Pandemic in Azeroth
April 16, 2020 8:50 AM   Subscribe

World Of Warcraft Fan Server Unleashes Days-Long Virtual Plague To Teach Covid-19 Prevention [Kotaku] “Over the weekend, Elysium—an unofficial, fan-run project that lets players relive early versions of WoW sans Blizzard’s oversight or subscription requirement—ran an event called “Pandemic In Azeroth.” The idea was ambitious, but risky: Without warning, Elysium’s admins dropped a virus into the game world that, within 15 hours, infected 2,276 players. Within 24 hours, that number jumped all the way up to 7,000. At its peak, the virtual illness impacted 88 percent of active players. After the virus had time to spread organically, the admins let everybody know what was going on: A virus had been placed on an in-game object. A player, dubbed “patient zero,” had touched that object and then interacted with other players and NPCs, any of whom had a chance of contracting the virus. It could spread to objects as well. If players who came into contact with germ-coated objects or characters failed to rush off to a city and wash their hands using a special “hand soap” item, their character would contract an illness that led to a 5 percent stat reduction and 10 percent movement speed debuff. Oh, and of course, they’d become a danger to other players, too.”
posted by Fizz (19 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
For those concerned this was being done in a sensationalist manner, it was not:
“I was very conscientious of the fact that people have died from this, and it’s affecting people in pretty negative ways,” said Rain. “It was always a little risky to do this. I’m sure that’s why a lot of legitimate gaming companies aren’t doing anything, because it’s so sensitive. I wanted to make sure that whatever we did was 100 percent about education and providing information and not anything to do with making us money or to be in any way poorly perceived by the people we were trying to inform.”
It was entirely about education and information. And I appreciate that they used their platform to try to teach people how important it is to practice safe social distancing and good hygiene.
posted by Fizz at 9:06 AM on April 16, 2020 [12 favorites]

This is not the first pandemic in WoW, either: The Corrupted Blood incident (previously) was an accidental plague released by a coding error onto the main WoW worlds.
posted by miguelcervantes at 9:07 AM on April 16, 2020 [20 favorites]

"Accidental" is not how I remember that, when I was playing WoW back in the day. Sure was fun though. =D
posted by lazaruslong at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2020

"Accidental" is not how I remember that

I think you’re not parsing that correctly. You’re saying Blizzard did it intentionally?
posted by zamboni at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2020

Sounds like a clever event and I appreciate the folks running it took some pains to keep it light and educational.

I wish MMOs were still doing experimental and interesting things. Back in the Ultima Online days there was all sorts of crazy stuff happening. Now to the extent MMOs exist at all, they're reduced to elaborate theme park quests with minimal social interaction. Punctuated by the occasional 10-25 person raid, if you're lucky. There's so much more you can do with massively multiplayer games! But the game engines and businesses are way too locked down, restrictive.
posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

You’re saying Blizzard did it intentionally?

Corrupted Blood was indeed an accident. The Zombie Plague was intentional, though.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 10:12 AM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

….Honest to God, this actually ties in to something that my boss has been interested in. I'm sending him the link. (Thanks!)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on April 16, 2020

"I wish MMOs were still doing experimental and interesting things."

What was the virtual worlds group blog I read for years before it went stagnant? I can't remember the name.

There was so much fascinating stuff happening back then. The research done in that area was some of the most exciting stuff I've followed since the 90s complexity theory era. Right now, for me it's been neural networking. That's been a slow burn ... until it suddenly wasn't and now the acceleration is mind-boggling.

Massive virtual worlds, whether in the form of MMOGs or otherwise, have been so disappointing to me in the last decade. A lot of the crazy stuff Raph Koster wanted to do with UO has become much more technologically viable than it was then. Probably not "viable" as actual gaming or a business, mind you—but vast virtual worlds that model complex real-world processes and include populations of human activity are possible. It seems like we're both closer to the cyberpunk future than we were, but also somehow farther away.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2020

I think you’re not parsing that correctly. You’re saying Blizzard did it intentionally?

Corrupted Blood was indeed an accident.

The fact that Corrupted Blood could be spread to pets was an accident. What I was saying is, on a few of the servers I played on, infecting your pet and hearthing to spread the infection was not an accident, but intentional on the part of some guilds. From the wikipedia article on the Corrupted Blood incident linked above:

By both accidental and purposeful intent, a pandemic ensued that quickly killed lower-level characters and drastically changed normal gameplay, as players did what they could do to avoid infection.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:38 AM on April 16, 2020

I wonder if Final Fantasy XIV or Elder Scrolls Online has ever done anything similar to this. Nelson might be able to chime in on this if they see this post.
posted by Fizz at 12:06 PM on April 16, 2020

I wish MMOs were still doing experimental and interesting things.

