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Greed systems

Here's a neat blog I've never read: HighArka, on World Of Warcraft:

What we learn from WoW, and the greed system it created, was that the behavior of people within greed systems is not based on the need for resources. The modern science of economics has justified itself, since its inception, as studying how people manage scarce resources, yet in the real world--and in the virtual worlds of WoW and the many others like them--resource scarcities are artificial things, created in order to keep people frightened, belligerent, and running.

Similarly, in the "real" world, the scarcities that governments and their economists use to justify social divisions are artificial. The behavior of WoW players mimics that of real-world economics players as closely as does the behavior of Blizzard and those who manage the economies and resources of the real world. The release of new consumer goods; the subtle systematic encouragement of outsourced loyalties through formal and informal associations; the carefully timed provision of resources and technologies: all these things, and the public reaction to them, can be seen on a much faster scale in WoW.

We're looking at this particular dumb video game not because we want to decry how stupid and mean elites are, or even to chronicle some of the details of how they manipulate financial systems, "nations," and other groupings of resources and people. Those things are worthwhile to consider, but more interesting by far--particularly if you've already figured out the worldwide blood and money ruse--is the way in which people react to it. When WoW players, under zero real-world pressure whatsoever, and even contrary to their real-world success, completely of their own volition adore Blizzard and reinforce its policies, it gives us a vast, seemingly-non-intuitive insight into why they do pretty much the same thing in the real world--and why the elites do the same.

This seems awfully suggestive to me, but then I don't play computer games at all. Readers?

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shargash's picture
Submitted by shargash on

While I have not played WoW, I have played MMORPGs (EQ, EQ2, and VG:SoH) since 2000. Based on my experiences, the analysis is very strained.

People play MMORPGs for three basic reasons.

1. As you encounter computer-controlled monsters, and succeed, you gain experience, which is quantified in the game by experience points (XP). After gaining sufficient XP, you gain a "level", which represents an increase in power and abilities. The constant small increments of XP, plus the relatively infrequent gaining of levels, triggers the reward centers of the brain. A biologist gamer friend of mine refers to it as getting "a little dopamine rush" every time she receives XP.

As you gain levels, the monsters you have encountered in the past give fewer XP. To continue to get the XP "dopamine rush" you have to seek out more powerful monsters. Since you've leveled, you are now more powerful too. However, your gear does not level with you, so you must constantly seek to improve your gear, typically be defeating higher level monsters.

2. Winning an encounter with monsters is something of a puzzle. In the better MMORPGs, the encounters can be challenging, and solving puzzles is itself rewarding.

3. The games are played with other people, and you can form real, enduring friendships with people you meet in the game. There is a large social aspect to MMORPGs. I sometimes get on the game just to "hang out" with friends.

In-game money has no value, except as a medium of exchange. You use it to buy stuff, so your gear can keep pace with your level (though the more normal way to upgrade your gear is to kill more powerful monsters and take it from them).

You don't want to replace your +11 whatever with a +12 whatever, just because it is cooler. You do it for practical reasons. If your gear doesn't keep up, you become less effective, and the rewards becomes progressively smaller.

The games I've played have (mostly) been run by Sony Online Entertainment, so I can' say much about Blizzard. However, almost no one I play with "adores" SOE. We complain about them a lot, and the official game forums are a fairly rough place.

Now, it is true that there are a few items in these games that are pure status items, typically flying mounts. And I will confess that sometimes, when the developers introduce a new flying mount that looks especially cool, I feel an urge to try to get one. On the other hand, I have never heard of anyone being disadvantaged by having an uncool mount.

Frerico's picture
Submitted by Frerico on

I've been playing video games since the Atari 2600 was sold nearly 30 years ago. I've also been playing MMO's (including World of Warcraft) on and off for the past 8 years. Calling the analysis strained is being generous. Given the author's loose interpretation of the facts of the game, and the systems at work, I'd call it flawed. The author of the link seems to pull the usual stunt of finding all the facts that reinforce his argument and ignore the ones that don't.

For example his reference to being able to buy a horse or a sword is incorrect. While you can in fact buy a newer fancier horse out of game, for play in-game, the horse is considered a "quality of life" improvement. That is, it's an improvement to your gameplay that makes travel easier but doesn't actually affect a player's stats or combat abilities. You cannot in fact, buy a +11 sword or a +11 anything out of game as that would create a huge backlash in the WoW community over the "pay to win" issue that's active in many online games and their eco-systems. Given the fact that the author uses WoW alone and doesn't discuss any other games in the MMO genre makes me believe this was a fishing expedition looking for things to back up his thesis.

The fact that he opens his piece calling WoW the "greatest" of the MMORPG genre made me suspicious at the very start. WoW is certainly the most popular MMO of it's genre, but the greatest? That's a flame war, just waiting to happen. His obscure intellectual reference didn't help any either. It's disappointing because there are some interesting ideas in this article. And I wish the author had done some more homework on this as understanding how the in-game economies work could in fact possibly reinforce his point about their negative controls. The CDC actually used Word of Warcraft to study disease/plague spreading at one point, so there's certainly some merit to the idea that the genre can model real human behavior.