Why is World of Warcraft so addictive?
April 6, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Why is World of Warcraft so addictive?

I've curious about WoW. I've heard a lot about it - how there's millions of people playing it. But I've also heard that it's ruined lives.

There are some sites where people talk about how WoW has ruined their lives, but they only go into details about how their lives are ruined. They mention that WoW is incredibly addictive, but they never go into detail about how exactly WoW addicts them.

Even the short Youtube documentaries about WoW just talk about how many hours they spend on the game, how they miss classes, or ignore responsibilities. They talk about the fallout from WoW without looking at the mechanics - which is what I'm interested in.

I have to say, I kind of want to try it. I play a lot of single-player games, like Fable 2, Fallout 3, Crackdown. I'm familiar with reward systems, and am curious about WoW's. I mean, to get millions of players, they must have an incredible reward system. But I am also afraid that if I try the game, I will find it so rewarding that I won't want to stop.

I've even read things where people say they've been playing this one game for years - doesn't it become boring? Can someone who has played WoW dissect for me how WoW compels or manipulates you into coming back for more?

posted by Sully to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Intermittent Variable Reward.
posted by dobie at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

World of Warcraft isn't addictive.

Addictive personalities can find World of Warcraft fills their need for something that occupies their time wholy - If it weren't WOW, it would be something else.

Others use it as their excuse to not attend work or class.

There's a lot of things to do in World of Warcraft, which allows people to play for years, as the game is constantly evolving. Expansions come out every couple years that adds more to do, and the content is setup so that you can't achieve your goals in a week, or a month, or if you take your time, you may never achieve your goals before they're obsoleted by newer stuff.

World of Warcraft has millions of players due to critical mass. It's the MMO everyone was talking about at launch, and it had a wildly successful launch, and it more or less recreated the North American MMO playerbase. Before WOW, 1 million subscribers was nearly unheard of.
posted by Rendus at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009

well, if you can get into the gameplay itself, it's an amazing game in a lot of ways, and as with any really enjoyable activity, it can be tough to walk away from at times. in that sense, the 'addiction' is no different than playing contra on the nintendo - just one more level!

i have probably played that game for 7 or 8 hours in a day before, and other days i play for half an hour and get crushingly bored. it's a hobby like any other, and if you enjoy it the time can really fly by. the main thing about the life-ruining addictions that you hear about are people that have other issues that manifest themselves in the game. you have the types who are extremely avoidant when it comes to socializing or other such interaction, and maybe they find that it is easy to make friends in world of warcraft, so that's where they spend a lot of their time. i think another considerable pitfall for a lot of people is the false sense of accomplishment that a game like this can create. sometimes a guild will attempt to kill a particular boss in a particular raid and fail for weeks (which is like a bigger, longer, and more difficult 'dungeon'), and it takes a great deal of practice and cohesion and coordination within the group to pull off, and when you finally do, it is wildly elating - the sense of accomplishment in those moments is incredible, considering that this is just a game.

but really, most anyone can simply walk away from the game at any time. as long as you are able to prioritize the things in your life, be it your marriage, your dinner, your job, your children, or your gaming, you will be fine. if you're interested, there is a free 10-day trial, so i absolutely implore you to check it out! the other thing to consider is that a game like this can offer an immense amount of enjoyment for the money you spend. some people scoff at the idea of paying $15 a month to play a computer game, but the amount of hours that you can get out of that $15 is incredible, compared to spending just as much on a pair of movie tickets or a few hours in a theme park. when i first started playing world of warcraft, i found that i saved a lot of money because i wasn't idleing so much in other places like bars and malls and so on.

if you have any questions or need some help, feel free to e-mail me.
posted by austere at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009

I've only played WoW a little, but I feel that I understand the draw well enough. WoW in itself is not more or less addicting than other MMORPG's, but the gaming landscape when it launched was conducive to its popularity. The reason it's addicting is the constant draw for that next great piece of equipment, or "if I can just get to level xx I can get a flying mount, sweet!" That's pretty much it, boiled down. It's just carrot-on-a-stick.
posted by InsanePenguin at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009

I personally think it's about feeling powerful and adventurous in a world where people tend to normally feel powerless and insecure. Another element is the very real network of support that you find in other players -- the kind of support and camaraderie that many people rarely find regularly in the real world, which ceases to exist the second you log off.
posted by hermitosis at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Back when I was 15, I started playing a MUD called Aardwolf. MUDs were proto MMORPGs - text based. I got hooked. I would run home from school to play.

