« State of Play 6 | Main | The Soul of a New Regime: Thomas Malaby's Making Virtual Worlds »

Jun 19, 2009



* greglas notes, oooo. i like. i read: Koster pumps metaplace. i extrapolate: Bartle disses WoW; Massively covers.

1. We are pulled into the future by the future, not pushed into the future by the past. The past determines the future no more than the smell of the flower determines the bee. Ask the stock market.

2. If this translates as 90% of everything is crap, then, ok, I give you this one.

3. Inbreeding is usually not given such a positive spin; it causes whorls in cocker spaniels.

4. Is this claim that 1) it is valid to study the sociology of [any damn thing whatsoever], or that 2) WoW raiding has introduced a completely new, different, unique, valuable, meaningful, and understandable (through sociological analysis) condition to the state of human beingness? Heaven, Earth, WoW raids?

5. See #3.

6. Hmm, by affordances do you mean like Mr. T? Or like Blizzard stock options? Or like the joke about why the drunk looks for his lost car keys under the lamp post when he lost them way over there in the dark somewhere?

Others? Removal of whorls in cocker spaniels could become a lucrative practice, I suppose.

re EVE: the entrenched mofos? the design platitudes? because you're asking the question? just guessing.


I am rather pleased that you didn't take the opportunity to write a slam piece on lazy researchers who are blind to other games and worlds. It's an easy knee-jerk commenter-baiting piece to write, and I'm glad you didn't!

As well as the things you mentioned, I think a big part of it is scale (no-one can deny that either are the powerhouses in their markets), and public discourse. Both of them really form the public discourse about those areas, whether we like it or not.

From the games side, when gamers talk about MMOs, unless they say otherwise, 99.9% of the time they are either talking about WoW, or thinking about a game that follows the same mechanics. If you are going to research a game similar to WoW, why not just research WoW in the first place? It has the scale that I mentioned earlier, which lends a bit more relevance.

I would expect the same may apply to SL.

That said, I agree with the original thesis that there is now a glut of research with both worlds, and its getting to the point where the signal to noise ratio is tipping towards the latter.


Agreed - any academic work should justify its choice of virtual world. (In my experience, "Why did you study rather than ?" is pretty much guaranteed to be a question from the audience in a talk, or a comment from the referees on a paper, if you fail to address it up front).

Myself, I'd usually go for some variant of (4). Second Life and Metaplace give end-users much greater freedom to change the nature of the VW (e.g. ability to upload new images, sounds, and software) than (e.g.) Free Realms, and if you're interested in finding out what happens when users are given that degree of freedom, many other VW's won't do.

For example: the controvery over child avatars is mainly confined to VW's that let you create child avatars.


The nice thing about a possibly excessive focus on a limited number of worlds is that emerging researchers can then focus on underresearched worlds to counter misconceptions based on that excessive focus or simply make a name for themselves by studying something a bit different.


Chris Lewis wrote:

From the games side, when gamers talk about MMOs, unless they say otherwise, 99.9% of the time they are either talking about WoW, or thinking about a game that follows the same mechanics.

That's true only if you are explicitly ignoring Asia, where MMOs are more popular than in the West and where WoW is not the dominant game (ZT Online, for instance, has crushed any simultaneous user numbers WoW has put up.....2.3 million concurrents).

If you're focusing on WoW because it's popular, then be explicit that you're not covering MMOs in general, but the Western MMO market only.


I guess in the context of this discussion by "gamers" we mean virtual world gamers, but even there let us not forget (as Tim noted) that the kid & tween-oriented virtual worlds out there are pretty darn huge, and those players aren't talking about WoW or the other sizable (and sometimes long-running) vw's we tend to think of first. (And of course if we were to broaden the category just to online gamers the proportionof them who play WOW starts to get really small.) Just seems important we keep this in perspective.


I think this is an important thought expiriment.

At GLS this year Bonnie Nardi hosted a fireside chat and spent about 20 minutes grilling me about economics research in virtual worlds. Her main focus was essentially the following "what do we learn from studying virtual worlds that we may not learn from studying the 'real' world?" There are a few assumptions latent in that question (namely that such a distinction is necessary and that discovery of ubiquitous mapping would not be revelatory), but the question is still important.

I stumbled responding for most of the time until I realized that my examples came from an especially contrived economic world--Azeroth. Expanding the penumbra of study (in all honesty there is no shortage of economic research from European or Chinese institutions, but let's ignore that for purposes of this discussion) opens our eyes to virtual worlds with richer, thicker markets.

Financial economists can and should study CCP's little experiment with a loquacious central banker. Crisis economists should take a look at virtual bank runs. The list goes on and importantly, the list excludes WoW for a variety of reasons.


