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  The Work of ‘Warcraft’  
Posted 2005-10-04 by Tony Walsh
The BBC covers popular massively-multiplayer game World of Warcraft for the second time in less than two weeks. In "A walk in the World of Warcraft," technology correspondent Mark Ward files his report from Azeroth, Warcraft's fictional world. Ward paints the basics of game play in wide brush strokes, revealing in a sidebar why massively-multiplayer games aren't for everyone. In "Tips for New Players," newbies are advised to avoid an "exercise in frustration," "work on lots of quests," "work the map," and "work hard." There's a whole lot of work going on, not only in Azeroth, but within the environs of nearly every massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) out there.

If World of Warcraft and other MMOGs sound more like a career to you, it's because in many cases, these games require the same dedication and care as real work--it's not by chance that working up the levels in a game like World of Warcraft is called "the grind." Mark Wallace, a freelance journalist who (among other beats) covers virtual worlds from all angles, says that when grinding EVE Online, he does so "with a notebook, a calculator and a second computer screen showing some spreadsheet or forum page in front of me." Wallace takes his game experience seriously, but he's not an exceptional case. Some players invest game play hours equivalent to a second job so their characters will "level up" faster. A small percentage engage in "gold farming" or virtual property transactions to make a living, exchanging or re-selling virtual goods at real-world prices.

I'm thrilled the BBC is mainstreaming massively-multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft. But the first thing a potential player should know is that MMOGs are the last place they'll find an escape from work.
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Comment posted by Walker Spaight
October 4, 2005 @ 8:45 am
Well, but we wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun! I don't mind trading one kind of work for another, just to get a break from the first for a while. Especially if the leisure work (I smell a coinage) doesn't have the rent-paying consequences of the work I'm taking a break from. Anyway, MMOs don't really feel like work to me. Of course, I do occasionally have to trade both kinds of work for a book or movie or walk around the neighborhood, but that's a different story.

When I was playing World of Warcraft, I rarely got the feeling it was work, actually. (I don't get that feeling in EVE either, but anyway...) I occasionally got the feeling I was being led around Azeroth without much rhyme or reason, but meeting the challenges in that game was more fun than work, at least in my experience. MMOs definitely reward a regular investment of time, they're not casual games. But if I found them to be work, I'd be gone. Actually, that's what happened to me in my short time in Ultima Online: training basic skills was too much like work, so I was outta there.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
October 4, 2005 @ 12:14 pm
Mmm... leisure work...

This has got me thinking about how there's a lot of academic and game study devoted to defining what a game is and why games are fun... but I wonder if there's been a similar examination of work. One person's work can obviously be someone else's play. Then there are things that might not "feel" like work, but are in fact work products.

I might write up something about how MMOG play relates to an average office job. I've done a bit of reflection on the subject in the past, but more on the work aspect of being a top-notch game clan.

It's also worth noting that TV shows such as Survivor and The Apprentice are comparable to an extension of the work day. This is more "entertainment" that echoes aspects of what most people spend all day doing.
Comment posted by csven
October 4, 2005 @ 12:29 pm
The idea of "work" and what that ultimately means is an interesting one here. A system like ROWE (Results-Oriented Work Environment) sure sounds a little like something that applies to a MMOG.

I just posted an entry over on Core77, that hints at how enterprise software is moving towards virtual world interfaces (UGS's highend PLMware includes virtual constructs and avatars). Some of the comments in this Time article (you may not get a clean link, sorry; article is about retailer Best Buy moving to worker flex-time and incorporating a ROWE) really highlighted for me why RW work sucks... and it's not the work itself necessarily. It's often controlling managers. It's comments from co-workers when someone has to show up late (e.g. "Sure wish I could stroll in at 10:00am"). It's too often being judged on the time you're at the office and not the work that is accomplished. All sorts of things that have nothing to do with getting a job done.

