Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 20, 2006
The dark matter of WoW

My wife plays World of Warcraft too, since a year now. She took a break recently, to play Dungeon Siege II, but now she is back in WoW, with a brand new character, a gnome warlock, having lots of fun. I sometimes like to watch her play, because she is playing this game in a totally different way than I do: She never chats, when somebody sends her a tell she has to ask me what the key to reply was again. :) She never groups, except sometimes with me when she needs help with something. If it wasn't for the auction house, WoW might as well be a single-player game for her.

So I'm wondering how many other players are there like her. In cosmology there is a theory about dark matter, a substance that can't be detected directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter. Players that don't interact with other players in WoW are a the dark matter of this game.

The dark matter players can explain some numbers, which are otherwise not as easy to explain. For example the famous number of only 3.6% raiders in WoW. If you read blogs, game forums, or guild websites, the whole game seems to be about raiding. But the dark matter players aren't blogging, aren't discussing on game forums or guild sites, they are just playing the game solo. So when watching these sort of secondary game commentary, they are invisible. But when PlayOn actually counts people online, they show up as a large part of the 96.4% of non-raiders.

The other number discrepancy that can be explained by dark matter players is the over 6 million subscribers of WoW, compared to the 400,000 that games like Everquest had. Where are the 5.6 million additional players coming from, and why didn't they play EQ? The answer is that many players don't enjoy the forced grouping and raiding of Everquest, but would rather just like to solo and minimize their interaction with other players. World of Warcraft gives them this opportunity, which they didn't have in previous games.

Now I'm not saying that all of the 96.4% of non-raiders or 5.6 million new MMORPG players are dark matter players that only solo. But I do think that there are a significant number of them. Blizzard's accountants sure detected the huge piles of money that come from them. But are the developers fully aware of who is actually playing their game, or do they just see the more visible type of player who posts on the WoW message boards?
Thats me (expect for the occasional blog post). I have solo'd 98% of my levels for all my characters and have never been in a guild. i have only added one person as a friend but just because i know he can do high level enchants when needed.

i will group for instances, but other then that my interaction with others are as if they are NPC's.

that said i love the game because of the many things to find and do...not because i need "social interaction" (my wife makes me talk to her to satisfy the part of my life .. grins ..)

I can't figure out why your "Dark Matter" players would choose to play an online game at all. The whole human interaction experience in the MMORPG is an integral part of the game. Its a social event as much as a game.
Why not just play an ordinary RPG like Oblivion?
I think if Blizzard would offer a single-player version of WoW, many people would buy it. They are playing WoW not because it is online, but because it is plain better than Oblivion or other single-player RPG games. Oblivion advertises 200 hours of gameplay, WoW has at least 1000 hours, and gets additional content patched in all the time. So even paying the monthly fee for a single-player game can be justified.
I can relate to both styles. My Priest got to 60 almost entirely through grouping (Holy/Disc, never a point in Shadow). I enjoyed it. My Rogue got to 60 almost entirely solo and I enjoyed that too.

"Why not play a single-player game?" This comes up a lot. I don't think it can be explained to those who can't "feel" a difference between going to a shopping mall alone when it's busy and going there alone when it's empty. Totally different feeling for those who can feel it. I think that's one factor, the "being together, alone" feeling that you can't ever get in a single-player game.

There are other factors, but this is already getting long for a blog reply.
I soloed almost all of my EQ career (release to current), and I solo 99% of my time in WoW too. Until 20th, the only continued contact I had with anyone was someone who was giving me UI tips.

The game has a lot of soloable content, and there's a lot of quests that are almost counter productive to group. My main form of other player interaction is the AH. When a guildmate isn't on, chances of me grouping is pretty small, but that doesn't mean that if I see someone begging for help with a quest I wouldn't jog over and help out.