Just a quick note... I chose City of Heroes for a bunch of reasons (chapter 4 of the diss), but one fundamental one was the ability to log chats. WoW didn't have the capability at the time.

I am also more of a fan of cyberpunk/sci fi/super hero lore than fantasy... played too many RPGs in the 90s...


@ClydeSmith Agreed. Rallying cry?


At last. I've been railing on for years about this.


As an economist, the only question that matters to me is "Given what I want to study, can I get a data set that will provide a solid basis for statistical/econometric analysis?" Sometimes WoW will work, sometimes it won't.

@Adam - I'm not sure that a richer, thicker market is a valuable characteristic of a virtual world on which one wishes to perform economic research. A much simpler market, a la WoW (especially with the release of WotLK), significantly reduces unchecked noise, making analysis that much easier - and easier to believe. For policy research, WoW becomes less attractive; but as a lab for testing certain types of microeconomic theory, its simplicity is more ideal.


@ClydeSmith touché.

I'm not especially interested in adults as rsch subjects. And, the kids I know are not playing in SL or WoW. They are playing console games and imagined rather than rendered RP worlds (eg, Valenth), and yucking it up with youtube. Rather than study the game, I'd rather study the players or perhaps more accurately, 'the play'.


If I might add a more general comment: A detailed guide to the major VWs, games or otherwise, would be an excetionally valuable tool. If a group of academics or even avid players would take the time to describe in some detail, say, the market structure and availability of data from each of the worlds, researchers might be more inclined to consider a more diverse set of worlds for research. For instance, EVE sounds really awesome and may be a fruitful world for economics research, but it seems like there are major barriers to entry. I might be more inclined to explore it if someone would take the time to explain to me what goes on and what data I can get.



Well, while I agree that all we need is a dataset and a world for research, my concern is that we might lack a question in worlds like WoW. What are we searching for when we do economic research in WoW? Player to player economic activity is fairly constrained, even in comparison to other VWs. We can look at macroeconomic data and attempt to see how prices respond to shocks (this to me seems to be the most fruitful avenue for research). When blizzard reduced the time and mats for raiding flask, what happened to input prices? What happened to flask prices? Was the primary shock the actual change or was it the indication in the patch notes that a change was forthcoming (or did they comprise two distinct shocks?)? Did players exit the market and work within guild or friend networks when shocks like that occurred?

Those are good questions, but there are a shortage. Worlds organized around greater player autonomy or greater sophistication in production do present more grist for the mill. Aren't we a little limited in our analysis if we are constrained to describing a spot market for commodities?


@ Adam:

Clearly we're seeing eye to eye that each world lies on a spectrum of usefulness for economic research, but differently on cardinality of the set of opportunities that WoW makes available. For instance, I don't think that WoW is only good for examining macroeconomic shocks (though I agree that such is probably where it is most valuable). I suppose the auction house is a spot market for commodities and valuable in that sense. However, the auction house is also a place where (obviously) two forms of first-price auctions take place side by side. Someone interested in examining empirical evidence for the equivalency between different auction types would find the AH a very useful laboratory. People smarter than me could probably think of some other uses for that data (what about using a chat log to compare offer prices in trade chat to auction house prices?)

If you start asking any more complex questions at this stage in the research of VWs, you run into what Dmitri Williams described as the 'mapping problem' between the real and virtual worlds. When we begin to look at really complex question in industrial organization using EVE (for instance), it becomes difficult to face down arguments that such things simply do not map in a worthwhile way to real life.

Having said all that, I'll admit some naivete about what kind of economic data I can easily acquire from other MMORPGs. What else should I look at?


Some commentary and background on the moratorium provocation at http://www.tag.hexagram.ca/?p=339


I'm not sure how receptive CCP would be to studies, probably warm, yet the game itself can be anything but. Social studies would suffer from lies from informants and other forms of trickery. While it would make for interesting anecdotes and studies on social interaction, it would be difficult to ever discern if someone were lying to you without substantial amounts of time invested. We're talking about a game where players have lied for over a year just for a chance to grab a corporation's goods. That's an insane amount of dedication, most often done for fame as much as a monetary gain. Now, having your lies show up in a scholarly journal or article? That's a real bragging point.

Economic practices are safeguarded as a general rule by players. I can see some issues here as well. I myself build T2 modules, I work at minimum in two markets that are more than 20 jumps apart, I fancy arbitrage and simple buy/sell of high movement+ %profit goods in my spare time. But I won't show you any of that, I don't care where you're coming from or who you are. You find it on your own. Share it in any way and you risk losing it all.

So I see it as a hazardous environment for study. Not only will social interactions be difficult with players, but the information you're collecting needs to be done in ways that won't harm the communities within the game--even though they'll gladly harm you.

The comments to this entry are closed.