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Posts with tag virtual-worlds

NPC pathing and the living virtual world

In the early days of vanilla WoW, I played Alliance. It wasn't until after hitting 60 that I began playing Horde in earnest. Although I appreciated the bare, rough-and-tumble primitive nature of Orgrimmar, I always felt there was something missing -- namely, the NPCs that happily wandered Stormwind all day long. Orgrimmar didn't really have much of that sort of thing, back then. And of all the NPCs that wandered the human capital, none captured my attention so much as Ol' Emma.

Emma was at the time part of a quest chain that took place in the Western Plaguelands -- a ghost in the upper level of a house in Felstone Field asked players to deliver a package to her. But Emma's charms weren't just wrapped into that quest. Ol' Emma spent her days -- and still spends her days -- walking the streets of Stormwind. I first found her walking to the well near the flight path in Stormwind, griping about how nobody respects their elders. Laughing, I moved on, but months later on a whim I decided to follow Ol' Emma to see exactly where she takes all that water she's been supposedly hauling. To my surprise, Emma walking into a building near Cathedral Square, went up the stairs, and ... stopped, facing a wall, still talking to nobody in particular.

Unfortunately, this was kind of par for the course for NPCs back then.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

Predicting's social future

If you think we've scratched the surface of cross-game implementation with Real ID, you are going to be amazed at what is coming next. Do I know any of this for sure? No, of course not. I base my predictions on three simple facts:
  1. Blizzard has created an account-based loyalty program that has encapsulated each and every one of its games;
  2. Blizzard is chock-full of smart individuals who understand community, as illustrated by the new community website; and
  3. Blizzard has made your account mean something into perpetuity.
If you think is sharp at 2.0, you can't even imagine 3.0.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

The Lawbringer: Hacking and valuing virtual currency

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

I can't stop talking about virtual currency! As virtual worlds and economies penetrate every aspect of our lives, we are faced with the new and daunting challenge of identifying the seedy criminal element present in every human venture. There will always be someone breaking the rules, skimming off the top, or finding a way to steal their way up the ladder. Generally, as a society, we accept this as part of the process and make our rules accordingly to punish and dissuade against future criminals and all that jazz.

This week, we read about a very interesting virtual theft over Zynga poker chips, in which a 29-year-old British IT businessman named Ashley Mitchell pleaded (or pled, depending on your colloquial acceptance) guilty to stealing $12 million worth of the virtual currency. You know what Zynga is -- it is responsible for FarmVille, Mafia Wars, Zynga Texas HoldEm Poker, and about 8,000 other social networking entities. The company is ubiquitous. It also sells an ungodly amount of virtual currency online and offline for its games. Zynga poker chips, however, cannot be bought offline.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

Scientists study how the brain thinks about virtual avatars

This is fascinating stuff to think about over the weekend -- New Scientist has an article (sent to us by quite a few readers -- thanks!) about how we perceive our virtual selves in video games like World of Warcraft. A group of scientists at Dartmouth University hooked a few WoW players up to an MRI recently, and they found that when asked to describe themselves and their virtual avatars, the same areas of the brain activated -- areas normally suited to "self-reflection and judgement." In other words, you think about your avatar the same way you think about yourself. They found nearly no difference in the way the brain activated when subjects considered themselves and their avatars.

But when you make the split between virtual and real worlds (including your friends in both), the brain's center for imagination tends to light up whenever you consider the virtual world. You've got the normal parts of your brain working when thinking about yourself or others, but when you add in the virtual component, the imagination center lights up as well.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Researching virtual economies to learn about real ones

Researchers are apparently using economies in virtual worlds like Everquest, EVE Online, and of course our own World of Warcraft to determine how real-world economies work, according to this article by Reuters. Scientists have, of course, used WoW to model real-world behavior before, but that was specifically for something biological, and thus there were quite a few differences between the virtual model and the real application. In economies, however, it's all just money and numbers, so researchers can easily see real patterns and movements in the data.

Unfortunately, the article doesn't go too deeply into their results (and it only talks about their findings from Everquest), but there is one nugget of conclusion: the economists saw inflation spike in one server over 50% in just five months. They say that the population rose on the server, which apparently made some items hard to find, thus raising prices. Economists say they've seen that same thing in the real world before: in developing nations, and in war zones. We can probably see similar effects right around a patch, or even just on weekends. As more people run to the AH to buy certain items, inscriptions or enchants, the price on those is going to rise. Interesting stuff -- it would be cool to hear what other similarities these guys have found between the virtual world and the real.

Filed under: Patches, Items, Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Making money

Study: Playing in a guild actually lowers stress

A new study done by researchers at Australia's Queensland University of Technology says that spending time online playing World of Warcraft with others can actually be good for your mental wellbeing -- within moderation of course. Researcher Huon Longman studied WoW players who played alongside guildies in game, and found that players often shared their real-life concerns with their virtual associates, which resulted in lowered levels of "anxiety, depression, and stress." In short, it seems that when you build relationships and share emotions even with people online, it can help you deal with problems in real life as well. That follows what we talked about earlier this week with Dr. Hilarie Cash -- games like WoW can definitely complement real-life relationships and actually help you relax.