It "feels good" to know there are other players out there, and it makes the world feel more alive. I just don't have much interaction with them.
To expand on Tavi's point, there is a whole spectrum between playing totally alone and interacting fully with other people. The brilliance of WoW is that you can choose to play anywhere you want on the spectrum, depending on your mood. And even if you're feeling fully introverted, it's still interesting to watch other people questing in the same areas or putting up items in the AH. :)
Thinking about it more, it might be because WoW is even more of "Short Attention Span Theatre" than CoH was. I played CoH for a few months after release, and my favorite part about it was the fact I could log on for an hour, do a quest or two, make visible progress on my character, and log off. Although it really wasn't a fair comparison as my EQ char was raiding end game content at the time, but it was nice to see movement and growth.

WoW is even more so, and in fact rewards it. You can log on, do a quest, or part of one, or part of a few, or heck just fish/mine/tradeskill/rotate AH stock, and then park your butt in an inn and log out and let the rest bonus rack up. Camping, ala EQ, is fruitless, on the whole (thank goodness). While you can do an area, say for chests, it's usually easier to roam around a much bigger area when you do kill. And if you only have a small period of time, you can work on parts of quests, see the changes in your quest log, and hearth home after and still feel like progress is being made.
"Hell is other people" - Sartre
Sorry, could not resist. Anyrate, I tend towards the 'Dark Matter' demographic because working professional with family and my playtime usually amounts to an hour a night if that and a few hours on the weekend. Grouping and raiding is an enormous time investment usually more than I have. Why not single-player then: 1)One I like to have the option available to go group if I can swing a longer play session 2) MMORPGs are generally adding content and different game mechanics to renew interest in the product 3) I like playing in an evolving game where things are happening whether I am interacting with them or not (this is not everyone's cup of tea but it is mine). This last point is key to my enjoyment of EVE Online (I play WoW, EVE, Planetside..quit EQII, DAOC). I like the fact that I can fly through one system one week and then the next week come back and there is a war going on there that completely changes the way I have to trade, fight, move. I play WoW almost exclusively solo. Planetside is a guilty pleasure that I play team-based because my gaming club has it together and I enjoy the thrill of the large battles. Anyrate, my opinion.
I think you're on to something here with your Dark Matter concept.

I soloed a lot in WoW. I also liked getting into a groove with a good group or my guild, but sometimes the groups were just bad and other times I just wasn't in the mood to play the group game. On top of that, there are simple design issues that can get in the way of grouping, such as not being able to get credit for stages of a quest done out of order.

Now, I'm playing Oblivion where the contrast between a truly living world and a scripted/AI attempt is glaringly obvious. No matter how complicated the AI is, the NPCs are just props. They may be animated props with behaviors that are funny the first time you see them, but they're not even close to being alive.

Even before Oblivion, I've always much preferred playing solo in an MMO to playing a single player game. Granted, the depth of quests in MMOs is often lacking compared the best single player RPGs, but seeing and "hearing" other people running around the world next to you gives the game a whole new dimension, even if you aren't always directly interacting with them. There's always something new and unexpected going on, you may pick up a new strategy watching someone hunt in the same area or have a chuckle at a newbie making the same mistake you were a few levels ago. Those are the kinds of experiences you simply never have in a single player game.

Playing solo in an MMO still gives you the feeling of being part of a larger world that you just can't get out of a single player gameplay experience.
Playing solo in an MMO is both viable and, to many, desireable. To say otherwise is foolish.
I'm sure Blizzard sees exactly who is doing what, as a percentage of content. Heck, we could pull that kind of data (kills, levelling speed, deaths, etc.) when I was running my NWN persistent world. We knew to the hitpoint how many of X critter died, how much XP was being earned each hour and what areas were being explored, because we logged it. You know Blizzard is doing that.

My friend who pulled me into WoW is one of these Dark Matter players. He's in a huge guild, but plays so infreqently that he's still level 45 (and he started Feb of 2005). We chat about the game at work and he enjoys it, but doesn't spend hour after hour playing. He couldn't care less about the casual versus hardcore versus raiding, etc...he just likes playing. And if he ever hits 55+, he'll raid with his guild when he feels like it,
First off, a reminder that the PlayOn bots are no more able to know which characters are alts of each other than any player can know. So you need to take the 3.6% of observed *characters* and do your own fudging to guess how many players don't do raid content.

