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Be a Part of Our New Study

We have completed recruitment for this phase of the study. We are not accepting new participants, but I'm keeping this page up for archival purposes for the comments. Thanks.

As some of you know, I'm now a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). My colleagues and I recently got funding to conduct a rather ambitious study of WoW. We're trying to find out what our behaviors in WoW reveal about who we are in RL. If you're currently playing WoW on a North America/Oceanic server (see future plans section for players from other countries) and are interested in becoming part of our newest study, keep reading:

Gnome Rogue with Pink Mohawk LFG

Have you ever wondered about who it is behind that gnome rogue with the pink mohawk? Or whether it’s possible to figure out if a player is a man or a woman just from the way they play the game? We’re social scientists from the US, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and we’ve wondered about that too. And that’s what this study is about.

We’re trying to find out how well we can predict who people are just from the way they behave in a virtual world. Our research team has a long history of studying interesting aspects of online games. We are also the same researchers who brought you the Daedalus Project and the PARC PlayOn Project.

To be a part of our newest research project takes only about 15 minutes to complete a web survey. If you are a FaceBook user, we’ll also ask you to install a FaceBook app to gather some of your real world data. Individuals who are under the age of 18 or incarcerated are not eligible for participation. 

Other Ways You Can Help

As always, I would appreciate your help in spreading the word for this study. A link on your guild's forum to this page or a quick mention to a friend who plays WoW goes a long way to helping the study. The more WoW players we can get, the better our findings will be.

Future Study Plans

For the current study phase, we are only collecting data from players on North America/Oceanic + Hong Kong/Taiwan realms due to infrastructure constraints. Our colleagues in Hong Kong and Taiwan are currently recruiting in their respective locations, but if you happen to run into this page and currently play on a HK/TW server, please participate using the HK version or TW version of the survey (which lists the appropriate servers).

In the next phase of the study, we will collect data from players on European and Mainland China realms.


Comments

if you can put forth some time/effort into the effects of RMT/hacking/cheating that currently effects MMOs rampantly that might be interesting. Although WoW at one time was the major MMO on the market a careful look will find that is not really the case anymore and the MMO market is dispersed into a variety of games currently (and will remain so for some time to come yet.) WoW will remain as a high subscription game for some time yet, but most serious MMO players moved on long ago.

Posted by: Rinalas on March 17, 2010 12:21 AM

Rinalas - What are your thoughts on where serious MMO players have moved to?

And are you saying that WoW's decline is due to the RMT/cheating/hacking or for some other reasons?

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 12:27 AM

Why is there no options to choose European servers? Not everybody who wants to participate in this study plays on US realms.

Posted by: Shinhan on March 17, 2010 12:31 AM

Shinhan - Totally my bad for lack of clarification. For the current phase, we will only be collecting data from North America, Oceania, Taiwan, and Hong Kong servers due to infrastructure constraints. For the next phase, we will collect data from European realms. I've also added this clarification to the notice above. I'm sorry for the confusion and inconvenience.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 12:42 AM

There is also another trend I'm seeing that relates to manipulating the game economy. Maybe better suited to Edward Castronova's research, but it has some dynamics that might be interesting for your study. The question I have is whether players who are "gold farmers", i.e., hired and paid real money or game gold, consider the game a "job" and don't actually care about what effect their farming actions have on the game, or the extent to which they feel like they interact effectively with other players within the gaming context. The mercenary nature of how the gold farmers play has a negative impact on my own enjoyment of the game.

My personal experience is that farmers:
1. Barely speak English at all, so can't actually play with English speaking characters in a meaningful way.
2. Do not speak, even in trade chat or at the mailbox, so come across as rude for ignoring direct questions and comments.
3. Often "ninja" raid items (though perhaps from misunderstanding the raid's loot agreement more than intentional stealing)
4. Aggressively manipulate the AH prices, driving them down or way up to help them sell more product.
5. Create numerous accounts with clever names like Djebblkrwp that they use for 5 minutes to spam about gold prices, and then delete the character and make a new one to do the same thing. It must be someone's full time job to do nothing but create characters and spam stuff on all the servers! Ugh.
6. Hog key hunting areas, like for elementals that drop fire or air shards, or BOE items and patterns, or rare "named" creatures.
7. Park at vendors that sell rare patterns, herbs or other items, figure out the refresh timing, and log in and out on a regular schedule just to grab those items.