It gave a measure of social interaction, reward for doing something, and didn't involve people at school, where I never really felt like I fit in. It gave me an escape, an outlet.

Just a single data point.
posted by SNWidget at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2009

I've never played WoW and I'm not a psychologist, but I believe games like this become addictive because good game design allows challenges to scale in difficulty perfectly matched to your level of skill, which allows you to achieve a flow state and lose yourself in the game. Psychologist Csíkszentmihályi identifies the following as accompanying an experience of flow:

1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
9. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.

When I was younger, I played games of Civilization that I started at 6pm and the next thing I knew it was 7am. Adding in the social element of WoW (you're interacting with others but in a manner safe for natural introverts) and I'm sure it's even more addictive.
posted by sharkfu at 12:56 PM on April 6, 2009 [11 favorites]

I've even read things where people say they've been playing this one game for years - doesn't it become boring?

Oh my god, yes it becomes boring. I played it for, well, about amonth, when it was farely new. And having played, and enjoyed, a previous MMO, thought I'd get more out of it.

I think, if you were to find a group of people to join a guild with, it could last longer as a social venture, but there were way more people than in AC2 that I had played with friends, and so finding the people you liked seemed like an awful lot more effort.

As for the new content every couple of years, most people seem to burn through that in about ten days, so how that is justification for the vast amounts of money one spends on it I'm not sure. I know my friend played it a lot, then for the second time a few months back decided he was better off stopping himself playing it anymore. Most of the time people seem to be repeating the same instances over and over, to help guild members or themselves get the purple - or whatever colour they are now - items, at which point, as far as I'm concerned, immersion has gone out the window. 'Oh, I'm back in this cave, fighting the boss I've fought thirteen times already, for an item he only drops ten percent of the time...'

Or to say, I'm confounded by why people become so addicted to it, since all the reasons I've ever been given are basically things that put me off it in the first place. For me and AC2 though, it was mostly social.
posted by opsin at 12:58 PM on April 6, 2009

^ wut sharkfu said

plus living in WoW beats the crap out of the real world for a lot of people.

Same thing with EverQuest, back in the day it was called EverCrack.

Before then we can go back to the Wizardry, Ultima, etc. RPG series.
posted by mrt at 1:03 PM on April 6, 2009

I've played WoW to the endgame(s) and then gave it up when I got bored. I never found it addictive per se, but it is a fun game - probably the best mmorg out there (personal opinion, please dont flame me). What everyone else said above, but I'm tempted to reduce it just to a well designed, quite beautiful looking, often very funny game. I can see why people spend a lot of time in it, and I did play regularly, but usually not more than an hour or two at a time (adult responsibilities and all that).

On the other hand, I too have played Civilization for something like 10 hours straight, so I guess we all choose our poisons.
posted by elendil71 at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2009

Well, it isn't just a question of being fun. These games have been specifically engineered to be 'addictive' in that they give out rewards at the right frequencies, with things like how often you level up and so on. You could make a game that was fun but much less addicting by ignoring things like that.
posted by delmoi at 1:09 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't play the game, but apparently doing some actions requires a certain number of people to participate together. I imagine that the group dynamics make you feel you have an obligation to the other players to go together on whatever raid gives you the magic sword. If true, this adds a different dynamic of addiction.
posted by Pants! at 1:10 PM on April 6, 2009

I'm going to chime in with everyone else that WoW is really not much more addictive than any other well designed game. I certainly have had Civilization games that I played all night back in the day, and I remember racing home from work to play KOTOR.

I've been playing WoW for about four years, and it does get boring after a while, especially if you're not in a guild that can run the end-game content. I've taken a couple breaks during my time playing, of which the longest one was for about a year. However, the thing that keeps WoW compelling is that there's so much to do in it. It gets a little repetitive after a while, but there's always another dungeon to run, another faction to increase your reputation with, another skill to level up. If you enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from checking things off a list, it's pretty satisfying. It also helps a lot if you play with friends - it's a lot more fun to play if you can chat with your friends on voice chat while you're doing whatever in game.

The other reason I play a lot is that it's actually a pretty cheap way to entertain yourself. Considering a movie costs around $10 in the theater now, $15/month is pretty cheap.

