Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Signatures and Reactivation

People take their email signatures way too seriously. O Georgia Tech student, do I really need to know your school, department, residence hall, and expected year of graduation every time I receive and email from you? O Georgia Tech Housing staff member, in addition to the aforementioned glut of information, do I really need to know about your affiliation to the Freshman Experience program, your area of work? In any case, do I need three phone numbers at which I can reach you whenever I want? The answer is no.

Imagine the following scenario. Your friend tells you about a fantastic new product he's discovered. He ensures that you'll really love it, and though you have doubts about how much your new hobby might end up costing you, you decide to give it a shot. (The first few times are free, anyway.) Almost immediately, you find yourself immersed in a bizarre subculture, complete with an idiosyncratic jargon/slang, a power structure and social hierarchy, and an economy almost as complex as that of an industrialized country.

And in the coming months, most of your peers and acquaintances complain that you're spending too much time on this hobby, and that it's affecting you in a bad way. Your personal resources are drained, but you honestly feel like it's worth spending what time and money you do. All through your day, you look forward to those few hours you can devote to this new cursus. It's become compulsive... addictive?

Sounding a bit like an after-school special or public service announcement? Warning about the dangers of drinking or drugs, perhaps? Add another item to that list: World of Warcraft.

"Hey, let's go get something to eat." "No, I can't, I'm on a raid."

There's been an expansion released that's poised to let even more people spend even more of their time in the World of Warcraft. And so let the reactivation of millions of idle accounts begin. To be clear, I of course respect WoW from a business standpoint. Eight million active accounts pre-expansion? That's a capitalist success story if ever I heard one. And while it's not nearly as overrated as Halo (which Jick from the Kingdom of Loathing correctly describes as "the single most overrated product ever"), is World of Warcraft that good? Hard for me to believe.

For all you WoW players out there, here's the question I pose. What makes World of Warcraft good? More specifically, what makes it uniquely worth your $15 per month and many hours per day that you undoubtedly pour into it?

Currently listening: "Sun" from Destination: Beautiful, Mae


zm1285ghaa said...

As I play wow, and I bet part of this post was inspired by Brian, Andrew, and I reactivating our accounts, i can honestly say it's not THAT addictive of a game. Rome: Total War, Neverwinter Nights 2, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion were all much more addictive games and better in my opinion. Wow, however, has the social aspect like guild wars, execpt WoW has a much higher replay value. Where Guild Wars is revolved around PvP, WoW revolves around PvE instances w/ buddies. I have to say that the quests and gameplay are more enjoyable than Guild Wars, and thus yields a better game experience.

On that note, you now ask if it's worth $15 a month of play. Well, ask yourself if a movie is worth the $9 you spend on it. Not only do you get more hours of play out of one month of WoW than you get out of a $9 movie, but I bet you WoW is probably more enjoyable than quite a few movies out there. We can say that about any entertainment: is the dinner worth $20? Is the concert worth $30? (in the case of Zao, it wasn't ever worth $2) is the cable bill worth $50 a month? I can honestly say that WoW is more affordable and more enjoyable than quite a few thigns out there. It makes it even better if you have friends who play, otherwise it loses a ton of its value.

Matt Pavlovich said...

Zach, you raise a good point about the relative value of things, and that nothing can ever be "overvalued" as such. (This is a good idea for a future post.) I'm not attacking WoW or anything, just playing off the popular perception of it being addictive, and just giving an uninitiated's inquiry into its popularity.

Nick Simmons said...

The question arises as to how meaningful that entertainment is, no matter how much it costs. If I spend twenty dollars on a meal, then hopefully I have either eaten delicious food that I would be hard-pressed to obtain myself, and/or enjoyed some quality conversation time with one or more friends. Either way, I have just satisfied a basic need - fueling my body for another round of life.

My two big problems with WoW are currently: it is the LEAST constructive leisure time activity I have ever encountered, and it manipulates your brain's reward centers in ways that begin to make other aspects of your life dull in comparison. Nothing, nothing that you do while playing has any real meaning whatsoever. There is nothing you can do that millions of other people can't do. All progress is based essentially on how much time you put into it, and then once you obtain that instance-dropped helment with the 8% drop rate, something that has, in all likelihood, taken many, many hours of your time... you're still no closer to any ultimate goal. You will be pleased momentarily, and then set off for the next item.

Which, you could say, is exactly the way everything in life works, but WoW's quests and rewards are timed such that you are almost constantly completing some small task, making one number bigger, getting another new item, firing the reward centers... all while sitting still, doing essentially nothing. Following simple task instructions. Quests are paint-by-number exercises. Raids are about doing your one little widget of activity to "conquer" a larger task. And it's easy. The brain likes this - in the waking world, some of us may not experience reward triggers with anything approaching the regularity of WoW. Many games operate on this principle, but WoW has it refined to a point of near-perfection, where you know that next meaningless little task is just a few clicks away, whereas enseavors that might produce a lasting success or outcome require some initiative, some less-frequently-rewarding activity... and what if that $20 meal isn't worth it? What if the conversation isn't that great, or it takes forever to get the check? Where's the quest list for how to deal with the parking lot being full and having to choose another place to eat? Nah, I'm on a raid, man - at least here I know the outcome is prescribed in advance. And it's fun!!

And for God's sake don't talk about the social aspect. The conversations that happen in this game - and any other on-line or even most console party-type games - are not equivalent to the kind of interaction you have JUST talking to somebody else, or even while talking doing other things. Yeah, it's nice to have somebody you know to show your new glittery equipment to, but if you think the social life that exists in WoW is something you should feel good about, this is probably an indication that you need to get the hell out.

Matt Pavlovich said...

Wait, Nick... you're saying that quotes like "Damn it, quit being such a gay opportunist!" that inevitable arise from Smash Brothers don't exactly constitute meaningful communication?

Granted, most video games are not at all constructive leisure activities. Reading, doing something meaningless with friends (who are actually present), and even writing in a blog tend to be more constructive. Is there anything about WoW in particular that you feel is especially nonconstructive, at least compared to other video games?

Samantha said...

Have you ever thought about those people say, at Tech, who pay their monthly $15 and are trying to break the addiction? Say they for some reason shell out another $15, and then think to themselves, "I can't believe I paid for another month of this shit, I was supposed to quit!" And you know that this is just another round in their cycle of addiction, all right? So, let's say they then think, "Well, I can't let it go to waste, I might as well get my money's worth." And they will play and play for hours and days and weeks on end, because they, so caught up in the addiction, believe that anything less than 168hrs/week is WASTEFUL. And so, essentially, on no sleep, no food (or ramen, which is the same thing), they are paying for their bad grades in the end, which is both funny and sad.
:( / ;D

Anyway, this didn't have much to do with your post, but it's always something I've thought about.