What kind of person is behind this sort of thankless and repetitive play? I understand the profit motive, just not who is signing on for this kind of work and what the turnover rate must be. Might be off topic...I'm just throwing it out since it's fresh on my mind. :) Thanks!

Posted by: KVivian on March 17, 2010 12:42 AM

One of my EU servers (Dragonmaw) is in the list, BUT the one where my main is (Zenedar) is missing - please fix this so that I can contribute to your exciting study! I have followed your work from the start and wish you all the best!

Posted by: Zenedar on March 17, 2010 12:45 AM

Zenedar - I'm so sorry to disappoint you, but I forgot to clarify that the current phase will be for US/Oceanic + Taiwan/HK realms only. We will then conduct another phase targeting the European realms.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 12:50 AM

Nick,
Separate but related question. I heard a rumor earlier this week that the US is considering real sales tax on the sale of virtual items. I'm not sure how this would work, unless Blizzard or EA or whomever tracks those transactions and then provides that information to the IRS. I just read the terms of your survey participation, and see that the tracking is funded by the US government. Is anything you will be researching or tracking related to helping the government identify ways to track individuals who play in games and/or virtual sales transactions? Thanks.

Posted by: KVivian on March 17, 2010 12:53 AM

KVivian - Ge Jin has done actual interviews with gold farmers and provides great detail on how it all works and why people do it. I'd recommend his video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEegohRPsqg

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 12:54 AM

KVivian - To your second question, I think the government is more interested in legal virtual item sales (where it is a core part of the their business model), like in Maple Story or FarmVille.

In the current study, we have no real interest in the virtual item sales angle, except for that one survey question to get a sense of how prevalent it is.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 1:04 AM

I have been playing wow for 1.5 years but I don't play it now (my New Year's wish :-) ). Do you still want my input?

Posted by: RaukGorth on March 17, 2010 2:03 AM

RaukGorth - Glad to hear you're keeping to your new year resolution. We are attempting to track player behaviors over time, so only looking for active players at the moment. Thanks for asking though!

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 2:08 AM

Hi Nick, great to see the story continues (been following your writings over the years). Looking forward to the European part of the study.
Good luck.

Posted by: Tiracorda on March 17, 2010 2:24 AM

A moving story related to this study:
Last week, one of our guild members celebrated her "Coming out". (S)he
shared with us: When she is in WoW she feels more herself and real and
when she is in RL she´s playing a role. "She" is a 21 year old male
who is certain that he is in the wrong body. His current life´n live
quest is: How can I express as and be a woman in the Realworld ? While
we as WoW player often "feel" that this or that female character is a
RL male we were all certain since she joined our guild, that She is a
real woman because of her authentic feminine qualities. The support
and compassion (s)he gets from us helped her a lot in her "Coming
out".

Many times she just loves to sit at some Azeroth beach watching the sunset, totally feeling "herself" in her feminine, virtual body.....

Posted by: André on March 17, 2010 2:34 AM

Nick,

Glad to see you're keeping this ball rolling. I think I participated in some of your very first studies and have been a big MMO player all the way back to my first, DAOC. I have since tried EQ and Ultima and a pretty much every other game out. I wish I could participate in the current study but the lack of end game PvP in WoW is downright disappointing and is the reason I'll never carry another WoW subscription. Hope to see you in the next study and keep up the thoroughly interesting work.

Posted by: Jason on March 17, 2010 4:05 AM

This study looks really interesting Nick, can't wait for the results. I thought there may have been a question about sexuality though, i.e the 'sex' of the player, their gender, and the sex of their in game avatar, as well as their sexual orientation. Would be interesting to look at this considering the above comment by André.