What I actually find keeps me playing longer than I want now is the social commitment. If I'm just soloing content by myself, I have no problem saying "it's time to log", but if I'm in a group of 10 or 25 other folks doing some raid content it's a lot harder to logoff because you know you'll be inconveniencing them.
posted by pombe at 1:16 PM on April 6, 2009

I haven't played WoW. I did play DDO though and while it was considered inferior to WoW, I got so addicted to it that I would never consider WoW.

It had two factors that made it more addictive than other games I was used to:

Just one more. There's always something else on the horizon. That something else would take 30-90 minutes and then I'd have it. But the next thing would be in sight and I'd go for that too.

The other problem was the players. I felt like I bonded with my guildies in DDO. If I was ambivalent about playing, but they were gaming, I'd jump in and help them out.

The latter aggravates the former. Other players always had goals on the horizon too. And if I was friends with them, I felt obliged to help out.
posted by valadil at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

After getting a character to level 60 on the game's single-player content, the player can join a 'clan' to do 'raids', a 'raid' being a mission designed to be completed by a team of (say) 20 players. A given raid might need a certain distribution of characters - some fighters, some healers, and so on. A 'clan' is a group of people, from which parties are formed for raids; a clan might have (for example) 60 members. Many clans communicate in-game using microphone headsets.

1. You have in-game friends from your clan - people you've talked to, and spent several hours raiding with, you recognise their voices etc.
2. Your clan/friends might rely on your character to be able to do a certain raid; if you drop out, your friends will be short of a healer and won't have a chance at winning against that powerful enemy you were fighting last week.

The game also has some impressively cynical features when one tries to close one's account, namely:

3. When you try to close your account there's a survey about why you're closing your account. You can bet Blizzard makes adjustments based on that survey.
4. If you close your account, your in-game friends can send you a 'scroll of resurrection', which gives you one month of free gameplay if you resubscribe.

That said, the above is just good marketing, it doesn't bypass people's free will. If Joe decides he wants to play 4 hours of WoW, it's because he's considered the other options and chosen WoW in preference to them.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:36 PM on April 6, 2009

Yar, good points above, but I don't think anyone's touched on the raiding subculture yet. It's incredibly rewarding for older, more experienced players to form raiding guilds. They offer material rewards such as gear from dungeons, crafted equipment, cheap access to componants. Strategic and tactical advantages, such as having voice-chat or PvP protection. As well as just having reliable and skilled players around all the time to complete quests. There are alot of social rewards, too, such as attaboys from the team after beating a boss or scoring a choice piece of gear. Mutual admiration, humor, peer recognition, etc. One thing I found especially compelling is guild administration, basic organization as well as the motherlode of political/economic theory in gaming -- the DKP or gear-distibution system. There's an entire world of separate rewards which only asks for time and energy. For people craving that, the investment in WoW can very easily outstrip non-game goals and ambitions...and that's where it can become a very destructive force in one's life.

Similar to raiding, the PvP system (and pvp guilds) can be very rewarding for more competition-oriented players.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:37 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

(spoke too soon, Mike1024.. Great points, and I'm glad I got out before the peer pressure freebies came in :O )
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2009

You might find some good answers here.

In my opinion, it's not really the game. The game is fun, and it rewards you the same as any other MMO would. I know people who were addicted to WoW and then jumped ship to become addicted to LotR (does this even still exist? I heard it sucked). It fulfills a need in a way that your run-of-the-mill FPS doesn't. A lot of it has to do with people, and a lot of it has to do with obligation.

My story spans from very late 2005 to very early 2009. I was a "hardcore" raider for some of those years. Personally, I became addicted to WoW because I was depressed and had a panic attack nearly every time I left my apartment - it was an effective time killer between classes, and it was an environment I had control over. I also played it because I was in a long-distance relationship, so I would be able to do something more than just talk on the phone with my SO.

WoW kept me addicted because I found a group of people I genuinely liked and had fun playing with (I have met a few of these people in real life). By the time I was really seriously into the game (i.e.: it was a second job with no salary), I was living in a new city with only my SO and I knew basically no one in the city. I could play WoW and it was like hanging out with my friends. I've always been a shy person with low self esteem, so to be well-liked and appreciated for the work I did was the positive reinforcement I wasn't getting anywhere else. I can feel totally incompetent at work because I have no friends and no one tells me if I'm doing a good job, but WoW gives me healing meters and new (better!) gear and people actively wanting to group with me.

