Archive for the ‘World of Warcraft’ Category

Scraping Warcraft Data: First steps

June 9, 2010

It’s time for me to start writing my addons. I need at least two, possibly three. I have downloaded the API, but I am a novice programmer, so I’ve also purchased a book that I hope will get me to the skill level I need.

So, what addons will I be creating? The first one is an auction house tool. The second one is a census-taker. The third one, if/when I get around to building it, is also a census taker, but a very specialized one.

Auction house tool: This would be a totally stripped down version of Norganna’s Auctioneer. What we are interested in is just scraping everything – including character name – and storing it to a file. We can take this data and save it for later analysis. It needs to do this as frequently as possible. Because we want character name, the addon will be more complicated (probably the most complex I design). Otherwise, we could makes use of the much simpler Blizzard-defined function QueryAuctionItems().

Census-taker addon 1: This addon writes /who output to a SavedVariables file. It will scan the major cities and other known high population areas for characters and append the results to a file along with a time stamp. It will scan as often as the game will let it. That’s it. It can also be used for initial surveys to determine what constitutes ‘high population areas’.

Census-taker addon 2: This addon is a little trickier, and may not ever be implemented. What we’re looking for here is an addon that allows a correctly placed character to “observe” individuals who are most likely utilizing the auction house. The addon scrolls through friendly targets in the character’s field of vision, and for each target it records the name of its target, the target’s level, the locale in which the target is observed, and a time-stamp for the observation. Designed properly, this addon affords us two augmentations to our study. First, it can be used to increase the total number of characters seen at any one time in populous cities like Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Second, it can be used to capture auction-cancellation effects.

This latter point is a major obstacle. While my WoW player’s instinct is that few auctions are cancelled, the truth is that a character’s likelihood of cancelling an auction is probably positively correlated with their participation in that market. I haven’t yet worked through the preliminary math on this, but the basic strategy rests on the realization that if a bunch of auctions disappear between scans, and the player whose auctions they were is at the auctions house, and [insert some sort of decision-making calculus here], then there is a high probability that the missing auctions weren’t purchased, but rather cancelled. In the absolute worst case scenario, we can just ignore any sales that take place while the seller is online, but this is overkill. The point of this addon is to try to finesse things a little more.

Player as firm: The unit of analysis

June 7, 2010

An important part of the research process is identifying the smallest feasible unit of analysis. So what is the unit of analysis in WoW? Well, it’s the player! This may seem obvious, but to my knowledge it has never been explicitly recognized in any of the economics work I’ve seen. Let’s take a moment to understand why.

WoW players often have multiple characters on a single server. The reasons for this are many, but there are three that are most important to understanding the WoW economy. First, players like to create bank and auction house characters, and often these roles are mixed. The bank character becomes a store of cash and valuable items that it can quickly mobilize to participate in the economy. For some players who particularly enjoy dealing with the economy, the bank alt is more like a main. Second, players like to have access to multiple professions. Not having to tip other players for their, say, enchanting or blacksmithing skill, can save a little cash. (This is notwithstanding that the cost of actually learning and levelling the tertiary professions could be quite high for the player). Lastly, players who want to experience a different perspective on the game will most likely create alts on the same server as their more powerful high-level characters. That way, they can participate in a sort of nepotism with their alts, moving them through the game more quickly.

What should we make of this? A player’s characters on a single server are jointly engaged in production, and each has access to the same information about the market. They constitute the productive units of a ‘firm’. (One could also argue that they are individual firms in perfect collusion with one another, but I think this overly complicates the picture). The CEO, board, and shareholders are all embodied by the player. Players, not characters, are the smallest productive units in the game economy. On this view, competition within the economy should be viewed as taking place between players (“firms”) who have interests in multiple sectors of the economy. The organization of firms is heterogeneous and occurs on a spectrum: at one end are players who do not engage in a lot of inter-character interaction, as if they were wholly-owned subsidiaries of a conglomerate. On the other end are players who actively engage their characters with one another to meet a single economic end, and this would include both gold/item farmers and players who get the most fun out of participating in the economy.