I also know some players who are transgender and feel much more comfortable in game than RL as they are able to express themselves freely without risk of being judged or 'exposed'.

It's also amazing the amount of people who get into sexual conversations with other players, often one will pose as female, the other male, but they will in fact both be male players.

My psychological interest is in social interaction and sexuality though, so maybe I should do some more research of my own haha!

Anyway, good luck and look forward to seeing the results!

Helena Cole

Posted by: Helena Cole on March 17, 2010 4:29 AM

This study does indeed look fascinating. Please let us know when EU realms will be studied.

Go well,

Trip

Posted by: Tripswitch on March 17, 2010 5:11 AM

I´ll join from Germany when EU realms are up for investigation Trip & Nick. As a Guild master I can "viral spread" fast along my WoW contacts. I´m on your list so will receive the message when it´s time

Posted by: André on March 17, 2010 6:02 AM

Very interesting study. When I tried to put it on facwbook, though, I got a blank facebook screen.

Posted by: Rhonda on March 17, 2010 6:35 AM

I was so thrilled to see a new survey in my inbox this morning. This is random, but I'm sure you have pondered this before Nick - toon names. My warlock is named "Louise", which happens to be my middle name. My husband plays a female toon and named her "Ladonna" - a character he likes from a novel. Psychologically, I find this fascinating as to why and what we name our avatars. Do we want to create something new, perhaps something we don't have in real life? Or do we want to transfer some of real life into that creation? Thanks again Nick - great to see the project doing new work!

Best,

Posted by: Jess on March 17, 2010 6:44 AM

Add my name to the list of folks delighted to find a request for participation in my mailbox this morning!

Been following your work for a long time and have passed the site and request along to my guildies.

Posted by: Dharmasattva on March 17, 2010 7:07 AM

Great to hear from you again. I'll be happy to join in and spread the news on this project. One question 'though to make sure you get the right data in the right phase: my fellow guildmembers are spread out all over the planet but we all play on the same US server. Can we all join the US servey or do our EU members have to wait for the EU version even if they don't play on EU servers?

Posted by: Tsani on March 17, 2010 8:00 AM

How wonderful! I finally move to WoW from EQ after 10+ years and here's Nick doing the same :)

I shall spread the word among my little WoW guild (all 10 or so of us).

Posted by: Mari on March 17, 2010 8:10 AM

Thanks everyone! It really does feel amazing to be running a survey again and sending those emails out!

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 8:52 AM

good luck on the study nick & co. wish i could help but i stopped playing WoW years ago.

Posted by: evilben on March 17, 2010 10:13 AM

Really looking forward to this study coming to European servers. My guild (mostly 18+ members) and I would be interested in helping.
Arednie
Shaman - Anachronos

and a teacher the rest of the time :)

Posted by: Arednie on March 17, 2010 10:20 AM

Why are you studying WoW of all MMOs? While it may have a large player population, it seems like one of the most restrictive MMOs in terms of limitations placed on player interactions.

Wouldn't a less restrictive MMO such as EVE Online make a better candidate for studying the psychologies that drive player interactions?

Posted by: Executor252 on March 17, 2010 10:28 AM

Executor - The ability for third-parties to monitor in-game behaviors without the blessing of the game developer was a huge factor in our decision. The ability to leverage LUA tools and scrape the WoW Armory make WoW unique in the MMO space.

And given that WoW has both PvP and PvE modes whereas EO only has a PvP mode, it's not clear that WoW is "more restrictive" in that it does cater to PvE players as well (which a lot of players are).

Moreover, behavior isn't only about what players can do to each other, but what they can do in the world overall. In this regard, most MMOs come out in the same order of magnitude--there is just a deluge of behavioral variables to look at no matter what game you choose.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 10:47 AM

So nice to get that email! Sorry, I moved on from WoW. I hope to participate in future research for you though.