And then I was laid off and taking medication that made me even more depressed (at least I wasn't having panic attacks anymore). I'd wake up around noon or 1, play all day, go to sleep around 2, rinse, repeat. I job searched for awhile, but I wasn't really getting anywhere. Meanwhile, WoW made me feel productive and helpful. It didn't matter that I was burning through my savings and living off my credit card. My guildies liked me and made me feel needed.

Ultimately, I ended up quitting when I moved away from my server's time zone and a bunch of people in my guild quit or changed servers. I was pretty much stuck raiding entry-level stuff because my friends were all in a "stepping stone" guild. We never progressed. People came and left. I was completely done with the content I was raiding, but I was still showing up because I was needed and was too nice to say no. I joined a "better" guild for a little while, but I didn't make many friends (everyone thought I got invites because I was a girl. Uh, no, I was one of the only competent, reliable tanks on my server), and I basically had to be drunk to tolerate raiding, so I quit. Essentially, what broke my addiction was the fact that outside my happy little circle of friends, I had to deal with a server full of assholes.

Now I have a job that keeps me busy for about 12 hours a day. I bought WotLK, and I played my main character to 78 (achievements weren't very motivating for me, for what it's worth), but by that point everyone had been 80 for awhile and it seemed too daunting to make an effort to see endgame content. I bought an Xbox and I'm hanging out with my friends in the area, but it's not the same. My friends love me, but no one calls me up on the spur of the moment to do something exciting. We have to plan a week in advance. No one says, "Gee, Erin, you are probably the best beer drinker I've ever met!" and I regularly get yelled at by nearly everyone I deal with at my job, so I'm back to being convinced that I'm a horrible, incompetent person. Nothing really gives me a sense of accomplishment and belonging like raiding with my guild did. I'm not saying WoW ruined me for life, but I can't seem to find anything that fills the void it left. Yes, I realize I'm pathetic.

I knew a bunch of guys that I could safely say were addicted. Some of them had kids, and sometimes I worried about their families. One of the guys I was worried about had kicked a meth addiction and would drink constantly to deal with mouth pain.
posted by giraffe at 1:48 PM on April 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

3rding sharkfu.

in wow, life is simple. there are challenges, with clear objectives, not too easy, not too hard. you have the opportunity to excel in many areas. when you do something correctly, you get a reward.. and there are always better rewards ahead. spending time guarantees *some* kind of reward, even if it wasn't exactly what you hoped for. but it COULD be..! if you make a mistake, the result is inconvenience, at most. if you don't like who you are, you can start over. there is a clear power structure, and anyone could climb that ladder. you know when you're better than another person, and most people will agree with you (so-and-so is such a n00b, made the whole team wipe. /kick them plz!). and, you and your friends share common interests, goals, and experiences. for 15$/mo you can travel and conquer a world full of fantasy and variety and amass great wealth, especially compared to your room and your bank account.
it's an escape from the complicated, disappointing, depressing, exhausting, unrewarding experience that life can be sometimes. and of course, the more you indulge, the less appealing your atrophied real-life becomes. and in those moments that your faith becomes weak, blizzard drops a new toy in your lap, renewing your zeal.

i had to give up my addiction a few years ago. my real and virtual social network collapsed, and my life with it. i still am easily addicted to things, TV shows, books, other games.. currently crossword puzzles. but they eventually end or get tiring, because they aren't designed to be an IV of entertainment. i get a greater sense of accomplishment and can share them with friends IRL. but sometimes i still miss it. listening to music from that time makes me nostalgic.
posted by vaguelyweird at 1:54 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I played for a long time and quit recently (quit once before for over a year). I think for me part of the draw was that there's always something to do. In traditional games, there's a clearly defined goal. There might be some replayability or something to do afterwards, but you're fundamentally dealing with a finite amount of content. With something like WoW, since it's a well made MMO (not like Everquest which involved standing in one place killing the same mobs all night), you've always got something you could be doing...raiding, grouping, questing, working on tradeskills, leveling another character, even just chatting with friends (friends you meet online are fleeting at best, but there are people I truly miss since quitting).

