The Blurring of Work and Play
In other words, these online environments are structured such that they reward and seduce you to perform complex, tedious tasks.
While early MMORPGs focused on combat-oriented advancement, recent MMORPGs have provided non-combat advancement options, so users can now choose to become chefs, hair-stylists, architects, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and yes, even politicians in certain MMORPGs. The example of pharmaceutical manufacturers (PMs) will be used to illustrate the seriousness of play in the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies.
To become a PM, a user must locate raw chemicals and minerals on the planet using geological surveying tools. Different resources have different attributes which contribute to the final quality of the product as described on each product schematic. To produce high-quality products, users must therefore find the best combination of resources through a time-consuming planet-hopping process. Resource gathering is only meaningfully performed using industrial harvesters bought from architects (other users). Even then, resource gathering is slow and users must check their harvesters on a daily basis. Raw resources are combined into sub-components in factories (also bought from architects), and then combined into the final product. Because each factory run take a few hours of real time to complete and because most products require several sub-components, users have to plan out their production chain fairly well to ensure their machinery doesn't idle and drain their capital. To complicate matters, resources are randomly replaced on a weekly basis, so users have to constantly survey for new resources as well. Finally, users must market and sell these goods on the open market, which means competing with other users who are selling similar products.
The time required to acquire the expertise and capital to become a PM in Star Wars Galaxies is in the order of 4-6 weeks of normal game play, and thereafter requires sustained daily time investment to maintain the business. The irony is that users are paying to perform what increasingly resembles serious, complex work in these environments.
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