Currently playing Age of Conan, was playing Warhammer. Awaiting the new online Star wars. WoW lost my interest along time ago. :(

Looking forward to your results! :)

Posted by: Lisa on March 17, 2010 11:00 AM

Will link this on my facebook for my friends to have a look at - after all without your project, without the Daedalus, I doubt I would have received such a high mark on my dissertation two years ago!
Thank you for your ongoing research and interest in MMO's, you are legendary!! Shame it only applies to US/Oceanic servers though otherwise I would have taken part too. :)

Posted by: Dina on March 17, 2010 11:34 AM

Fun, and done!

Posted by: Pixelated Executioner on March 17, 2010 11:58 AM

Not trying to butt into a discussion or anything, but saying WoW doesn't dominate the MMO market right now is 100% false. WoW subscriptions are a substantial amount higher then any other MMO on the market today.

Posted by: Klokworkk on March 17, 2010 1:13 PM

Adding to my comment. "Serious" players are not, the total number of players is higher. There really isn't any other MMO on the market for "hardcore" players either (for that matter, there really isn't a "hardcore" MMO ON the market anymore, unless you're still considering old MMOs like EQ1, UO, etc).

Posted by: Klokworkk on March 17, 2010 1:15 PM

Thanks, Klokworkk. That was my sense too. I was also confused by what Rinalas meant by "serious gamers".

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 1:23 PM

I was sad to see that you were not putting out any new studies, and today a new one in the mailbox. Fantastic!! So glad you are going to keep working on this and delighted to lend my full support.

Posted by: Zaan on March 17, 2010 1:47 PM

so what's the ultimate goal of the study?

With the government funding, seems like this could be used for military recruitment to understand personality types? application of data analysis like freakonomics on this can draw tons of "for-good" and "for-evil" conclusions. I hope the PTB ask the right questions.

Posted by: done on March 17, 2010 2:36 PM

Just out of curiosity, what type of information are you mining from Facebook if we install the app?

If you are trying to determine whether a person is male or female by the way they play the information could be mined from Facebook which would in fact give away our particular gender.

Posted by: CCP on March 17, 2010 3:08 PM

done - The goals of this particular study are even more basic than that. Do demographic or personality traits even have a strong impact on how we behave in VWs? After all, it could be the case that once you put people in gnome rogues with pink mohawks, all bets are off. We don't know and this is a very relevant and timely question for social scientists and game studies researchers, let alone the government. And while we've seen hints that age and sex seem to correlate with game-play differences, it's not clear these differences are large enough to make actual predictions. And that's the underlying question to the study. Can we even do it at all?

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 3:09 PM

CCP - I am pasting what we say in the consent form not to be smug but for consistency and completeness:

"The FaceBook application will gather information from your demographic profile (e.g., location, education background, marital status), interests (groups you are a fan of, events you have attended), your profile images, status updates you have posted, and abstracted social interaction metrics (e.g., the total number of your friends, number of status updates you have posted, number of photos you have been tagged in). We will not gather any information or content generated from your friends, nor will we attempt to interact with your friends for any reason."

We in fact need to know your RL gender so we have the ground truth to understand how well our prediction algorithms can do. If we guess without knowing your actual gender, then we have no basis for calculating our accuracy.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 17, 2010 3:12 PM

Nick,
I participated in your earlier study and am delighted to be invited to participate again. Looking forward to sharing what I can with you and your colleagues, and checking out your findings.

Posted by: jendaani on March 17, 2010 4:46 PM

I still have an active account but I have not logged in for well over a year, so it looks like I won't be participating in your study. In answer to your question about where serious players went, though, I think that at the time I left, most of the serious PVP players were planning to go to Warhammer. I don't know if that actually came to pass.

Posted by: Warren Dew on March 17, 2010 7:12 PM

I tried to participate but in the last page, to install facebook api, IE stopped and didn't let me continue at all.

Posted by: tima on March 18, 2010 11:13 AM

tima - I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Others have mentioned this to us. On IE8, lowering the security settings as you do the FaceBook app install will usually help. And don't worry, even if you can't get the FB app working, the most important variables come from the survey and the WoW characters you list.