On another level, I think it has something to do with power. Like in real life, I'm just some dorky guy, with a girlfriend and a cat and a programming job. Online, I can be a mighty warrior, or a hunter with any number of fearsome beasts to fight for me. There's something rewarding about being able to smash something's face in, in ways you don't get in real life. Add to that the rewards you can get from putting effort into it (first getting to 80, then upgrading your uncommon gear to rare, from rare to epic, then striving to maybe get a legendary piece), and you have a game that you have a lot more incentive to work at than a traditional game with a finite ending.
posted by cali59 at 2:03 PM on April 6, 2009

I've been playing WoW since beta, and while I wouldn't say it's destroyed my personal life, it definitely did a burnt-and-salted-earth on any other gaming I used to do.

Pre-WoW, I spent most of my gaming time on the xbox360, buying mini-games and retail titles on a regular basis. Post-Wow, I haven't bought more than 3 games at launch, and never play more than a few hours on the console, before heading back to WoW.

The reason is simple, progression. A non-MMORPG just can't compete with the infinite expansiveness of Warcraft. I can play for 10 minutes or 10 hours, the next time I login, all that effort is still there in some "tangible" form, be it new gear, new spells, or just more gold in the bank. Any other game, I might "win" a round, but the next time I play, I start from square one again.

So what keeps me interested after so many years? Even now, there are still parts of the original game that I've never gotten around to checking out. The game is bigger than you can imagine. They add new things constantly, not just with paid expansion releases, but also with lots of dot-level patches that include new dungeons, new craftable items, new abilities and critters. They re-balance the character classes constantly, so that the same techniques that worked two years ago aren't even viable anymore. With the most recent expansion, they included "Achievements" that drive a lot of traffic towards "old" content under new circumstances.
posted by nomisxid at 2:04 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

MUD-type games with achievable levels are a lot like being put in a skinner box.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2009

I tried it out for a few weeks, and couldn't care less. However, I've never been able to get into games very easily, I feel like I'm getting nothing worthwhile out of the effort I put in. My ex, on the other hand, became far too addicted to it. In his case I think it was partially all the various reward structures and challenges and so on described above, but most of all the social networking aspect. If you're lonely in the real world it can make the draw of a persistent social circle who are counting on you all the more important. I couldn't understand why he felt such a sense of loyalty to people he'd never met, but he had the headset and everything and knew details of people's lives (or at least what they... claimed were their lives), and got to the point where he'd turn down real-world social opportunities because he'd promised them he'd be there for a raid on Friday night. So for him the problem was that it destroyed any moderation he may have otherwise been able to practice on his own.
posted by you're a kitty! at 2:09 PM on April 6, 2009

I don't have a particularly addictive personality. If anything, I wish I did sometimes. And as a personal data point, I have to strongly disagree with it being all about people are addicted to it because they naturally have an addictive personality. For me, end-game content (I raided hardcore for a while, meaning 5 hours/4nights a week sessions) was fun because of the community. It was hard where I first moved to meet people, but hey, it was easy in WoW! Get my warlock up to lvl 60, have some time on my hands, and I was golden! Plus, I loved being a monster warlock getting first place for kills in battlegrounds. An ego stroke, for sure. Does that mean I was addicted to the game or have an addictive personality? I tend to think not.

And as nomisxid refers to, the achievements- be they loot, pvp, or the new system Blizzard put in place.
posted by jmd82 at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2009

For me, it was (and the pull still is) the social aspect. There are more impressive games, technically speaking, on the PC or PS3, but WoW has the Guild thing mentioned above. I loved my Raiding Guild I was in, and the allure of being able to hang out with Real-Life friends who live states away online is strong. However, I quit for two reasons: 1) I realized it was sucking time I could put to more valuable things, like my girlfriend, and 2) I was bored with the grinding / leveling up. When the first expansion came out, there was a mad rush to get from 60 to 70. I missed the starting gun due to real life, and once I did, my network of online friends outclassed me, leaving me alone, and that broke a lot of the charm of the game for me. At that point, I quit.

The phenomenon isn't just for MMOs - I play in several Live Action RPGs (LARPs for short), and they are JUST as addictive. The main reason they haven't done as much damage to my social life is that they are scheduled once-a-month events, preventing one from spending too much time at them. However, the same basic hooks and rewards are there, with the caveat that they are face-to-face interaction rather than online. So it's not just WoW, or MMOs, that can cause this.
posted by GJSchaller at 2:24 PM on April 6, 2009

WoW is so addictive because it offers a lot. It has a clear progression and reward system, the rewards are so vast and varied that it alone accounts for a huge amount of time sink.