I didn't link it back to how people don't really think of their time in a MMOG as "work" when in so many ways it clearly is. Serendipitous that the subject should come up.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
October 4, 2005 @ 12:41 pm
Hey csven, thanks for the links, but what's a PLM? The Core77 post didn't explain that but then I'm not in the know on industrial design acronyms.
Comment posted by csven
October 4, 2005 @ 1:40 pm
It's not an industrial design thing. PLM stands for Product Lifecycle Management. Doesn't sound like anything much, but it's basically the much broader offspring of CAD software that initially included simple things like automatic Bill of Materials creation (so you could rifle that off to your Purchasing dept for them to take bids on screws and bolts or whatever).

Next thing you know, CAD software companies were including features that let people place ripped CAD images into Word documents and Acrobat files; secretaries might ask for something to put in a report. Eventually they were getting information associated with both 2D and 3D data out in ways that facilated managing the whole product development process better. And in some cases the data starting flow both ways - not just out of the CAD software.

Sometime around 1998, PTC (another CAD/PLM company) bought a prominent North Carolina virtual reality software company (I forget which). They also started incorporating vr output: multiple images and vrml intended for corporate intranets (the company I was with actually beat them to the punch - the SysAdmin was pretty sharp and we had our own internal system that was really sweet). I started using CAD output for game models shortly afterward, and when PTC heard about it, they gave me their software - unasked.

So these companies have been slowly incorporating all the software used in support of manufacturing around their core products and building a network of apps (the equivalent of AJAX for the web, I guess). And that has now come to be known as PLM.

Most have now made the CAD app part of a larger system. For example, I use Pro/ENGINEER (aka Wildfire) from PTC. It is now an element in their overall PLM package called WindChill. When I knew WindChill it was still pretty rough and lacking real integration. This was in 2001 so I'm unsure how good it is now. The competition includes UGS, who has a highend CAD package called Unigraphics. Their highend PLM software has avatars and virtual space stuff built in. Not sure if the new WindChill does, but it'll be along soon if not.

So what's happening is that these developers are creating software so companies can create their own virtual worlds for the purpose of managing product development. That's why I wrote that long post on the SL Future Salon site. Game/virtual world tech is converging with this highend stuff and I expect we'll be seeing the same kinds of things happened we've seen in the past. It's already happening. Every time someone in SL comes up with some new way to do something productive, they're moving closer to PLM software.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
October 4, 2005 @ 1:49 pm
That's a superb explanation, thanks for helping me (and other readers) understand.
Comment posted by csven
October 4, 2005 @ 4:20 pm
Glad that helped.

What's interesting to me now is that so often this software is required to interface with MS Office. But with Google and Sun partnering up it looks like there may be an open source standard for companies like PTC and UGS to seriously consider. OpenOffice may supplant MS Office... and much faster than people realize. Primarily bc there may be some good reasons for these other companies to dump it. Imagine if the big PLM developers jump ship and start supporting OpenOffice instead of MS Office... even to the point of recommending some changes to improve compatibility with their software (they could even form a simple consortium to make recommendations).

Now take a look at what some people are hoping to hear from LL's apparent unveiling of something new and AJAX-based next week:

"But in brainstorming I was thinking of some sort of more advanced account/transaction history, since the download transaction history has been broken for a while and people keep complaining about it. With an AJAX feel you could quickly browse through dates and transaction types." - Satchmo Prototype

Finance and accounting and spreadsheets for a "game". Who'd a thunk?
Comment posted by Walker Spaight
October 4, 2005 @ 4:28 pm
Well, first off, Second Life isn't a game. Finance and accounting and spreadsheets would be used in their traditional contexts there, although transported to the virtual world. It's merely a way to keep track of transaction data that has real value.