The problem is twofold:

a) MMOs are on a downward curve in popularity. For larger studios, they're not worth the investment to start a new one now. And for those companies crazy enough to make one, you want to hold to the tried-and-true formula in order to maximize what was probably a foolish investment.

b) But this is the most important reason for less experimentation: You can't trust the players. Not at all. Any system they can exploit, they will. Any system they can break, they will. And if the exploited / broken systems have the possibility of hurting other players, then they'll redouble their efforts. The locked-down theme park model gets around this problem.

UO discovered this at the very beginning. When someone managed to find a way to kill Lord British during a live event in beta. And then UO discovered this again at launch. There was a complex ecology set up. If you killed members of a particular species, like dragons, too quickly then they'd go extinct. They had to have time to breed, raise their young, and have enough food available. The players were expected to work with nature rather than indiscriminate slaughter. The players chose indiscriminate slaughter and the ecology had to be replaced with spawns. Thus the theme park was born.

But there's no reason to be too pessimistic. There's still plenty of experimentation and interesting systems in multiplayer games with small or private servers. Like Minecraft. And there's still a few MMOs doing interesting stuff. They just have a small enough population that it's feasible to control or boot out the griefers. But I don't blame the large population MMOs for locking down. There's too many people in WoW or FFXIV to personally patrol. It's the classic moderation dilemma.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 3:42 PM on April 16, 2020 [3 favorites]

The players chose indiscriminate slaughter and the ecology had to be replaced with spawns. Thus the theme park was born.

I think it would be more interesting to see games that take into account the nature of players, and still have complex interactions and emergent gameplay. Things like No Man's Sky and Minecraft point the way towards one possible tack, in which the procedurally-generated worlds are simply too big for players to actually raze to the ground, even in a lifetime of playing. Eve Online manages a lot of player freedom and emergent dynamics with a combination of being designed from the ground up to accommodate hyper-competitive cutthroat strategies (which can include beneficial cooperation against common enemies as a best tactic), and an NPC policing faction in some areas of space whose ships were formally extremely powerful, and I believe are now actually unkillable and have access to guaranteed-kill superweapons as a last resort (after some player factions in the past found ways to work around them otherwise).
posted by Wandering Idiot at 3:23 AM on April 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Does anyone have recommendations for interesting virtual worlds or MMOs to try these days?

I was an original UO player, and I still think that was about the best MMORPG experience, player killing, bugs, and all! I was also a mud/moo/mu* user way back when.
posted by Fleeno at 6:52 AM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think there is a TON of potential for economic study in MMOs. The incentives are similar but simplified, clearer, and often controlled by the developers. Same with the money supply. And you don't have to use proxies and averages and the like for a lot of the variables and metrics because that data is all contained within the game world.

You know exactly how many of each type of product exists. If the game involves crafting and player sold products you can know things about production capacity, barriers to entry, timing, etc.

You can pull on a lot of levers very directly and precisely in ways that aren't realistic in any other setting.
posted by VTX at 7:11 AM on April 17, 2020

I think there is a TON of potential for economic study in MMOs.

See also: Eve Online, which has something approaching a real economy. Yanis Varoufakis did some interesting actual-economist analysis and writing about it a few years ago, before he was briefly Minister of Finance in Greece right after things blew up there. Eve Online in general is my exception to "MMOs are no longer interesting" complaint. The open game design and emphasis on player-generated fun allows for various things to happen. We all know they early Giant Eve Heist stories but there's a lot of smaller surprising activity happening in the game all the time.

I'm a little baffled why no one else has tried to replicate that. I think it's because it's hard.
posted by Nelson at 9:43 AM on April 17, 2020

What was the virtual worlds group blog I read for years before it went stagnant? I can't remember the name.

IF, was it Terra Nova? I read it for years because of Timothy Burke.
posted by cgc373 at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yep, that was it. A lot of good stuff there.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:10 AM on April 18, 2020

Jason Rohrer has an interesting experimental multiplayer game, One Hour One Life. It's sort of like Don't Starve Together but made into an MMO with a lot of interesting ideas about community, family, cooperation, etc. I bought it a year ago but only played it an hour or two, didn't spend the time to get into it. But I'm getting my money's worth reading his weekly dev updates.

Thought to post here because of this week's update
Last week, I cut all food values in half as an experiment, based on observations of massive food surpluses in most late-stage villages. People had also been depending almost exclusively on low-efficiency foods for survival, since massive surpluses made efficiency unnecessary. By the end of this week, food behavior in the game has indeed changed a bit in reaction to these reduced food values, with players making more high-efficiency foods---there was quite a bit of panic and starvation earlier in the week, of course.
So there's someone doing interesting experiments in an MMO!
posted by Nelson at 7:14 AM on April 18, 2020

Blood Ocean.
posted by grouse at 7:57 PM on April 18, 2020

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