Desolace alone feels like about a million square miles.
June 27, 2008 11:32 PM   Subscribe

There have been many efforts at measuring Azeroth, and MeFi's own Hogshead has the latest, which not only determines the land area but also touches on the geophysical properties of the planet's most populated fantasy world.
posted by Pope Guilty (16 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I thought this was brilliant. It's a shame the slides aren't the clearest in the video.
posted by nthdegx at 1:28 AM on June 28, 2008

I love the term "Heroic Fantasy Distortion Factor" (HFDF) from the first link, and the discussion of the ways games developers need to fine-tune the player's perspective of time and space in order to make the game word feel epic but not empty. In the same vein, the developers also need to finesse the distribution of player characters throughout that space to give the appearance of an active community while avoiding overcrowding.

One quibble, then, with that last point in mind: With over 10 million subscribers worldwide, WoW certainly has the most players of any current virtual world, but it is important to note that they are all not playing in the same world. There are about 2.5 million subscribers in North America, but there are currently about 228 different versions (servers/shards/realms) of the world for these players. Total population of these realms is about 3.6 million (as subscribers can have multiple characters on multiple realms), ranging from 1,500 to 35,000 players per server. The total concurrent active population of North American subscribers (that is, players online at the same time) has not gone above approximately 490,000 at peak (and has fallen since Age of Conan came out), That means that the actual population of any one of the more populous "worlds" during prime time on a good night is probably going to average around 2,200.

So that is your subjective world population: 2,200 people. And oddly enough, this is a number that hasn't really seemed to change for this style of game since circa 1999 EverQuest days, and thus might be based on a) what the databases can handle without choking and b) the distribution of avatars across popular hotspots and how many of them can be rendered in one area without crashing the zone.

Contrast this with games that take a different approach to virtual geography and zones. For example, it is interesting to look at the way EVE online (which claims to be the "world's largest game universe") tackled the issue of population: they have only about 220,000 subscribers, but all of them inhabit the same game world. There's no separate realms, so in that sense, the EVE universe can claim to be the most populated fantasy world. Yet unless you are in the middle of battle between fleets of spaceships, EVE usually feels like a vast, mostly empty universe, and rightly so. The average WoW realm feels much more populated with just 1/100th the population. This is a prime example of how important design choices are in molding the players' perceptions of the virtual world.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 1:43 AM on June 28, 2008 [9 favorites]

Robin Kestrel: Good post. I would argue, though, that EVE is still well-designed, or at least realistic. Space is huge, so it should feel huge in a game that wants to be accurate about space.
posted by wastelands at 5:34 AM on June 28, 2008

I had an old askme question about this.

Science in MMORPGs
posted by empath at 6:09 AM on June 28, 2008

Robin Kestrel: Anarchy Online also had only one server for everyone, I believe. Excellent point, regardless.
posted by absalom at 8:07 AM on June 28, 2008

Azeroth is the size it is because Blizzard designs content for a certain density of people. If you have too many people in one spot it's crowded and obnoxious, too few and it's empty and lonely. Blizzard has the artists to create a certain amount of geometry and quests, then scales the number of players to fit that. It works pretty well although it's awfully empty in the unpopular zones like Desolace or (now) Eastern Plaguelands.

Eve Online is indeed much larger, and that works well in service to the game. I played for over a year down south in Esoteria and never even visited 3/4 of the universe. But I heard rumours of it, and wars in distant constellations affected the politics and economics of my home systems. It's very rich.

Second Life also qualifies as a large single world environment, although in the past there was so much hype it's hard to know how many people are really there. They say they have 800,000 unique logins in the last 30 days, though.

PS: Anarchy Online only has one server for everyone because that's all they need for the 500 people who ever played it :-P Well, OK, they briefly reached 60,000.
posted by Nelson at 8:43 AM on June 28, 2008

As a physicist this was one of my favourite talks from Interesting2008.
posted by alby at 9:31 AM on June 28, 2008

Second Life is very large, but doesn't support many people in a given area, so it tends to be very empty. There are many small clumps of people, and then just literally square miles of nothing but buildings in between. It can be kind of creepy.

