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Wow Technical Report

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According to the World of Warcraft Community Site, World of Warcraft is "a massively multiplayer online game...enabling thousands of players to come together online and battle against the world and each other. Players from across the globe can leave the real world behind and undertake grand quests and heroic exploits in a land of fantastic adventure" ("World of Warcraft Guide"). Although the origins of MMORPGs can be traced to the 1970's, the release of Ultima Online and Everquest, commonly called UO and EQ respectively, in the late 1990's brought MMORPGs to a broader PC gaming audience. Since the release of UO and EQ, MMORPGs have become a multi-billion dollar market. World of Warcraft went live in November of 2004, and its community has since grown to over 1.5 million players. Effective community management was made a staple in the industry by its two most notable pioneers. Community management is vital to the success of a MMORPG, and WoW is no exception.

Need for Player Representation in MMORPGs

A system of communication between the players and developers has the potential to directly influence customer satisfaction. Jeremy Kelly points out "it is assumed that developers seek to maximize profits" (Kelly). From a developer's standpoint, knowing the thoughts and feelings of the player base is one of the most important parts of the ongoing development MMORPGs are known for. Joshua Hong states that the key difference between a MMORPG and other online or offline videogames is the existence of a persistent world (6). Creating a MMORPG costs upwards of 15 million dollars, and this figure does not even include the cost of continued support after the game launches (Hong 8). "These games demand virtual worlds, significant hardware requirements from the developer (e.g., servers and bandwidth), and dedicated support staff" ("MMORPG"). Due to the unusually large investment needed to develop a MMORPG compared to normal games, MMORPGs only thrive financially through longevity. It is therefore imperative that good communication exists so customer satisfaction can be kept high. As seen in Figure 1, 63.5% of MMORPG players consider the most important aspect of the game to be influenced or directly controlled by mechanics coded by the developers ("Making friends" and "Pretending to be someone else" are considered to be primarily social rather than mechanical in nature).

Figure 1 - Most Important Aspect of the Game (Yee)

These mechanical issues influence the social players' enjoyment of the game as well. Though these players do not consider mechanical issues to be the most important aspects of the game, their enjoyment of the game depends on the presence of other players. Obviously if the developers can not retain the "mechanical" players, the "social" players may also leave. Nicholas Yee analyzed the reasons players commonly give for quitting a MMORPG and compiled them in The Daedalus Project. Yee reports that the most common reasons players left were "boredom and repetition...persistent bugs and game-balancing issues...and frustrations that arose from their game relationships." Yee cites examples of player responses he received when creating The Daedalus Project:

The first reason I stopped playing was terrible customer support. Should something happen regarding your account, in-game, or other reasons there was virtually no assistance.

The atmosphere of the game became such that it was as if they were doing you an enormous favor just by allowing you to pay and play, a privilege they would rescind at their slightest whim without any justification or chance of defense.

Game balance was pathetic. Developer had no idea what the issues were and was making changes that had little or no impact.

I guess I stopped playing it because a lot of my close friends had left the game.

The first three responses demonstrate the feelings of "mechanical" players who left for reasons under the developers' control, while the fourth response demonstrates the feelings of "social" players. Developers must maintain good communication and relationships with the player base as these areas directly influence player retention.

The Problem

As of May 2005 the World of Warcraft development team has not yet properly implemented a player representation system, and the need for one is becoming ever more noticeable in the community.

Word of Warcraft currently has five community managers - the same number of community managers working on WoW over a year ago when the game was still undergoing beta testing. At that time the game had only a few thousand players. WoW has since grown to approximately 1.5 million players with 800,000 of them in the United States, but no new community managers have been hired ("World of Warcraft Sets"). The community managers call themselves liaisons between the players and the developers. Each community manager is placed in charge of one class in the game. On the surface this seems like a system that would ensure all players have a representative to communicate their concerns to the developers, but WoW has nine classes. The community managers claim that they can each handle multiple classes if necessary. However, currently only two classes even have a dedicated community manager at all, and only one community manager plays the class he represents. Furthermore the community managers spend most of their time moderating the official WoW forums rather than acting as liaisons between the players and developers.

The discrepancy between the number of classes and number of community managers, the lack of representation for most players, and the misrepresentation of the rest has created a situation in which players feel no one is looking out for their interests or listening to their problems. Many players have quit trying to offer constructive feedback at all, and instead "flame" the community managers at every opportunity. This results in an atmosphere in which it is impossible for the community managers to collect important game data from the community. Without constructive feedback, the community managers do not know what changes the players feel should be made. However, changes are still made in every new patch. To the players, it usually looks as if the community managers have been taking shots in the dark. Necessary improvements are left out of patches, unneeded changes cause new bugs, and new imbalances are created.



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