The game itself is visually beautiful, and smartly blends in the fantasy genre without making it too immersive.

The gameplay has varying levels of complexity, average players can get by with the default UI and simple team play, while advanced players can download crazy UI addons and join uber raids requiring 25 players. And the two sides can play side by side without a hitch (well, for the most part).

I recommend you give a spin, and at first I would recommend a Non-PvP Role-Playing server, usually the players are more mature and finding a group is easier because the guilds tend to be small. Long time PvP servers are death for new players, avoid those like the plague unless you know that is what you want.

That said, the new expansion is awesome with new content but unfortunately they also really dumbed the game down, severely reducing the challenge level across the board.
posted by Vindaloo at 2:59 PM on April 6, 2009

I lost about six months of my life to this game, and found it difficult to quit, even though towards the end I wasn't actually enjoying it that much. Two friends of mine who started about the same time I did are still playing several years later; the two of them now lead the largest raiding guild on their server. One describes it as her "second job" and complains about it constantly. They frequently miss out on social gatherings due to their raid schedule.

For what it's worth, I don't think I or my friends are socially maladjusted addictive-personality shut-ins with Other Issues. I've briefly played a couple of other MMORPGs and plenty of similar single-player RPGs. None were anywhere near as compelling as WoW. So I have to say I pretty much entirely disagree with those above who minimize the addictive potential of this game -- it's not crack cocaine, sure, but it's exceptionally well-tuned to keep you coming back hour after hour after hour after hour; far more so than other games of its type.

As for what is so addictive about it:

* there's the usual RPG treadmill of interlocking goals, character and skill leveling, quests to complete, item collection and creation, etc. This is not at all unique to WoW, but it's unusually well designed here.
* Combat is generally not just a matter of picking the most powerful weapon or spell and hammering the attack button repeatedly. There's a fair amount of strategy and (especially) teamwork involved.
* Most important is the raid content. Much of the really interesting content is accessible only to large-ish groups of people who have to have spent a good deal of time planning and gathering materials just to get through the door, and who need to coordinate their actions and various skills pretty carefully to succeed. This involves a significant time investment, both in preparation and during the raid itself; it's not something you can do in half-hour increments between other tasks. (It also involves a lot of people management and social interaction to attract the right combination of people and get them all online for the same four-hour chunk of time to do the raid itself.)
posted by ook at 3:09 PM on April 6, 2009

I watched a friend go through a period of WoW addiction a couple of years ago. He broke up with his girlfriend (an excellent decision) and with his heart basically shattered, he wandered into Azeroth.

It's a simpler world, with simpler relationships based on achieving things together; it's a place where you can be a hero and not get badly hurt. It's a safe, reassuring place, where you always know how to make progress, and you can talk to strangers.

Two years later, he met an amazing woman. They're getting married in the fall. He sometimes plays WoW, but doesn't have the need for it that drove him earlier.

WoW is like the world with training wheels. It may be really addictive for some, but I'm convinced that it's really helpful for others.
posted by MrVisible at 3:22 PM on April 6, 2009

To reiterate about the social aspect... this is something I read in an article with Felicia Day that made sense. She pointed out that when you get involved with a guild, you spend a LOT of time with the same handful of people, much more than in most adult friendships. So even if you don't meet face-to-face there's a certain depth to these relationships. Also, you feel part of a team, you're actually doing something, with people you like.

Also, you can interact with people in a different way than in everyday life; you're not tied to who you are in the real world. You can spend hours interacting with someone, have some idea of their intelligence, their sense of humor, some of their tastes, and still not know how old they or what they do for a living... or whether it's a guy or a girl (though people almost invariably assume the former). For some people, this is appealing.

The depth of content is another thing. An outsider would say, "He's always doing the same thing, he's playing WoW all day long" while someone who plays would say, "I was questing for a bit on my alt and then we had a 25-man raid and after that one of our lowbies was being camped so we went and destroyed Southshore. Then we met up back in town, got drunk and told each other tales of our heroism."
posted by dagnyscott at 4:01 PM on April 6, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, it all does sound marvellously compelling.
Thanks to everyone who's shared their story.

I actually don't think I can try it.
I just went to their site for the 10-day trial,
and they even make signing up easy!
Big buttons and clear instructions.

