Strong opinions, weakly held

The grim time sink that is World of Warcraft

Tom Coates has posted about how he wants to stop wanting to play World of Warcraft. The game is fun, but it’s a huge time sink. The time I spend playing could be spent reading books I’m interested in, or watching movies, or working on any number of projects I have on the back burner. I’ve seen a huge percentage of the content in the game, most everything but the stuff that requires 20 or more people to do. Why keep playing?

Especially because once you hit level 60, the goals are time consuming to accomplish, and the time required is predictable and depressing. For example, let’s say you want a certain suit of armor. You can look up which creatures you have to kill to get each piece of armor, the percentage of the time they drop each piece, how long it takes to get to the monsters and kill them, abd calculate the amount of time it will probably take you to get that armor. The numbers are often alarming.

Some things are even easier to quantify. Let’s say you want the “epic” items from the Alterac Valley battleground. This is a PVP arena that up to 40 people can participate in. On my server, the wait to get in is usually about an hour and a half, assuming there are enough people to start the battle. In order to buy these items, your reputation with the denizens of Alterac Valley must be Exalted. To get from Neutral reputation to Exalted requires 42,000 reputation. You earn maybe an average of 1000 reputation if you play a full battle, less if your side loses. That means you have to play at least 42 battles, which run from one to four hours each. Let’s say the average is two hours, which is optimistic. In essence, getting the reputation you need requires at least 146 hours spent in Alterac Valley, much of it just waiting to get in.

I won’t even get into the amount of time required to progress in what’s called the “raiding” game, where you and 39 of your friends go take on the toughest battles in the game. Each of the raid areas takes so many hours to complete initially that the raid instances reset weekly. That way you can spread your progress over two or three nights. What that means, practically speaking, is that to be successful in this aspect of the game requires you to commit, along with 39 other people, to be at the same place at the same time several times a week. It’s not a pretty picture. The guild I’m a member of is about to expand its raiding schedule from two nights a week to three. I generally do not raid at all, and don’t see that changing anytime soon.

You have to ask yourself, what’s the point? I think I enjoy my time spent in the game, but it’s hard to see where enjoyment stops and compulsion starts. In the game you can work on improving your equipment, improving your standing in the PVP game, improving your reputation with any number of groups, improving your skill level in various professions, making money, oh, and making friends and just running around and having fun. I’m pretty sure that the kinds of incentives that exist inside games affect my brain chemistry, and keep me coming back. Greater self-discipline is probably indicated.


  1. I just avoid WoW. That stuff is too much like crack for me. I find it much easier to simply stick to actual crack.

  2. My account expired yesterday and I doubt I am going to renew it. I’m so busy these days I know it will become a problem.

    I’ve played occasionally since last June and my main character is still only level 40, so at least I’m not dumping as much time into the game as most people.

    Personally, I think Blizzard needs to offer a lower subscription price for those of us who do not play frequently. If I’m only playing once a week for 4-5 hours at a time and sometimes going 2-3 weeks without even logging in, the current monthly subscription rate is just not worth it.

  3. I’ve never played any of those MMRPGs — and I love computer games — because it looks like such a huge timesink to me. I’d surely never cook another meal if I started.

    I’m sure these games are probably lots of fun (why else would it turn into a time sink?) But I always wonder why the people who are motivated to spend hours a week online to “work on improving your equipment, improving your standing in the PVP game, improving your reputation with any number of groups, improving your skill level in various professions, making money, oh, and making friends and just running around and having fun” aren’t doing those things in real life? It’s really weird how an imaginary system — which has been designed to as closely resemble real-life — has the effect of inducing people to prefer the fantasy-world to the one it was modeled from. I mean, in Second Life you don’t even get elf-ears.

    I remember hearing about Everquest, and how people would sit hammering at a pretend anvil for hours in order to gain experience points. At that moment, I wondered “Why aren’t they out learning a language or dancing, or skiiing, or cooking, or learning perl, or taking archery lessons, or anything real in order to gain actual experience?

    This, from someone who has spent hours of her life playing “Civilization”.

    I think the answer has to be some combination of the social aspects of these games combined with the frequent, easy-to-measure reward system, and the ease of doing all of it from home. Maybe we all just need to get better at assessing our progress and expertise in learning and practicing real-life things.

  4. Yes, I think that the reason for the success is that these games are a simple abstraction of real life. If I crawl through the same dungeon enough times, I’m guaranteed to eventually pick up everything good that’s on offer there. Events have predictable outcomes. In real life, things are rarely so certain.

  5. I feel your pain, and I’m playing a game based around stick figures and wise-ass pop culture references (Kingdom of Loathing). It even limits the number of turns you can play per day (expandable a bit by collecting food and booze), and yet the amount of scheming and planning that I do can expand that to a scary bite of my (ahem) workday…

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