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?