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 18, 2010 7:41 PM

Due to some bad timing the characters I listed as my mains will probably not be getting much play in the coming months. Is there a way to edit the information sent? Or, if a character is moved off a server, will you be able to follow that?

Posted by: Bokai on March 18, 2010 7:42 PM

Bokai - If you want to change anything, let me know and I can access the DB.

And this is also why we will do once-a-month follow-up surveys so you can add/change your active characters. But if you know now, I can go ahead and add it for you now. You can email me at contactATnickyee.com

Thanks for asking!

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 18, 2010 7:46 PM

In Chrome, the facebook App shows the initial screen requesting Facebook access, and then goes blank. As Chrome is my primary browser (myself and my wife keep different browsers and settings), I can't obviously change to another one to make it work.

Your note on the vital statistics coming from the survey are noted.

Thanks! :)

Posted by: Jake Talahan on March 19, 2010 9:59 AM

Congrats on your new job, fine place to work! Also glad to see that you are continuing your Great Work. Been following and contributing since about when you first started.

Happy to help more,
Roe Adams

Posted by: Roe Adams on March 20, 2010 2:40 PM

Congrats on your new job, fine place to work! Also glad to see that you are continuing your Great Work. Been following and contributing since about when you first started.

Happy to help more,
Roe Adams

Posted by: Roe Adams on March 20, 2010 2:41 PM

Hi Nick,

It's great to see the story goes on! I'm looking forward to participate in the European side of the study :)

Posted by: Isilion on March 22, 2010 9:45 AM

thnx nick.

re: facebook, try to go to the previous page with the back button and submit the form again. It took a few tries for me also (I think chrome and facebook and Nick's script have a problem with the chinese text or something).

Posted by: done on March 23, 2010 5:11 PM

I'd love to participate in your study but on the first page came across so many questions that I couldn't give an honest answer to because the proper options weren't there that I just can't do it.

You need more options for genders. There are more than 2. There are transgender people (and not all of those identify with simply "male" or "female"... 3rd gender, Two-Spirit, Bigender, Genderqueer and Genderfluid are all genders that people identify with) (and if you're talking about the bits we were born with, then you really need to reword the question) and there are intersex people who were born with mixed gender markers of various sorts and/or mixed genitalia who couldn't accurately choose "male" or "female" if by that question you meant what parts were we born with instead of what gender we feel we are.

Your options for marital status are lacking in that they don't show the range of commitment nor do they take in account polyamorous relationships or open relationships. Also, I have a boyfriend. We're in a committed open relationship but we don't have a life commitment yet. What choice do I pick, because partnered is in with engaged & married (implying a life commitment), and single definitely isn't accurate?

You ask us what country we live in, and yet I split my time between 2 countries.

As per occupation, I'm self-employed. I get work when I can. Is that considered "part-time"?

Even the number of hours I play WoW a week can radically change. Sometimes I don't play at all, when I'm bored with the game. Some weeks I play a lot.

And this is all on the first page.

If this is indicative of the rest of the form, then you're not going to be getting accurate information about me and my life.

Please let me know what you're doing about these discrepancies and if you change them to more accurately reflect people's lives. If you do, I'd really love to do your study.

Posted by: c4bl3fl4m3 on March 24, 2010 7:24 AM

To c4bl3fl4m3,

Do you play a gnome with a pink mohalk?

Posted by: Steve on March 24, 2010 1:45 PM

To Steve,

I have a tendency to play female toons and, therefore, don't have access to the pink mohawk. Which is sad, 'cause I'd totally have one. I've had a red fauxhawk IRL before (last summer... my hair is too long now).

