Warcraft Shrinks by Half

July 10th, 2009 by

Shortly after Blizzard tried to transfer their China licensing to a new third party, the national World of Warcraft servers went silent. This fracas has been ongoing for a month now, and the blogosphere has been doing some speculative math about it. It turns out that about five million of Warcraft’s eleven million subscribers are based in China, so the MMORPG king is now somewhat diminished.

In the debate over whether Warcraft encourages maladaptive obsession and even addiction, both sides are likely watching this story closely. The recidivism rate might make a convenient anecdote for one side or the other, though it’s worth noting that anyone who tries to draw causal links (no matter what the outcome) won’t really be justified. Too much can happen in a month to say with any confidence that addiction specifically is to blame.

As an example, consider that Warcraft’s social inertia has been broken in China. Under normal circumstances, the persistent multiplayer character of MMORPGs encourages social clustering. That is, once you’ve built up a minimum player base, you attract new players because the people they know are already playing your game. This sort of clumping only feeds itself, because moving a group of friends from one MMORPG to another incurs costs. There may be scheduling conflicts, trouble meeting minimum system specs, a mixed player base of Macs and PCs, and other logistical trouble. The more people you’re trying to move, the more of these problems will arise. However, the month of downtime in China (and however much longer before Blizzard manages to resolve whatever problems they’re having) means that the social clump has been scattered, and so those players may well be clumping in other games even now. It may prove challenging for Blizzard to recover their lost players whether those players were addicted or not.

On a side note, the linked article notes that Warcraft is paid hourly in China (in contrast with the monthly subscription model in America). Critically, they estimate the cost at six cents per hour of playtime. If you do the math, that means that the going rate of fifteen dollars a month, you’re paying to play Warcraft for about eight hours per day.

Did you play your 8 hours of Warcraft today?


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