained in 11 simple steps

WIred Magazine have written a simple overview of the booming virtual gold trade. World of Warcraft is the focus of the article – after a year or so involved with WoW I can vouch for how much work it takes to accumulate half-decent gold reserves, hence the burgeoning market in paying someone else to earn the gold for you.

Virtual goods are a fast-growing market, with World of Warcraft playing its fair share in driving demand. Non-gaming worlds like Second Life have virtual goods as the key to its economy, with just as many ingenious methods of earning money.

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for the heads-up.

Wrath of the Lich King – has it been popular?

Its been a couple of days since Wrath of the Lich King was released, and its been difficult to get a grasp on how popular the expansion has been. Until this afternoon when I attempted to log in:

This is the first time I’ve ever seen that message in the year I’ve been playing World of Warcraft – and the realm I play on (Draka) is a low population one.

I then took a look at the Oceanic realm list:

It’s fair to assume queuing will be a regular feature of the game over coming weeks – what will you do to while away the wait?

World of Warcraft demographics: no big surprises

Over at GamerDNA they’ve crunched some numbers on some key demographics of World of Warcraft players – the sample group are GamerDNA members combined with Armory data, so the sample is representative to say the least.

The results aren’t surprising but still interesting. The key points:

1. There remains a preference to sign up an Alliance character than a Horde one, particularly if the player is female.

2. The Hunter class is the most popular across both factions.

3. Men tend toward the more ‘manly’ classes such as Warrior.

As Sanya Weathers, the data cruncher says:

The most popular class, the Hunter, is slightly preferred by female players by the same margin in both factions. Same for Mages. Priests skew heavily female in both factions, again by roughly the same margin. Rogues and Paladins have the same stair step proportion across the factions, but with men outnumbering women. More men play Warriors than women across the board, but the difference is more pronounced on the Horde side thanks to the whole “women don’t do Orcs” thing.

The only flaw I can see in the gender analysis applies across all virtual worlds: there’s arguably a lot of avatars out there that are the opposite in gender to their real-world counterpart.

Aside from the obvious interest of such stats to WoW players, there’s a much wider application. Don’t imagine that marketers, game developers and educators aren’t looking at data like this intensively. There’s a thousand PhD theses in this sort of information and a few hundred of them are likely well underway.

If you’re a WoW player, do the statistics match your impressions?

World of Warcraft to be overtaken as largest world?

Wagner James Au, writing for GigaOM, gives some interesting details on teen virtual world Habbo Hotel’s ongoing growth. With 9.5 million active users it’s sneaking up on WoW’s more than ten million.

Any Habbo users out there that want to talk about its appeal?

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