reseaux sociaux

The Matthew Effect : How WoW is Like Bill Gates

One theory in MMO’s games says : « Given the choice between similar games at similar cost, the majority of players will play the best game ».

For exemple, in 2004 the fans of Everquest claimed that World of Warcraft won out against the nearly simultaneously released EQ2 due to better marketing.

But Wow might be the standard by which they measured that new game (specially if they buy wow gold to progress…), obviously they were willing to try something else, and would have staid if that something else had had sufficient quality.

This theory is applying a version of meritocracy to MMOs and equating a games success in the marketplace with its artistic success. On his website many people challenge him regarding the second assumption. The whole art verses popularity argument seems to me to be based too much on subjective aesthetics to be susceptible to debate.

But the first point also has its flaws.

Will the “better” game always succeed in the marketplace ?

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell tackled this question from the standpoint of individual success. In Outliers, Gladwell examined the factors that contribute to high levels of success. He looked at, for example, how two people with exceptional intelligence, Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, ended up with such vastly different fortunes. Gladwell notes that in most cases outside factors were as important – or even more important – than the intrinsic characteristics of each individual.

For example, early in the book Gladwell examined why the majority of professional Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year. He noted that if you look at list of the best players you’ll see that most of them are born sometime in January through April — with the highest concentrations in the earliest months. Why is that?

He argues that the answer is that youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, so that children born in January play in the same league as those born in December 31. Since adolescents born earlier in the year tend to be more developmentally advanced than the others, they are often identified as better athletes. This leads to them being “bumped up” to the better leagues and in turn receiving extra coaching and a higher likelihood of being selected for elite hockey leagues.

Gladwell observes that under this system “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” through “accumulative advantage.” It is called the “Matthew Effect” after a bible verse that reads: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Was there a similar “Mathew Effect” that benefitted Wow over WAR or other MMOs? I believe that there was. In this case, the effect was based on timing.

In Outliers, Gladwell observes that a significant majority of the world’s richest people were all born within the same 10 year window in the mid 1800s. This period also happened to coincide with the industrial revolution. You could be an exceptional entrepreneur born either before our after this window but in order to have the best shot to become among the very wealthiest in history you needed to be born during this time period. So the timing of your birth played as much into your success as your own efforts. (He noted a similar pattern among tech entrepreneurs with the richest and most successful, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, all being born in roughly the same year.)

I believe that gold for WoW also had a lucky birth. At the time that wow launched, the biggest MMO in the space had just made a critical blunder : it launched a new version of itself that was incompatible with the old version. This basically served to give many in its player base their pink slip. This message – intended or not – was “this game is ending, its time to move on.” Everquest 2, the game that was intended to replace Everquest was not yet ready for primetime. WoW was the direct beneficiary of this blunder.

At the same time, people’s access to the internet had dramatically expanded. From 2000 to 2004 broadband adoption had increased from less than a million homes to over 60 million homes in the United States. In Asia, a culture of internet cafes had emerged around RTS games like Starcraft. Suddenly, there was a new and massive market for MMOs where none existed before.

Into this perfect storm came WoW. At the time of its launch its only real competition was a failed relaunch of Everquest that literally could not run on most computers (at the time of launch). Since then, wow has benefitted from a Mathew Effect. It is in effect a massive social network where its utility is increased in proportion to the size of its user base. Wow has a gold social ranking …

Wow is a great game. There is no question about that. But the fact of its success depends just as much on the circumstances surrounding its launch then its own intrinsic qualities.

9 comments

  • Arkan6

    Three years from now would be a short time to make such a beast, but I’m quite, quite sure they’re not just now starting work on it.

    The project has had publicly-posted job listings for several years now.

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  • Pheonix

    The AH cut only effects the price of the sale, and has nothing to do with the value of the item, you could post something that vendors for 1,000,000 gold for 48 hours for 1 copper, buy it on the other faction and lose nothing.
    Mechano-hog parts and/or vial of the sand parts should be relatively easy to move once transferred. Or you could buy up the 5000 gold fortune cards and transfer them. In the end, you’ll end up with a little gold left over because of the cost of the last (couple) deposit fees

    • Tim

      Well, I’m always a bit confused with AH fee / deposit cost. As far as I remember from the last time I transferred items, the Booty Bay AH takes 3 or 4 times the deposit cost and 15% instead of 5% AH fee or something. Anyway, it’s quite a bit of money going down the drain for sure!
      As I’ve only got 35k (actually closer to 38k by now), the Vial of the Sands is probably a bit too expensive for this. The chopper, however could work, but there’s the high merchant vendor value of the parts.

  • Camille

    This effect reminds me the theory of “attachement préférentiel” by Albert-László Barabási in social networks studies.
    but its quiet interesting in mmo industry and specialy in attractive Wow

  • Einherjer

    Great post. I’m a fan of Gladwell’s work and I thought this was a fun application of his theory.

    My timeline is off but other MMO’s at the time also had blunders similiar to EQ2 which probably benefited WoW as well. UO’s 3d client and some of the associated in-game changes was terrible and Shadowbane’s technical issues on top of the unforgiving PvP and city conquest ruleset ended up driving players into WoW.

    By the way, Matthew is spelled with two T’s.

  • Nosmo King

    Great article. I would like to add that Warhammer had a lot more competition during it’s launch (WoW, Age of Conan, DaoC, CoH, CoV, LOTRO, Vanguard, on and on) then WoW did during it’s launch. WoW was, for all intents and purposes, the only game in town back then (as, like you said, people were upset with EQ2s release).

    The large number of MMOs out on the market today makes it nearly impossible for new games to rise up through the thick of it and shine like Blizzards freak accident of an MMO. Any small problem sends people running to another game as there are plenty to play.
    From here on out there will be only niche games which is what Warhammer was from the begining despite the dreams and wishes of Mythic. -NK

  • I think buried in this post (nice work btw) is your point about WoW’s social networking effect. The rise of Facebook and others has pointed out the huge market potential of social networks.
    I believe it was the new CEO of the combined Activision-Blizzard who stated that they had just bought the world’s largest social network when the merger brought them WoW.
    The economic muscle that comes with 10million subscribers is augmented by the enormous player base. Isn’t that the real reason we play MMOs instead of console games ?

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