We are left with several practical and theoretical questions. On the practical side is the very real problem of identifying players when you can only directly observe the actions of single characters. This is not easy, but there are ways to do it. On the theoretical side, a whole host of interesting research topics presents itself: How are player-firms organized? What is the nature of competition in the economy? How economically organized are guilds? What role does arbitrage play in the economy? How influenced are players by day-to-day fluctuations in the market? I hope to take up these and other questions in future posts.

WoW account hacked: Resolution

June 7, 2010

I sought and executed many strategies to find and remove the keylogger I suspect found its way onto my PC, but ultimately I had no choice but to nuke the drives and start from scratch.

I ran scans using Windows Defender, Microsoft’s Malicious Software Removal Tool, Malwarebytes, and two types of AVG scans – one after booting windows, and another using an AVG Rescue CD to do a pre-boot scan. I found nothing.

In the meantime, Blizzard got back in touch with me and restored my Battle.Net account to my email address. Using a clean (I hope!) PC, I immediately created a new email address with a completely new password, and then switched all my account information to that email address. I will probably break down and get an authenticator as well.

An altogether interesting, frustrating, and time-consuming interlude in the broader mission to conduct economics research in WoW. Serves to remind a person that although many companies are working to incorporate RMT into their business model, there’s still plenty of demand for the third party kind – and plenty of people using unsavory methods to supply it.

WoW Account Hacked!

June 3, 2010

My WoW account was hacked early this morning.

The story:
After waking up this morning, I got on the gmail account associated with my WoW account and saw two very unsettling things:
1) A big red warning at the top of my inbox stating that my gmail account had been accessed from China the night previous, and
2) An email from Blizzard notifying me of a password change on my account.

I immediately attempted to log into my WoW account to no avail (wrong password). Whoever hacked the thing didn’t change the email address associated with the account, so I immediately changed my Battle.Net password and tried to log in again. This time, a box popped up requesting a six-digit number from the new authenticator keys Blizzard has released. Except I don’t own one of those; the perps associated one with my account to keep me from logging in while they were doing their thing. Very clever.

Apart from the 45 minute wait to speak with a Blizzard Rep, the resolution was more or less satisfactory: they’ll be restoring my account as best they can (they claimed 95-99%) as soon as they investigate the case, which takes 1 to 2 weeks.

Let me just say that I never participated in RMT, have never shared my account info with anyone, and have never succumbed to any phishing scheme. I did, however, briefly join a vanilla WoW private server using the same email address and password. I can only assume that this is where they got my account info… but who knows how they got my gmail password. Admittedly, it’s a personal email account – nothing important besides my WoW account info was transmitted to it – so the password wasn’t very secure.

Anyway, its a minor interlude that can only serve to remind researchers of a very important step when collecting information: BACK UP YOUR DATA!

Virutal economics revisited

May 31, 2010

I started this blog a long time ago, in part to serve as a forum to discuss my research in World of Warcraft. In my first serious undergrad research paper, I explored the effect of the mass account purges that constituted Blizzard’s first major foray into defending its economy against RMT. I found that price levels on the auction house dropped precipitously in response to these bans; that is, the economies experienced mass deflation.

With notable exceptions, research into virtual economies has similarly focused on macro-phenomena, and this seems to have followed from the belief that such research serves to position VWs as media for policy research. The macro focus seemed to be a consequence of the fact that it was difficult to get microlevel data, but this problem has diminished: Dimitri Williams, who was given amazing access to data from Everquest 2 data by Sony Online Entertainment, worked with Edward Castronova to produce a paper on the stylized facts of the EQ2 economy. Yet while this has served as yet another interesting think-piece in the limited bibliography of virtual economics studies, it has gone basically unnoticed in the field of economics. In fact, the best papers I have read so far on the economics of virtual worlds have been produced by undergrads (here and here). An honorable mention must go to a high school student who is now an undergrad at MIT, and whose ambitious paper, though flawed, evidences a remarkable amount of careful thought for a high school senior.

What makes these papers valuable is that their authors are not trying to shift paradigms, but rather to explain in precise detail how virtual economies actually function, and the ways in which player participate in the markets they create.

