Social constructs in World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft (abbreviated as WoW), developed by Blizzard Entertainment is an unstoppable force in the genre of MMORPG’s (massively multiplayer online role playing game), with over 11.1 million subscribers worldwide it is recognized as the most popular pay-to play MMORPG .Since its release in 2004 World of Warcraft has seen some radical changes. It has undergone numerous update patches, as well as three expansions and several book releases elaborating WoW lore, which coincide with in game events(with a 4th expansion scheduled for late 2012) spanning over 6 years. These changes have had a direct impact on how the game functions overall, and have thus altered the interactions between players. Most of these changes have been made to increase the functionality and playability of the game.
Not all of the choices by Blizzard have been an improvement however, as the games functionality has been a constant ebb and flow since its release. Developers of WoW constantly tweak the functionality and methods of game play by introducing new features, player abilities, which directly affect the World of warcraft collective abilities of the altered class. This tweaking is done in order to ‘balance’ game play, so that no one class has an unfair advantage over another.
This proposal will present the findings of several points of close reading, game comparison and research analysis. The aim of this study is to address some of the ways in which manipulation of social constructs, player behaviour and communication both in and outside the game Universe have had a pivotal role in influencing the development and successfulness of the game World of Warcraft.
In World of Warcraft, like nearly all MMORPGs, the development of the player's character is a primary goal. Nearly all MMORPGs feature a character progression system in which players earn experience points, the purpose of which is to ‘level’ the character, so that the player may access more features previously unobtainable to them. WoW employs a class based system which essentially can be broken down into three distinct ‘base’ play types or specialization (referred to in-game as “spec’s” ); the Tank, the spec intended to take damage from mobs; The DPS (ranged/melee), the ones that do damage; and the Healers, keep teammates alive. In all there are ten playable classes each one having their own special abilities and talents. It should be mentioned that not all classes have one particular play style, some are considered ‘hybrid’ classes, and are capable of being any one of the three base play types.
It is at this point when WoW is said to become truly fascinating. After reaching the level cap player must now turn the focus towards gear replacement/enhancement, and begin climbing the ladder all over again. ‘Skill’ becomes highly dependent on gear at this point. Getting the proper PVE (player vs. environment) gear can take longer than the levelling process. At this phase of the game a player must cooperate with others in order to obtain ‘better’ gear. A typical PUG (pickup group) is often foiled by the simplest raid instance, because they lack the essential coordination and knowledge of how the others in the group play. Guilds establish familiarity among players, and give players the chance to receive feedback on how they are playing the game, allowing clear advice and guidance to be given to the players which lack experience in this method of game play. For example a player may be unable to keep up with healing a main tank, but if properly monitored the raid leader would see this and could incorporate that player accordingly. Statistic monitoring is common in raiding guilds; it allows players to better understand where problems originate and quickly fix them.
An idealized guild develops a greater sense of purpose among its members. In an idealized model, to think beyond the individual role of a player’s character and focus on active participation/selflessness in the greater good for all members of the guild. Even though this is something that is rarely—if ever achieved, a guild will develop a sense of community among guild members. A smaller guild is more likely to develop a tight social connection because it has fewer members to contend with one another, this is evident in high end raiding guilds, which are kept small consisting of no more than 30-40 active members. It’s these types of guilds that dominate competitive gaming within world of warcraft. The small number of players in these guilds reflects their commitment and dedication to being the best of the best. Players will often give up needed or useful items in order to gear other members that are lacking necessary equipment. Guild banks are available to its guild members; typically, high end raiding guilds will pool together money and materials needed to craft items. In return guild members make items from these supplies and provide them to the guild free of charge. This is a highly efficient model which propels the guild quickly through raid content. Raiding refers to number of people require 10man, or 25man to complete. Raid instances provide the best equipment and items found in the game. Players are motivated to complete the instances for high-end PVE gear, which allow them to continue to an even more challenging instance. It provides players with vanity rewards like achievements and titles. And lastly they often continue a storyline that sets narrative over the events taking place in Azeroth or Outland that give a sense of conclusion to the game.
Because raid Strategies are so circumstantial, players rely heavily on mods—Blizzard allows the creation of UI (user interface) modifications by third party developers. There are numerous mods, which serve a number of purposes. Mainly these mods are used for UI customization and tracking variable statistics while in combat. Mods like Omen-threat-meter, allow players to track their own/ group threat level simultaneously on a targeted enemy. The purpose of this is to allow the player tanking to maintain control over the desired enemy—this information is critical in raids. Otherwise players would have no way of knowing this information without the addition of mods/add-ons; an accomplished raider is expected to know what they need for a raid, and how to use it.
World of warcraft depends highly on the socialization and interactions between the other players within the realm. These social connections are fundamental to the progression of the whole server. An important construct is the utilization of trade/exchange between players, for example:
When one wealthy player who may be considered a ‘highly skilled’ player, requires a gear augmentation, but doesn’t have the necessary profession they must trade with another player. When that ‘highly skilled’ player goes to a major city to finds someone, perhaps someone ‘less skilled’ for example with the crafting profession needed, they trade. Both players benefit from trading with one another, the ‘less skilled’ player has used their profession to earn a profit and the “highly. The “less skilled” player that sold their crafted items could then use the newly earned money to do the same thing as the first player, and purchase mounts, potions, glyphs, gems, or augmentations.
Whether or not the people trading are more or less ‘skilled’ players than one another is irrelevant. What’s important is that transactions like these are taking place between players. These micro transactions are done on massive scale everyday in the major cities throughout the game. As a realm averages 1500+ player’s a day, with peak hours seeing up to 4000 players on densely populated realms, this type of trade creates a huge server wide impact. Research shows that these micro transactions are integral to the prosperity of a server. This may suggest that servers with a lower population/less active player-to-player trade can suffer in PVE progression, which may cause the server to fall months behind another server with a well established trading population.
The second example, part of the infrastructure designed by Blizzard to help accommodate trade on a realm is the Auction House (AH). The AH can help to fast track the player-to-player trade process, by allowing the buyer to search for many things in one place, as well as buy an item when the seller is not currently online. Working much like a real auction house would, players place a bid or choose the “buyout” option to immediately receive the item in their mail box. The auction house is a wonderful place for savvy players to find what they need and/or to make money for themselves. Players can buy or sell weapons, armour, trade goods, recipes and reagents. Each faction has its own Auction House, and the two factions share several auction houses in neutral territories. An auction house demonstrates a realms living economy that experiences short and long term fluctuation in market prices based on supply/demand principles. A second use would be to monitor these server price fluctuations, players can utilize them to get fairly accurate results in determining how much or how little something is worth.
Although Blizzard developers create the overall infrastructure of the game it is the player’s that ultimately decide what works and what doesn’t. Players tend to reject poorly planned and poorly executed ideas by simply not using them the way Blizzard intended. Blizzard ingeniously invites any player to try out the new improvements on temporary test servers. Players relish at the chance to participate since they players are given access to new abilities, functions and items long before they may actually get them on live servers.
Many games that have been released since WoW have been considered ‘WoW killers’ (which is now considered to be bad luck). However I suggest that WoW may come to be its own end. The game has changed so drastically since its creation that
WoW has become massive in scope, containing hundreds of branching storylines, PVP and PVE content with an update every quarter or so and an expansion every 2 years it’s difficult to take in everything the game has to offer.