Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Video Games and Flow

This digression into World of Warcraft was intended to show how a video game in general and World of Warcraft in particular can be seen as a flow experience. This connection explains why there are so many video game addicts, why the video game industry is growing so fast, and why we should think about using video game models in the design of work and education. I would like to elaborate more on this idea but I took a break from World of Warcraft to write this entry and I really would like to get back to it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World of Warcraft: The Teleology of Resource Acquisition

World of Warcraft isn't just a series of quests where you slay monsters. A large part of play is the acquisition of resources. This happens in a variety of ways. First, each time you slay a monster you get to 'loot the corpse'. This grizzly phrase really means nothing more than right clicking on the corpse and copying the items to your inventory. The items could be money, thngs that are useful to your character, or things that are not useful to your character but that you can sell back to a vendor.

You can recieve 'loot' in a variety of ways other than looting corpses. You can recieve items of value as a reward for completing a quest. Some items you 'find' as treasure. And you can trade items with other players. If you have multiple characters on the same server, you can mail items that one character does not need to another character who does need it.

Professions are another way to acquire resources. This can get quite complicated and I will just give a simple example so as not to get off on a tangent. Let's say your character is a tailor. You normally receive cloth for free from looting corpses. Instead of selling that cloth back to a vendor you can use that cloth to make bag. You can then sell that bag back to a vendor, auction it off at the auction house, use it yourself, give it or trade it to another player, or mail it to another one of your characters.

The resources that you acquire are either of value to your character such as better armor or better weapons, or they can be sold for money which in turn can be used to purchase things of value to your character. The acquisition of resources can be just as important as leveling. As your character increases in level, it needs better weapons and better armor in order to succeed against more difficult enemies.

Ostensibly, the player in World of Warcraft is attempting to level up by slaying monsters. However, there are numerous goals being pursued simultaneously. The player is also trying to acquire resources and advance in his or her profession. This complex goal structure often requires difficult decisions regard how to most effectively spend one's time. And, if it isn't complicated enough, there are also social goals that we will turn to next.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

World of Warcarft:: The Teleology of Quests

The entire World of Warcraft game is structured around the pursuit of quests. When you first show up in the world, you see a quest giver who is identified by a yellow exclamation mark over his head. You right click on him and he gives your a quest. The first quest is to kill six wolves and loot them for their meat. When you complete the task, you return to the quest giver and give him the wolf meat. He, in turn, gives you a reward. In this simple course of action you learn a little about the game. You learn how your character attacks. You learn how to loot. You learn how to pursue quests. And you learn that you get rewarded for completing quests. There is a feeling of satisfaction derived from completing a quest.

As you complete quests, you gain experience. As you gain experience your increase your level. You start out at Level 1 and the highest level currently available is Level 80. Originally it was 65 and then went to 70 and 80 in the next two expansions. Quests are set up in an area to take your level into consideration. The progression of quests takes this into consideration also. So, unless you wonder off track somehow (or on purpose) your quests are appropriate for your level. That is, they are challenging but achievable. They are not too easy or too hard. And, as you complete quests, you see progress in your character's advancement.

Progress shows in a number of ways. The most obvious is leveling. An experience bar across the bottom of the screen shows how much experience you gained from the quest and how much further you have to go in order to achieve the next level. However, you also acquire better armor which makes your character harder to kill and you acquire better weapons which makes your character more effective at killing the monsters. If you acquire something you don't need, you can sell it back to a vendor for money. That money, in turn, can be used to purchase things that you need.

This is all just to show that the game provides you with goals that are challenging but achievable and provides a sense of progress and feedback to support that sense of progress. These points will tie into a larger point once I finally get back to Flow.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

World of Warcraft: The Economics of Primary Professions

Each character in World of Warcraft is allowed to select two primary professions which fall into two categories: raw material acquisition and crafting. Raw material acquisition professions include: mining, skinning, and herb gathering. Crafting professions include: blacksmithing, leathercrafting, tailoring, and alchemy. Although it is not required, it makes sense to have an acquisition profession that matches your crafting profession. For example, if you are going to be a blacksmith, it makes sense to be a miner as well since mining will provide the raw materials for blacksmithing. If you are going to be a leathercrafter, you should also be a skinner. And so on.

Professions are, in some ways, a distraction from the game. Time you spend acquiring materials and crafting items is time that you do not spend leveling. However, there are several, non trivial benefits to having and developing your professions. First, you can make items that may be of value to you. For example, if you are a leather crafter you can make armor enhancers that will increase the armor ratings of your clothing items.

Second, you can make items for your other characters. Your tailor, for example, can make bags for everyone and email the bags to the other characters. Everybody needs bags in which to store the loot they pick up while leveling. And bags are expensive. So having a tailor allows you to make bags for a fraction of the cost. Your leather crafter can make armor enhancers and email them around. If you belong to a guild, or just have friends on the same server, you can make items for them and give them away via email or trade them for items that you need.

This is all very handy. It helps enhance the quality of your character and your social connections. But, there is another aspect of professions that becomes increasingly more important over time. And that is the fact that you can sell the items that you make at the Auction House and earn money. Following is a simple example.

Let's say that your character is a skinner and tailor. If you acquire some heavy leather and silk you can make ten slot silk bags. You can sell these bags back to vendors for 20 silver coins. The problem is that the materials cost 21 silver coins. So you really sell them at a loss. But, if you buy the same bag from a vendor it will cost you 1 gold and 80 silvers (or 180 silver coins). On the other hand, if you give these bags to your other character you will save money.

However, there is another alternative. You can also take the bags to the Auction House. The minimum bid for a 10 slot silk bag is 30 silver coins. So, if you put the bag on auction, you will make 50% more than what the vendor will give you. However, as most people will need bags and 30 silver is a much better deal than 180 silver, they tend to sell quickly. So, you can put a buyout price of 40 silver which is twice what the vendor will give you and be reasonably assured of selling the item within 24 hours. If you want to be more bold, you can raise the buyout price. If people want the bag bad enough and have enough extra gold, they will pay it making your increase several hundred percent.

Since everyone accumulates silk and skinners get the leather for free, being able to make bags and sell them at the Auction House increases the money you earn and that money can be used to buy other things that you need. As you can see from this example, World of Warcraft has its own in-world economy and just like a real world economy you work to earn money and then use that money to buy other things that you need.