Beyond that, you're asking a question that I ask myself. Nic Ducheneaut (my coworker) has been writing on the theme of 'Alone Together', with the idea that a number of us like the MMO scene not so much to relate to other people directly, but as spectacle and audience. I'll add a link when I'm not rushing to a plane. :P

Thanks for the great blog, btw. I read regularly.
I saw the wife part.

My wife plays as well. Only when I'm playing now that she's high 20's and low 30's with her characters.

We were in the Scarlet Monastery the other night. We were grouped with 3 others. She, a Shaman, was on healing duty. She, at level 35, was the only character in the 30's. The rest of us were low 40's. We had another Shaman but she was the party healer. We never wiped. And she never pulled aggro.

One player remarked "At least she isn't a noob." I was so proud of her! "Way to go, dear." I say over my shoulder. "Huh?" "Didn't you read what the guy said?" "What guy?" "The Shaman in the party." "No." "He said 'At least you aren't a noob.'" "Oh. Did I do something?" The chat box may as well be white noise. The other players just dynamic npc's. Until one insults her in some way. Her gnome mage once was told, by a Night Elf chick, "You have to be *this* tall to talk to me." That annoyed her to no end.

But she's equally happy in Oblivion, Neverwinter Nights, and Guild Wars (out in the instanced areas) as she is here in World of Warcraft. The entire Multiplayer part is lost on her.

Me, on the other hand, now require other players to complete the feel of a game. Otherwise it's just a fancy spreadsheet with calculations.
"Playing solo in an MMO is both viable and, to many, desireable. To say otherwise is foolish."

This is my first visit to a blog :) I was looking for information on pet training lol. But I am glad I accidently found you.

Most of the time I don't like chatting in the game (my fingers are usually very busy hitting the right keys just to stay alive lol). I never start a conversation, but many people whisper to me (wanting gold, wanting help). I am a softy and usually comply, but 90% of the time I regret it.

For 18 months I have felt that I was the only person in WoW that prefers to solo.

Personally, I can't see the point of standing around with 39 others waiting to be ordered around by some boys over my speakers (who can't refrain from cursing) just for a remote chance of getting an epic item.

The repair bills and cost of high end potions as well as all of the waiting around just isn't worth it. And that doesn't even cover all of the trouble that looting systems cause between players :(

From level 50 up my quest logs always say "Raid", "Dungeon". Consequently, I delete my level 60 chars and start again. One day I'll get sick of working hard to develop a nice char with epic mount only to delete them... but that day hasn't arrived yet :D

And I do enjoy AH :))
Welcome, Lone Ranger. Pet training information can be found here. :)
I'm a girl. Other than a gameboy I carried around like a teddy bear and played while waiting on anything and Windows solitaire, I never playing a video game in the first 25 years of my life. My boyfriend bought be WoW a year ago. Now, I've played a dozen games he and his/our other friends enjoy. Like the men and women in this blog, the social atmosphere of MMO's is not my thing. The talk confuses, bores and sometimes annoys me. I always solo when possible.

Of course, socializing with strangers isn't what I do for fun either. Friendly smiles/hi's while shopping/jogging/walking/hiking/exploring is mostly all I do. I have a few close friends, neighbors and family members that I enjoy spending time with, and other than that I'm a loner.

Playing MMO's and video games with close friends in real life, however, is A LOT of fun for me. We discuss/debate options and strategies and help each other out/challenge each other. I learn from real life friends.

I recently bought Guild Wars, which all of my real life friends thought was boring and refused to buy. I leveled a character to end game, and realized I was lonely. I consented to join a guild and chatted for a few days, but this was a poor substitute for having a friend with a machine playing the game right beside me. So I quit.

I think that our playing interactions reflect our real-life interactions.
Sorry for the necropost, but this topic came up in our guild forum today and someone linked this post. Look again at the number you are quoting for Raid Content Use: CHARACTERS are tracked, not players. I have one raid character, 3 alts I play, one bank alt, and 3 characters that are sitting on names that are similar to those of my main character. Even for myself as a raiding player, Only 12.5% of my own characters see raid content. That same page says that 30% of raid eligible characters attend raids, a much more reasonable number. Alts make up as much dark matter as quiet players do.
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