I just logged on and foolishly tried to zoom the map out to get an idea of how big the game is. I barely use the system anymore, and as is so typical, this didn't scale well. You used to be able to use the map, but the world has gotten so large that all you can see anymore is that "it's big", and that most of it in private sims, not connected to the 'mainland'.

So, I exercised a bit of Google-Fu; SL Buzz claims that there are 13,543 sims in Second Life. Each sim is 256m x 256m, or 65536 square meters. 13,543x65536 = 887554048 square meters. Per Google calc, that's 342.69 square miles. Per Wikipedia, Manhattan is 22.5 square miles, so it would appear that the total land area of Second Life is now about the size of 15 Manhattan Islands.

It is, however, broken up into thousands and thousands of 256-meter-square islands, rather than being all in one big landmass, so it's not quite as impressive to fly around. Even so, the mainland is very large, and takes quite awhile to traverse from one side to the other.

It's gotten, well, big.
posted by Malor at 10:57 AM on June 28, 2008

Good post and great comment, but right now I'd like to know what else happened at this conference: for an internet type thing, it's strangely underpublicized.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:12 AM on June 28, 2008

That's a lot of hawt cyber.
posted by bardic at 2:58 PM on June 28, 2008

The Cartographer AddOn shows distance between points in yards, so there's one more means of measuring the countryside in Azeroth.

The first time I played WoW and had to go on the druid's water form quest, instead of walking the whole way down Eastern Kingdoms, I swam all the way down the continent instead.

The world seems a whole lot bigger than it is when you're swimming around it, avoiding deep zones. Of course, when I got the water form, I really felt I'd earned it!
posted by darkstar at 3:49 PM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

The length of time it can take to fight battles inside them is part of what makes WoW's dungeons seem much larger than they geographically are. For instance, the mighty undead-infested ruins of Stratholme are really no larger than a shopping center. Back in the day when it was basically the second-highest-level zone in the game (the highest being the Molten Core), I remember it taking about two or three hours to clear through to Baron Rivendare, ignoring the Scarlet Crusade ("live side") entirely. It felt like it was large enough that it would take a few hours to walk, rather than fight, across it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:42 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

darkstar: "The Cartographer AddOn shows distance between points in yards, so there's one more means of measuring the countryside in Azeroth."

Yup - contrary to the presenter's opening assertion, WoW has the underlying unit of measurement of a "yard", which is exposed via spell and ranged weapon maximum ranges within the standard interface, and further exposed by add-ons such as Cartographer... It would be pretty straight forward to gain an almost wholly accurate survey of Azeroth using its "yard", rather than relying on merely walking in a straight line occasionally stopping to defend oneself!
posted by benzo8 at 9:17 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's a better version of my talk on the Viddler website or, if you'll forgive the self-link, on my blog.

There's more information on Interesting 08 at the organiser's blog.

Darkstar, Benzo8--the Azerothian yard exists in the game mechanics but not in the world (nobody ever refers to it--it's one of the reasons that that the locals are so completely useless at giving directions), and there is no way of telling whether it's the same as an Imperial yard. I could have done a bunch of measurements to establish the ratio and relationship between the two and worked out the size of the world from that, but I decided that calculating distance using a 29th-level warlock's walking speed was, on balance, funnier.

Thanks for the post, Pope Guilty.
posted by Hogshead at 1:45 PM on June 29, 2008

Hogshead: "the Azerothian yard exists in the game mechanics but not in the world (nobody ever refers to it..."

Well, I could argue that Altruis the Sufferer claims he can sense the power of the Book of Fel Names from "yards away", but that would be, erm, just a little sad...
posted by benzo8 at 5:58 PM on July 1, 2008

...the Book of Fel Names is in Outland, for crying out loud benzo8, we're talking about Azeroth here. And heaven knows if I was afraid of being accused of sadness I'd never have started in on this.

Footnote--the reason I used a warlock for the walking test is so that his demon would deal with any aggressors along the way, so he didn't have to stop and do it.

Anyway, the thing is now up on my website in extended 12" dance-remix at my blog and getting hit on like a Blood Elf cosplayer at a WoW Invitational.
posted by Hogshead at 9:24 AM on July 3, 2008

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