I do, however, have a female troll rogue with a magenta mohawk. :-)

Posted by: C4bl3Fl4m3 on March 24, 2010 6:53 PM

Hello Nick

Nice to see you back . We've had some interesting mail exchanges about statistical correlations and other technicalities many years ago . I like many other "veteran" day 1 MMO players (UOL and EQ days) have moved away from WoW years ago too , so won't be much help .
Definitely the MMO sociology has evoluted over the last 12 years . Games like Vanguard or Lotro have a more mature and "serious" player basis than WoW f.ex . I believe that in the huge MMO offer today , the populations segment very significantly between the different kinds of games . As I have been playing MMOs since 98 , I can tell you that findings in WoW will with a high probability be specific to WoW and won't apply to (many) other MMOs .In other words I believe (personnal observations) that players were adapting their social interactions/needs (f.ex the waiting lists and queuing in the early EQ)to the game in the past because there was little choice in MMOs .
Today it works the other way round , the game adapts to the style/needs of the players because there is such a huge choice of them .
If you play f.ex 1 week Vanguard and 1 week WoW , you will understand what I mean - the players' behaviours , ages and expectations are sharply different .
In any case , good luck with your studies .
The day you include Europe and something else than WoW , I'll be glad to help .

Posted by: Tom on March 28, 2010 9:22 AM

Tom,

We recognize the generalizability problem as well, but given the specific and large amount of infrastructure needed to collect behavioral data from just one game (since there is no centralized behavioral log DB for all MMOs), we have to start somewhere. Also, this was recognized by the funding agency as well and other project teams focus on other virtual worlds (using a variety of different methods) to provide cross-world comparisons.

Nick

Posted by: Nick Yee on March 28, 2010 12:48 PM

Nice to see you out of hibernation. I have been filling out surveys since your first one on EQ Nick. Its really nice to see another survey to fill out. I had been missing your research.

Posted by: Selene on March 31, 2010 1:30 AM

I wouldn't argue against the volume of gamers available in WoW for study, but I do have to agree that a lot of the people I consider more serious gamers (gamers who look for depth, long term playability/replayability and breadth of content) HAVE long since moved on from WoW. I tried WoW early on after five years in EQ1 and retreated back to EQ2, despite its early buggy environment, due to the shallow and limited content in WoW.

WoW might win on sheer numbers, but keeping and retaining a steady mature playerbase with a rather higher average age than WoW is something that I think EQ2 can take some pride in. If you were seriously trying to pick a game in which people can realize some version of their real life selves, a game in which they are allowed to give free reign to their creativity in housing and the chance to do something in the world besides kill random monsters to stimulate their intellect might have been a better choice.

While I understand your point about having to start somewhere, I would have said that WoW was one of the least likely MMO's on today's market from which to attempt to discern anything about a player's real life. WoW simply doesn't offer all that many tools for players to express themselves. It would be interesting to have links to the other project teams and the worlds they chose to focus on for comparison.

Posted by: Heather Cowan on April 11, 2010 12:55 AM

I have to say that I love your work. As an avid player of World of Warcraft and with a BA in Sociology, I love the social nature that the games create.

I did my survey when this study was first announced but I am interested in spreading the word through the use of my World of Warcraft blog. I was curious when the first round of surveys would be concluded, I can't seem to find the information. Perhaps I am skimming to quickly or it has something to do with being 1am.

Also, should we receive emails or information on the follow up surveys mentioned in the consent form? It will be a month next week I believe.

Posted by: Leila M on April 15, 2010 10:04 PM

Hi Nick.

Great to hear you've brought the project out of hibernation. One thing I discuss with people who are trying to quit is what their race/class choices may say about them and how they perceive their lives. For example, my professional experience and credentials are in social work, and I always favoured healers and other support classes.

Best wishes for your important work! I've linked back here from my video game addiction blog.

Brad
ExGamer.net

Posted by: exgamerdotnet on April 24, 2010 12:37 PM

Oh, one last thought. What's your opinion of the growing number of sexual predation stories in the media, specifically related to WoW. There was a high profile case in the media here related to a 42 year-old mother of four and a 16 year-old young man.

Posted by: exgamerdotnet on April 24, 2010 12:41 PM
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