And second off, haven't most MMOs been spreadsheeted by now? Designers pretty much work with that assumption in mind at this point. They know that as soon as they put something up (i.e., a new game, a new feature) players are going to run it through an exhaustive set of paces and at some point post the information they've gathered to the public in a form that, if not actually in a spreadsheet, closely resembles one. WoW, EVE, EverQuest, many other games all have seen this phenomenon.
Comment posted by csven
October 4, 2005 @ 4:54 pm
First off: that's why I put game in paranthesis. There are plenty of SL residents and a whole lot of unindoctrinated people in the world who would argue tooth and nail that SL is a game. I don't side with them, but I do acknowledge them. And I'd further venture that for those individuals reportly working in places like Bulgaria, pharming in WoW or Everquest for a daily wage, that none of this is a game. It's Tony's point taken one step further for those people (assuming any of those reports are true ;) ). So even for something like Everquest - which is marketed as a game - there is real value in tracking data using traditionally work-based software.

Second off: Exactly. The point is that it is expected. And even more to the point is that people will often say they want something they can load into Excel. These tend to be the more computer-savvy individuals. For every person saying they want an .xls file, there's a few who will say it doesn't matter because they don't have MS Office (at which point someone chimes in with an alternative). Before long, average people may not automatically associate spreadsheets with MS Office/Excel. That shift would be significant imo.
Comment posted by Walker Spaight
October 4, 2005 @ 5:08 pm
I'm with you on the significance of that shift, Csven, and sorry if my post came off sharply, that's what I get for commenting on the fly, didn't mean anything by it.

I do love the leisure-work (playing at things that seem like work) vs labor-play (working at things that are games) meme that's developing here. I suppose Walkerings will have to weigh in on this at some point too.
Comment posted by csven
October 4, 2005 @ 5:24 pm
And the interesting thing is how that shift, along with people's interest in what has almost exclusively been considered an application for work, is now due to something considered by many to be a game. The lines are blurring. Fast.

At some point people will want to stay at the office to "work" in order to be in the PLM virtual world with associates halfway around the world. I expect romantic relationships will be formed between co-workers who never meet in RL (not unheard of now, but I think the communicative power of vr will increase the likelihood of these connections). And for anyone who has experienced the surprise of how powerful a virtual connection can be, there's going to have to be some new chapters in the Human Resources Handbook to deal with this.
Comment posted by Jos 'Hyakugei' Yule
October 6, 2005 @ 3:07 pm
There may be an argument to be made that 'work to play' and 'play to work' are not new or unique to video games (or our era either).

Are there examples of this kind of experience in our recorded history? What did the Romans do for "fun"? Or the Greeks? Did they have comparable "games", which required work to succeed at?

Becoming a master Chess or Go player requires a "grind" to "level up" your skills.

Just thinking out-loud.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
October 7, 2005 @ 12:41 am
"a whole lot of unindoctrinated people in the world"...oh, dear, there isn't going to be any indoctrinating in SL, is there? Hope not. And by whom? Geez.

Well, when you scrape away all the acronyms and tech-talk, it sounds like just the natural progression of the human story, people added stuff to their existing communication tools, put a 3-D rendering image thingie into a document, it left your desk, it came to mine, I put something on it, it got attached in email. OK, but...that's a world? What makes that a world? Like a game world? It's not immersive, and may not have an avatar in it. I'm with hyakugei on this one, there's nothing unique to people figuring out how to hack around and play at a job they have to do to make the time fly, or take a game and turn it into something they can get paid for. That's what this is all about, somebody wanting to figure out how they can get gaming to pay off. That's fine, that's interesting, but I'm not convinced that the overlay of expense and technology involved in laying on the game stuff is really justified, especially for the non-profit world or the world outside of wealthy America.

I remember the first time we figured out we could type a line or two extra on to those files we were pushing between cities on the dedicated line with the Hayes Smartcom software, or the first time we figured that the primitive email before the WWW could say more in it...or that phase in the 90s when everybody had to send you a wav file with movie taglines in it...this is more of the same, and it's still just us chickens underneath.
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