No recession in the metaverse, either

Paul Raven @ 17-12-2010

A sweeping statement, perhaps, but still: having already established that the “global recession” isn’t actually global, there are signs that some things are still selling hard and fast here in the West. The weird bit? One of those things is access to a hyperreal virtual universe. I’m talking, of course, about World Of Warcraft; I’ll let Edward Castronova sum it up in a few sentences.

Blizzard’s Cataclysm broke a single-day sales record for PC games: 3.3m copies in a day. At $40 each, that’s $132m revenue in a day.

The weekend box office for the latest Narnia move this past weekend was $24m. The other fantasy releases like Tangled and Harry Potter, came to $24m in their second or third week.

OK, granted, WoW was an international release, and those box office figures are (I presume) US-only. But even so, the entertainments that we value sufficiently to pay money for are changing, and changing fast… and no matter how much “can’t live without it” rhetoric you might hear from its regular users, I’m pretty sure no economist in their right mind would describe WoW as anything other than a leisure luxury.

And hey – looks like Blizzard’s managing to make a pretty dime in a piracy-riddled digital world, too. How’d you like them apples, Hollywood?


How to make two million bucks in a day legally

Paul Raven @ 16-04-2010

It’s easy: all you do is sell a sparkly horse upgrade to your MMO client base.

… this morning Blizzard announced the online sale of a new “celestial steed” for use in WoW.    These mounts cost $25 (on top of the retail price plus $15 monthly subscription).  So in a world of free games and virtual items selling for a dollar or two, how popular could a $25 sparkly flying pony be?

Well, the queue for their purchase was at least up to over 91,000 people waiting in the queue earlier today.  When I took a screen shot, it had fallen to “only” about 85,000.

90,000 X $25 = $2,250,000.

In one day.  From one item.  In a game that isn’t free to play anyway.

Also note that the horse in question doesn’t actually do anything different to a regular WoW horse except look pretty. So, there’s money to be made from virtual, intangible and functionless goods… provided you’ve got that client base there with money to spare, natch.

Speaking of mad things you can do in virtual worlds, how about building a Turing-complete 8 bit computer within the game Dwarf Fortress [via MetaFilter]?

All of a sudden the simulation hypothesis doesn’t seem quite so insane…


Niche mag publishing model #271: World of Warcraft, The Magazine

Paul Raven @ 21-08-2009

Still looking for new niche magazine publishing strategies? I sure am – and here’s one that doesn’t revolve around free web content. Indeed, someone’s starting a high quality print magazine on a subscription model. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you World Of Warcraft: The Magazine. Take it away, Ars Technica:

Clearly, there is much to be skeptical about, but the team behind the magazine makes a strong case for a publication of this type. Here’s the scoop on how they plan to sidestep the issues of traditional magazine publishing and still make a profit.

“This won’t be driven by advertising; it’s based on a print-on-demand format. We will launch the subscription website on Friday, monitoring who is subscribing in what language, and print that many copies exactly,” John Gower, International Director of FuturePlus, told Ars. “This will be environmentally friendly—no waste.” This print on demand format allows them to keep publishing costs as low as possible, and releasing magazines to subscribers only—no newsstand—will make sure no copies get thrown away.

“I’m not sure gamers were walking into Waldenbooks to find the newest information anyway,” Dan Amrich, the magazine’s editor in chief, said. So how will the quarterly magazine be advertised? The magazine will launch at Blizzcon, with people being able to subscribe for $39.95, £29.95, or €34.95. That may seem high for four issues a year, but the team is promising a high-quality, large format magazine with heavy paper stock, a glossy cover, and 148 pages an issue… and no ads. “We want this to be a nice surprise when people get it in the post, like unwrapping a Christmas present every quarter.”

Now, the advantage WoW:TM has here over a more general magazine is a ready-made niche interest base of considerable size to pitch to, plus direct access to the information and content that that niche is going to want. But they’re also treating the readers with respect by removing the crappy ads that seem to fill more than half of most game or tech mags, and aiming for a quality physical product that you’re going to want to keep; I’m assuming the content will lean towards stuff that isn’t too time-sensitive. Furthermore, they save on the dreaded pulping margin by going with print-on-demand, keeping their overheads low.

So, I see two takeaways here for the genre fiction scene in particular. First of all, is this a potential model for the genre fiction print magazine surviving? We’ve talked POD in genre before, but I don’t remember it being combined with the no-ads idea. A magazine that makes the effort to be an artefact, a thing of beauty – I’m thinking more Interzone than Asimov’s on the aesthetic front, here – while also delivering 100% great content for a reasonable price… well, in some respects this isn’t that different a model to the existing one, at least in some cases. If WoW:TM succeeds, what will that say about the viability of genre magazines? Is the death of print simply a question of costs not scaling?

Secondly, and maybe more pertinently: World Of Warcraft: The Magazine strikes me as a damn good market for fantasy writers to pitch stories to.


Shrinks to form raid guild in World of Warcraft

Paul Raven @ 31-07-2009

gamer playing World of WarcraftComputer games, especially persistent MMOs like World of Warcraft, are highly addictive – or so we’re told, albeit principally by people with money to make from treating said addiction. Indeed, gaming addiction is such a potentially lucrative market debilitating social cancer that psychiatrists want to form their own guild and start treating WoW addicts within the framework of the game itself. [via TechDirt; image by jerine]

Yes, you read that correctly. Treating people for MMO addiction. In an MMO.

Dr Graham said that some players were so addicted to these massively multiplayer online games that they played them for up to 16 hours a day, leading them to neglect their social lives and education.

He has called on Blizzard Entertainment, the company that makes World of Warcraft, to waive or discount the costs associated with joining the game so that therapists can more easily communicate with at-risk players in their preferred environment.

“We will be launching this project by the end of the year. I think it’s already clear that psychiatrists will have to stay within the parameters of the game. They certainly wouldn’t be wandering around the game in white coats and would have to use the same characters available to other players,” said Dr Graham.

“Of course one problem we’re going to have to overcome is that while a psychiatrist may excel in what they do in the real world, they’re probably not going to be very good at playing World of Warcraft.

“We may have to work at that if we are going to get through to those who play this game for hours at end.

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this more than a bit weird? If an expert in alcohol addiction started saying “well, we think we should start drinking in bars so we can really reach the people who need our services, and moreover the bar owners should let us drink for free. Granted, we don’t really have a taste for alcohol ourselves, but I’m sure we’ll pick it up eventually if it’s for the good of the patient,” they’d be discredited immediately, right?

I suspect the real story here is one of psychiatry quacks chasing the hard-to-win money of middle-class parents who don’t understand their kids and who think that there must be a treatable medical reason for that… which is a market that will probably never completely die off, sad to say.


Mobile Massively Multiplayer – Warcraft on the iPhoe

Paul Raven @ 28-04-2009

Here’s some big news for the gamers among you (provided it’s not an elaborate and well-produced hoax) – a World of Warcraft client that runs on the iPhone.

Found via The Guardian, where Greg Howson asks whether the cramped screen real-estate and network lag would make it worth bothering. I figure that’s an academic question, really; I imagine if I (a) played WoW and (b) had an iPhone, I’d be mad keen for a mobile version; I mean, who wouldn’t be, right? If you’re an iPhone and MMO geek, you’re going to go mad for the idea of getting the best of both at once…

But more to the point (and the main reason I called it out), it’s another SF Prophecy Point on the leaderboard for Charlie Stross, who included mobile MMO gaming as a core trope in his 2007 novel Halting State. Two years from science fiction to reality – things move fast, don’t they?


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