In fact, the most important paper on economics produced by the Gods of Game Research is not an economics paper at all, but rather an exposition of Dimitri Williams’s mapping principal, in which the author lays out the pitfalls that one faces when entering virtual worlds to perform research. Williams thesis is that researchers must carefully establish the way in which activities in virtual worlds map to those in real life before drawing inferences. From an economics perspective, this mapping has yet to be carried out in any systematic way. One of the issues an economists face, for instance, is establishing the way in which a player’s participation in markets for virtual goods maps figures into their production of ‘fun’ – that is, their utility function. Absent such information, any study that seeks to study macro-phenomena can not establish a map to the real-world economy, where participation in markets is fundamental for existence.

What appears to be missing in the game studies arena is a set of individuals with sufficient amounts of micro-level market data and the will to analyze it. With little to no help forthcoming to the average researcher from the companies themselves, the researcher is forced to produce the data on his own – a very costly venture in time and money.

As I once again seek to jumpstart this blog and define its direction, I will post further on interesting research questions and on methodologies that will allow research economists to enter the field at a relatively low cost. I look forward to producing a blog that is useful as a research diary and forum of ideas for other interested individuals.

World of Warcraft Research: A Brief Note

October 3, 2007

I have been surprised and encouraged by the number of downloads of my draft on RMT and World of Warcraft over the past month or two.  So surprised that I myself downloaded it just to refresh my memory.  I opened it up, started reading it, and was dismayed with the introduction!  I wonder if I put up an older draft that had not been thoroughly edited.  The intro just makes for terrible reading.  I would like to revisit the draft and do a little bit of editing, but in the meantime I’ll leave the current draft available. 

Hopefully, the atrocious style did not turn off the mildly curious from the get-go!

Culmination of my World of Warcraft Research

June 5, 2007

This is the last draft of my paper on RMT.  It was last edited in late February, and unless there is some great interest from the outside it will remain in its current form.  I post the link here for all to view and comment at their leisure.

World of Warcraft: Further Research

June 1, 2007

Unfortunately, my WoW research is on hold indefinitely until I get up the gumption to do it again.  In the meantime, I’ve been thinking of ways to go about looking at the real money trade (RMT) and prices that would yield excellent examples of real life economic phenomena. 

For instance:  Suppose it were possible to differentiate between gold acquired through intended mechanisms and gold acquired via RMT.  In other words, suppose there were a way to “tag” RMT.  This would make it possible to examine the flow of RMT as opposed to regular gold.  Does RMT acquisitioned gold circulate in the same general pattern as does normal money? 

 Why?  Because we could use such information to look at the effects of fluctuating currency markets have on an economy.  The exchange rate with dollars is so small that the effect on the American economy is negligible.  But as my previous research has shown, RMT can have a profound effect on the price level in the virtual economy of World of Warcraft.  Embedded within fluctuations of the price level we may find evidence of any number of economic phenomena taking place.  For instance, we may see RMT gold as foreign direct investment, and to the extent that RMT causes short run increases in economic activity (as when the federal reserve increases the money supply), we may see the virtual economy produce more as well until prices adjust. 

 There are two ways to go about getting data from and about the game.  The first is through user-interface add-ons like Norganna’s Auctioneer, which can collect information from the auction house.  I have a great deal of data from the April 2006 to October 2006 and could reexamine for certain fluctuations.  However, it would be extremely difficult to control for the account eliminations Blizzard was enacting at the time.  So better off perhaps getting someone to modify the code to collect data and index it by date and time. 

 The other possibility which I was considering for this summer but which did not pan out was an actual in-depth panel study utilizing interviews with individual players.  I think this should be explored by researchers with more time and resources than are currently at my disposal. 

World of Warcraft: The New Economy

May 9, 2007

Although my reserach agenda for WoW appears halted (and likely just stone dead), I don’t think that necessarily precludes from writing about virtual economies. 

So in that vein I think I want to bring up a new design aspect of the WoW expansion (The Burning Crusade) about which, I must say, I am somewhat unhappy.  This concerns the way that the professions have been changed such that you are unable to buy and sell the fruits of your labors in the economy. 