I just got out of a relationship that I really liked.
I drink too much and have a day job I'm not overly fond of.
I already play a lot of games - and I love trying different
experiences. But from what it sounds like, WoW is
a little like Fable II, only it never ends.

I loved the hell out of Fable II, but I'm in a way
glad it actually ended. I have too many reasons right
now to get sucked into something.

If anyone else has anything to add, I will keep coming
back to this and checking for new responses.
You all have satisfied my curiosity in a way.
See - I love videogames, it's my cocaine.
But WoW sounds like it could easily become my crack.

posted by Sully at 4:14 PM on April 6, 2009

Blizzard takes advantage of basic behaviorism principles. Variable ratio reinforcement schedules are the most powerful schedules. With a variable ratio reinforcers make you think "It might be the next one. DAMN IT, IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. It might be the next one." Dobie's link is an OK explanation.
posted by Silvertree at 4:42 PM on April 6, 2009

Response by poster: Odinsdream - Ha! It's yours if you want it!
posted by Sully at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2009

I play WoW a lot (Sarth+3D dead, w00t!). Some specific things that make it very compelling:

The reward system. Everyone's hit on that already, but no one's captured the compelling feeling that if you do X you will get reward Y. It's much easier than real life and gives a sense of achievement.

The social aspect. You're not just levelling up in a game by yourself, you're levelling up (or progressing in raids) with your friends.

The diversity of the game. It's an incredibly well designed game, with a lot of roles and gameplay options and experiences. There are no other games that have as much complexity married with as much simple fun as World of Warcraft.

It sounds like you are wondering whether you should play WoW or not. I say don't. There's more interesting things to do with your time. And the game can easily be addictive and it never ends.
posted by Nelson at 5:46 PM on April 6, 2009

World of Warcraft is fun. Have you ever played a video game where you kill a boss, like Contra? You can kill bosses with one player in Contra, but you can play with two players simultaneously and it's more fun. Now picture teaming up with 24 other real people to kill huge bosses. It's awesome.

That's what raiding is. There's also PVP/arena/battlegrounds. There's also all the meta gaming to be done, like making gold on the auction house, doing achievements, professions, collecting mounts or minipets. You can really play for like ten hours or ten minutes, like nomisxid said.

However, if you use it like an escape from real life, it will take over you. Be careful. Have fun.
posted by knowles at 6:42 PM on April 6, 2009

No one says, "Gee, Erin, you are probably the best beer drinker I've ever met!"

Gee, Giraffe, you sure did a good and informative job of answering this ask metafilter question - far better than I did, for sure!

There are more impressive games, technically speaking, on the PC or PS3, but WoW has the Guild thing mentioned above.

Part of the reason WoW has 11 million monthly subscribers is because of the fact the specifications only call for an Athlon XP 1500+, 512 MB or more of RAM, and a 32 MB 3D video card. In other words, even if your PC is 5 years old, or a laptop with low-performance graphics, you can still play WoW.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:48 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I played, the part I loved most was endgame raiding. Playing regularly with the best players on the server, the camaraderie, the pretty epix ... and the knowledge that everyone on the server recognises your guild tag. Yes, I'm shameless. But it was like - if I was bored, and nobody I knew was on, I could join a group of randoms for some instance I'd done many times before,and even though they wouldn't know me, they'd know my guild. It was the sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, something awesome.

Of course it wasn't all that rosy (hardcore raiding guild = a lot of type-A personalities = a lot of personality clashes and drama, guild no-drama policies be damned) and I eventually realised that I was flunking classes because I was spending 30 hours a week raiding. So I quit.

I went back a few months later to join an entry-level casual raiding guild with some friends, but it wasn't the same. Four times the number of players (because, if people raid a quarter as much, you inevitably need more to field the same number of raids), tolerance of crappy playing, more loose-knit ... none of the discipline I had gotten used to with my old guild. I know, discipline in gaming, that's kind of sad, but stuff like showing up on time for a run is basic courtesy. I didn't last very long.

Beyond that, it's a very very pretty game with neat lore.
posted by Xany at 5:33 AM on April 7, 2009

Part of the reason WoW has 11 million monthly subscribers is because of the fact the specifications only call for an Athlon XP 1500+, 512 MB or more of RAM, and a 32 MB 3D video card.

Also appealing: Blizzard knows Mac users exist and enjoy games sometimes!
posted by giraffe at 5:38 AM on April 7, 2009

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