Why WoW? A note on world choice.

At State of Play VI Dimitri Williams received applause when he stated emphatically that “You can not study virtual worlds if you do not use them,” – a point reiterated in his paper on mapping and which I discussed with him at Terra Nova.

As noted in that last link, I am skeptical of this point. However, I think I understand why it received such praise at SoPVI: serious gaming has long been the object of perceived attacks in papers on media effects. Nonetheless, if you’re getting ready to be a serious scholar with a focus on MMOs or VWs, you might get discouraged that your work will not be taken seriously if (again like me) your experience in them is limited.

So: Why WoW? My experience is limited solely to playing World of Warcaft. Its where I intend to perform my studies. I have tried other games (EQ II, Final Fantasy), but none has ever drawn me in like WoW, and this is mainly because I play WoW to socialize with my brother, who is also an exclusive WoW player. Because of this, I know its history, I’m intimately familiar with its trends and mechanics, and – most importantly – I understand its economy extremely well. I have thought of creative ways to get at the data I need, and given careful consideration to the many and sundry pitfalls in my way. Your world of expertise may be different than mine.

Why not WoW? From an economics perspective, there’s no good reason. There’s nothing in my toolbox to make me think that gamers, once in their particular world, will react to incentives in functionally different ways between worlds. Some might argue that WoW is not a rich enough economy to attract serious study, but I disagree that richness of environment qualifies a world for study. Rather, its all about the richness of data and the ease of acquiring it. And it is data, ultimately, that an economist needs in order to study something.

Finally, a brief note on applicability beyond the game. One might question the inevitable heavy focus on WoW in games research because the results will have some sort of unobservable WoW-bias. Maybe this is true (though I am skeptical). Do not be paralyzed by this concern, however. Let others repeat your experiments in other games and try to reconcile their results with yours. In the mean time, priority one is producing research with robust results that merit publication in your field of study.

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