For instance, blacksmiths were long separated between weaponsmiths and armorsmiths.  In the original version, even specialized smiths could buy and sell their goods and services as they saw fit.  With the expansion came a new (and seemingly unreasonable restriction) on that aspect of the smithing trade – and now armor and weaponsmith products can only be used by armor and weaponsmiths, respectively.  From what I understand, this has happenend also in tailoring, and though I’m not sure, probably in leatherworking as well.  I don’t know about jewelcrafting, though I do understand that there are certain products of the trade that can not be shared with others.

So why do it?  I’ll just focus my analysis on smithing, but I think with some modification it could be applied to the others.  The main problem may be that Blizzard simply made the products of the trade so powerful – far more powerful level-for-level than anything you can pick up in any non-heroic 5-man instance – that if, say, a warrior weaponsmith and a warrior armorsmith were to be able to produce and trade, they would have much less incentive to hit instances more than once or twice just to finish quests.  Still, this seems rather myopic.  Armorsmiths can’t make shields, and at a higher level the only thing they can really make is some crazy chest-pieces.  Wep-smiths can only make, well, weapons, so you couldn’t argue that the two could trade at higher levels thus significantly reducing the number of warriors that would be willing to be MT or OT in an instance.  In any event, by making the pieces more powerful than what you can pick up in an instance, they actually give you an incentive to bother collecting the materials for the recipe.  I mean, I spent a week getting together what I needed for the first epic chestpiece that I made.  I recall that before the expansion the prospect of collecting what you needed for armormithing was so daunting, and the rewards for your effort so small, that i never really bothered making anything.  I would just go in the instances and hope for good luck. 

Actually I really can’t think of one good reason why they would do it.  It doesn’t diversify the products in the economy; in fact, it takes upper level crafters out of the economy.  It doesn’t contribute to the social aspect of the game for the same reason: it takes people out of the economy.  I can only conceive that Blizzard reasoned that people weren’t crafting because they had no incentive to do so, so the specialized smithing professions were not contributing anything more to the economic/social aspect of the game. So, they thought, we can decrease the material requirements and/or make the crafted pieces more powerful than what can be acquired through regular instance runs.  But, if we do that, people might stop playing the instances, so we should require that only the professionals themselves can utilize their product.  So while weaponsmiths and armorsmiths might be crafting and using their own weapons and armor, they certainly participating any more in the social or economic aspect of the game as a results. 

Face facts, however:  While the pieces are better than what the professions used to be able to make, the materials are still expensive and collection is time-consuming.  I can’t imagine that loosening usage restrictions would actually hurt game play, especially when you consider the economic advantages that would attend such deregulation.  I know I would be smithing more often if I could actually really offer something to customers.

World of Warcraft and RMT

April 16, 2007

I have been researching the Real Money Trade with respect to the MMO World of Warcraft for about 8 months now.  I will try to post the current draft of the resulting paper in the near future.  Today, I read this entry at PlayNoEvil about a recent problem of hacking in World of Warcraft accounts.  Further down is a summary of an article (the text of which, I admit, I have not read), by a Prof. Castronova, an economist who has written much of the seminal work in the field of RMT, including the description of  simple demand model for RMT. 

Personally, I am somewhat turned off by Castronova’s incessant diatribes against RMT, especially as a (fledgling, a.k.a undergrad) economist.  Simply renouncing RMT does not provide any new information that game companies may use to combat it, and invoking government intervention is a cardinal sin of economics of the first degree.  I think economists and game companies interested in RMT need to research the incentives that gamers face with respect to RMT, and use the resultant models to devise solutions that are both effective and cheap to implement.  Supposing that we see RMT as a the result of a failure of a game to fully enclose players in its Magic Circle, then the demand for RMT might ultimately be chalked up to game design flaws, not the incursion of cheating, criminal elements.  The impetus is then on the game company to improve/innovate in their games, instead of on the government to devise and impose more laws and create more waste. 

I’ll write about this again if I can get a chance to read the text of the actual article.