But only when used in moderation -- Longman also found that 10% of the sample he studied played considerably more World of Warcraft than normal, and that those players not only didn't experience a bigger benefit to their wellbeing, but actually experienced more "negative psychological symptoms." A good balance of virtual and real life can have a lot of benefits, but falling too much into virtual life can actually cause more problems psychologically, according to this researcher's work. Obviously, this is one study of many about how playing these games can affect how we think, but the results are definitely reflected in experience: in-game relationships, used in moderation, can definitely help you deal with the real world in a healthier way.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, WoW Social Conventions, Virtual selves, Guilds, Blizzard, Raiding aims to sue over the virtual world of Warcraft

Business Insider (no relation) is reporting that CEO Thom Kidrin is intending to sue anyone who will not license their virtual worlds product through him, and since Kidrin claims they hold the patent to virtual worlds, everyone has to get a license. Since this is a legal issue I'll lay this out in a few easy to read steps:
    1. Thom calls up Blizzard, Linden Lab, etc...
    2. Thom says "Hey, I invented virtual worlds! Pay me money since you're making money off the concept."
    3. Blizzard and Linden Lab laugh and hang up, assuming it's a prank call.
    4. Thom goes to court.
That's the gist of it. Kidrin plans on going after a few other companies before knocking on Blizzard's door: notably, has already filed suit against NCsoft, which publishes City of Heroes and Guild Wars.

How did wind up with the patent to the idea of a scalable virtual world with thousands of users? Kidrin has said that they invented the virtual worlds with a product for sick kids called Starbright World back in 1997. (Though apparently the concept was thought up back in 1995.)

However, let's take a look at the definition of Cyberspace. It was first used in William Gibson's 1982 story "Burning Chrome" and again used in a few of his books, with "Neuromancer" being the most popular. Gibson's definition for Cyberspace reads:

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, News items

How to hold a scientific conference in Azeroth

John Bohannon has been writing for Science magazine as "The Gonzo Scientist," and his most recent writeup, on a real scientific conference held in the World of Warcraft, is a great read. We reported that the event was happening back in May, and now Bohannon's put together a really honest report (from how the conference was funded to the reasons why it was chosen to be Horde-only) on what its like for these scientists researching virtual worlds to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and actually hold a conference ingame.

They had to deal with everything from conversation direction (they appointed one person to get whispers on any questions for speakers, though, as anyone who's ever been to a mass ingame event will tell you, you can't really keep people from yelling and screaming) to mobs in the Barrens. And it sounds like they did get something done -- besides the panels, which were only slightly frustrated by griefers, they took expeditions throughout the world, and did do a little thinking about how different meeting in RL and meeting in a virtual existence is.

Very good read. The end of the article has a link to a PDF book about the conference, but it's hidden behind Science's membership wall. Still, Bohannon writes clearly and fairly about the game, and it's fun to think of a bunch of scientists actually trying to navigate a virtual world while doing their own research.

Filed under: Events, Virtual selves, Guilds, Odds and ends

Academic research on virtual worlds

It has been fascinating to see how the world and video games have changed in recent years. Video games have been a source of social and scientific research, some of which will be presented in an online conference next weekend. Some of the topics that will be covered in the three sessions include the economy, messages about the environment and future developments in the virtual world.

A young lady from Yeditepe University in asked for help in collecting data for her thesis on the WoW Europe forums. The researcher, Tugce Tosya seeks to find out learn more about presence in computer games, and has chosen World of Warcraft as her population of choice. You can find her brief questionnaire online. I found it took about five minutes to complete and checks out against possible keyloggers or spyware. Any questions you have about the survey can be directed to her academic supervisor or the Information Systems & Technologies department.

Good luck on your thesis Tugce, let me know if you need any help with analysis. We'd love to hear about other WoW-based projects.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Events, Fan stuff, Virtual selves

MMO Couples tells you how to find love online

MMO Couples is a new blog about "how people successfully combine online gaming and relationships," and it's a pretty interesting read, whether you're a fan of online gaming or romance in general. It's written by "Gabi," a woman who met her boyfriend in WoW (she tells the story on the site), and while there's not much to read through there yet, it does seem like it might be an interesting look at how couples find themselves in virtual worlds.

There are also some tips on how to find love in a virtual world, and I like how down-to-earth they are: communicate as much as possible, be realistic, have a backup plan. Online romances are often full of drama, and it seems pretty tough to get a good relationship out of having met in a place where the whole point is that you're pretending to be someone you're not.

But a site like this would help fix some of that -- providing a community and a forum for folks in online relationships would probably help everybody involved.

[Via Wonderland]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

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