World of Warcraft: an Industry in Itself

By: Andrew

World of Warcraft: an Industry in Itself

When I think of the term “culture industry” from an electronics/digital standpoint, the first thought that comes to mind is World of Warcraft, the most played MMORPG game in the world. WoW has recently released its fourth installment, World of Warcraft: Catacylsm, which sold 3.3 million copies on the first day, and 4.7 million copies during the first month of release. I myself was one of these subscribers from 2004 through 2008.

Waiting in Line for a WoW Release

With over twelve million subscribers worldwide, WoW is a culture in itself. Due to that enormous player base, WoW has people from nearly any background you could imagine. I personally met people online who had occupations ranging from college student to nurse to military personnel to consultant- you name it.

With that said, even with such a large number of players, the player base is generally divided into two groups – the “raiders”, who invest large amounts of time to explore and master new content, and the “casuals”, the category that everybody else falls into.  The raiders, the category that I associated with, could be considered high class, are usually very well rewarded for their time investment – the newest and most badass gear, titles, and toys. The casuals also usually consider them snobby and elitist.

The casuals, or the general populous, get the leftovers, in the sense that they cannot obtain the achievements that the raiders do without similar amounts of time invested. They would obtain their equivalent of new achievements as the game designers decided to lower the difficulty of bosses and dungeons, when even more content was released. As expected, they are looked down upon by the raiders, and are considered less-than-equals.

This was the case up until the third installment of WoW – World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Due to a large volume of complaints from the casual player base, Blizzard Entertainment decided to make the rewards more accessible to the general public. Many of the casual players had complained of being unable to explore the game, as most of them never saw the final bosses of end-game level dungeons. Thus, new and more easily obtainable rewards were offered to please the crowds. This obviously angered the hardcore players; this was seen as belittling their time investment. Even though the top 11% of WoW players generate over 50% of the online playtime, there was nothing to be done. The industry had spoken. Due to the fact that the casual player base was, without a doubt, larger than the hardcore group, they were the most valuable group to the industry.

Along with these changes, paid services, such as name, race, faction, and physical alterations were offered. All this? Just because they felt like change was needed? Or to bulk up the bank? I think the latter. From years of playing WoW, I find it hard to believe that Blizzard had made all these changes merely to please their consumers, but rather, to guarantee that they would come back and renew their subscriptions, by keeping (or attempting to) things nice and fresh. At $10 per change, and around $15USD a month per subscription, that’s quite a large cashflow. The same could be said about media corporations – television broadcasts, music, you name it. Changes that will bring in more profit will always be welcome, usually without the consent of the consumers.

I think that this is quite an interesting correlation between the depiction of high and low culture – the once clear-cut division between the two categories has become rather blurred together. There are still some things that are associated purely with high culture, but those things are few and far in between, which is also the same that could be said with WoW. Purely separating entire populations by “high” and “low” culture is ineffective in modern times.

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