Transportation Economics in World of Warcraft

I came across this line in William Sims Bainbridge’s new book, The Warcraft Civilization, on the social sciences of the virtual World of Warcraft:

Some long-distance travel is free, using the public ship, zeppelin, or teleportation systems. But much flight from point to point has moderate costs. Maxrohn found that a nonstop flight from Light’s Hope Chapel in Eastern Plaguelands to Nethergarde Keep in the Blasted Lands costs thirty-one silvers and fifty nine coppers. However, it is possible to fly from Light’s Hope to Stormwind for nine silvers and sixty-three coppers, and from Stormwind to Nethergarde for seven silvers and forty-seven coppers. Thus, stopping at Stormwind saves fourteen silvers and forty-nine coppers, or slightly over 45 percent.

It’s intriguing that this rather echoes the market for using frequent-flier points — i.e., it will cost you less for a flight with stops. This raises all kinds of interesting questions: What dynamics account for the pricing (e.g., does greater network traffic increase the cost of travel) and the network disequilibrium? Why would anyone pay to travel if one can teleport for free (a question for Patricia Mokhtarian)? Is there a Kayak-type application for analyzing the costs of travel, or is it all trial and error? Do people interact on the public ships and zeppelins? Is private flight much faster than the public options (presumably teleportation is instantaneous), and is there a “last mile” or connectivity problem with the public options (so to speak)? And lastly: Are there any travel externalities in World of Warcraft?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 24th, 2010 at 12:34 pm and is filed under Commuting, Traffic Wonkery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Transportation Economics in World of Warcraft”

  1. Pete Says:

    I know of at least one situation on the british railway network where to book a ticket for a longer journey used to cost significantly less (as a percentage) that a ticket to the intermediate station (where you had to change trains).

    As the crow flies the cheaper ticket was the lesser distance which lead me to wonder if that was part of the arcane ticket price calculation.

  2. fred_dot_u Says:

    I don’t play WoW, and have very little understanding of the game in general, but it makes me wonder what allowances are made for efficient human powered transportation in this cybernetic world.

    Some mind games are more fun than others, aren’t they?

  3. ToddBS Says:

    I used to play WoW, and I can tell you there are discounts involved in that description above. His starting point is a neutral-faction location while his end point is controlled by his own faction. In the second example, the layover point is also his own faction. Depending on one’s standing with various factions, you get discounts. The cost of the flight is also based on the distance traveled. In the second scenario, since the second leg of his trip starts and ends at his own faction locations, it is much cheaper as neutral factions charge a stiff premium to begin with.

    And teleporting is not free for anyone. Only certain character types possess the ability to do it, and there is a thriving market for selling “ports”. There are also only a handful of locations that one can “port” to or from. Same goes for the free transport ships and such.

    Is there a Kayak-type application for analyzing the costs of travel, or is it all trial and error?
    There are many web sites that act as WoW databases. They have all this information available.

    Do people interact on the public ships and zeppelins?

    Is private flight much faster than the public options?
    No. In some parts of the game, private flight options are almost as quick as the paid “taxi service” but not 100%. There is still about 1/3 of the game world where private flight is not even available though.

    Have I sufficiently geeked-out? :)

  4. Lindsey Says:

    I’m also a reformed WoW player, and what Todd mentions is true about the discounts. Additionally, the Warcraft Civilization passage doesn’t mention the fact that Stormwind is a major city, and the other two locations are high-level, smaller locations. Flights to/from major cities, open to all levels (where a lower level character has access to very little money) are much cheaper, but a high level character, with access to the other two locations, wouldn’t blink at the cost of a direct flight especially considering the time it might save.

    The cost of public transport is free, the cost of flight is based on, to some extent, distance, but mostly location and therefore level of characters in that location. This is regulated automatically by the game, and not affected by the number of people traveling. Ships will always appear at regular intervals, and there unlimited numbers of private flights, no matter what time it is or how many people are playing. Teleportation, however, can be “auctioned off” at a higher level to the highest bidder, making it a faster but much more expensive way to travel.

    Todd also answers the private/public speed of transport question. For the most part, these two modes of transportation don’t overlap. IE, ships (or zeppelins) cross the entire ocean, quite quickly I might add, but no private flightpaths exist across oceans. A few public travel options exist from major cities on the same continent, but these are necessary for the game and travel very long distances, so these forms of travel are almost mutually exclusive.

    For the “last mile” problem, that certainly exists, though more as part of the game and less of a problem. The major public transportion travels between certain major cities only. From there, you can fly to get closer to your ultimate destination, but depending, you may still have to run to that location because a “flightpath” doesn’t exist any closer. Additionally, you have to visit a place first before you can collect the flightpath to that destination, meaning that you have to run/walk there before you can know “where it is” to fly there. (This excludes flying mounts much later in game).

    Fred also mentions human powered transport. Running from place to place, quest to quest, is a huge part of the game. Like running around to do errands, except you kill things. The public transportation is 100% necessary because you can’t fly privately between the major continent/islands. Private flight makes the game much less tedious, because even that can take 5-10 minutes to travel across a continent or “country.” Later in the game, you can get a mount which makes you run faster and could probably be equated to a bicycle, whereas flying would be a car (though you don’t have to control it).

    More coming on travel externalities. Once I figure out what that is.

  5. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Can I just say that, byte for byte, this blog has some of the highest quality comments around?

  6. Lindsey Says:

    As long as your definition of “quality” includes MMORPGs, I agree.

  7. Sean O'Flaherty Says:

    The transportation system in World of Warcraft is not like the real world. The pricing is set by the game developers, there is no market. The developer’s goal is to eat up gold so there isn’t rampent inflation.

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