Why study Utopia?

(Again, please do not mind the footnote mess. Also, take note that this segment is far from finished, I plan to incorporate interview data, forum data and other data from literature in the field)

 

Why does it matter, anyway?

 

Why study MMOGs? It is a good question. Games have become quite the economic force over the past few decades; with World of Warcraft reaching the eight million player mark in January 20071. Considering that a WoW copy costs €30,- and playing online requires a monthly subscription of €13,-, it follows that the company has made at least 240 million euros from WoW sales only, with at least 104 million euros incoming monthly – and that’s just one game. But I would agree with David Nieborg2 that the amount of gamers and the total amount of (free) time spent on gaming is the more meaningful way of validating game research and MMOG research specifically.

A survey from Swirve.com from 2002 shows how much time people spent on Swirve websites:

How much time do you spend per day (on average) on the Swirve Website?
Less than 10 Minutes — 3552 — 3%
10-20 Minutes — 16208 — 14%
20-40 Minutes — 27259 — 24%
40 Minutes to 1 Hour — 24979 — 22%
1 to 2 Hours — 20230 — 18%
2 to 3 Hours — 8469 — 7%
More than 3 Hours — 9034 — 8%
Total — 109,731 people — 100%

 

76,810 of these people played Utopia at the time the survey was taken.1 This however pales in comparison to the amount of time people spent playing MMORPGs like WoW. In an article written by Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell and Moore2 it was calculated that it takes on average 15,5 days (372 hours) before character level 60 is attained; at the time this research was done (February 2006), 15% of all WoW characters were level 60. Supposing that this percentage holds true today, it would mean that well over 1.2 million people have spent at minimally 372 hours playing the game. Average time spent playing per player per week hovers around 21 hours, often at the cost of watching television.3

In its peak period, Utopia reached 88,045 players. Today, the number is down to around 27,000. Well over 13 million players worldwide play MMOGs.4 Clearly MMOGs are massively consumed world-wide, with more players joining each day, but more fascinating would be to investigate why people play in the first place.

Between February 2nd and February 20th 2007 I was heavily involved in an alliance war.5 Alliance wars are often major events; it usually concerns one alliance (a group of kingdoms) pitted against another, though frequently other alliances join in on either side. This particular alliance war concerned only two alliances – Lotus and 9 Fates (9F). I assumed command on the side of Lotus, and for the next eighteen days my daily life was turned upside down; my sleeping pattern revolved around my army’s return times, my eating habits changed for the worse, I was stuck in my room all day and kept my forages in the outside world – attending class and doing groceries – to the barest minimum. I put most of my single player habits on hold (except for one or two sessions of Civilization IV6 during some particular frustrating periods) and fully focused on coordinating 230-270 players in a long war against a foe with similar numbers. Day and sometimes night I would be on stand by to respond to new events, to provide people with information and updates and to conduct or coordinate diplomacy efforts with the opposing side. I developed mouth ulcers due to bad eating habits and irregular sleeping times; sometimes I would go to bed at 9 PM to wake up at 3 or 4 AM, and then catching some more sleep at 7 AM after having issued some orders and addressing some newly developed concerns. I certainly did not have any fun. Throughout the ordeal I have tried to strike a balance between successfully defending the alliance and ending the war as soon as possible without surrendering. A new semester was starting and I did not fancy the thought of Utopia interfering with my university work. Finally, in the afternoon of February 20th the leadership of the opposing alliance agreed to an end of the war. Neither side proclaimed victory, and my life switched back to its normal routine.

Any outsider would declare me insane in a heartbeat; who spends so much time and effort on a GAME?! Why play a game if you are not having fun? I will admit that I invested so much partially because I would have a nice anecdote for this thesis. But there was more to it than that; I felt I had a responsibility towards my friends in the alliance. I had been hanging out with some of them for three and a half years. The other alliance attacked us using justifications that my alliance and I felt were vacuous or false. I was defending my home turf. I was defending my convictions on what constitutes honourable game play.

1Swirve E-mail

2Alone Together

3Yee, Nicholas. http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/000891.php

4http://www.mmogchart.com/

5http://alliancerankings.com/forum/showthread.php?t=2131

62k games etc

1http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=12371

2http://www.gamespace.nl/content/MAThesis_DBNieborg.pdf

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