Gnome on the Range– Measuring Azeroth Redux

Recently, Tobold posited the seemingly innocent question of “How big is Azeroth?” With all the recent focus on WoW and Blizzard’s release of the Burning Crusade Expansion, and how “much” it added to the game, I thought I’d take a few stabs at the original question.

First of all, recognize that this is purely an exercise of amusement by someone who has stomped around Azeroth since release. Azeroth certainly feels like a big place. Even after casually playing WoW since release with a few level 60’s, there are still a few places I haven’t been (not counting raid instance content).

For this first post, I’ll just take a stab at the Big Question. In later posts, I’ll apply the same methodology to other questions like how big are the major cities, how big are instances relative to the zones they occupy, etc.

Size Matters

I think Tobold’s basic measurement methodology based on the travel time constant is a good one. Debate can be had over whether a hero’s run speed should more like that of a professional marathoner (12 mph/19.3 kph) or a decent hiker (2 mph/3.2 kph).

While several posters noted our hero’s, well, heroic abilities, none mentioned something I’ll call the “Heroic Fantasy Distortion Factor” or HFDF built into all games. HFDF is a distortion of reality that simply results from the necessity of making a game’s proportions, temporal and spatial, “unrealistic” in order to be playable. This is similar to the way that a “map” of the solar system must either represent the planets in proper proportion or the distances between them, but not both.

Here’s a post on exactly what I mean. If the earth was a peppercorn and the sun was a ball 8 inches/20 cm in diameter, then the sun and earth would need to be about 26 yards/meters apart to be accurately depicted. This hardly makes for a useful map, but demonstrates what I’m getting at.

This used to be a bigger deal in old RTS games like Age of Empires, etc. Seemingly giant chariots would be produced by disproportionately small stables, cross a presumably great distance in only a few seconds to destroy the enemies equally tiny buildings — a concession to a quick pace map-based game play, but no one seemed to mind so much. Likewise, all turn-based games engage in similar time dilation.

This isn’t bad. Few would likely play a medieval/fantasy MMO based in Europe and walk their character from Rouen in Normandy to Rennes in Bretagne (about 180 miles/300 km) in real time to have a meaningful game experience. And that’s only two cities in two “zones” of medieval France. Even EQ didn’t dare approach this level of realism. Likewise, no one wants to play a medieval/fantasy MMO based in a geographic area that only feels like its the size of the Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom (47 acres/19 hectares).

Games typically use a number of methods to create the impression of world immensity while maintaining playability. Zone travel, teleportation and well, willing suspension of disbelief results in a certain amount of space and time dilation. Zones are smaller than the RL area they might represent, travel doesn’t take as long as it “should” in RL. Bottom line, there is a fudge factor that designer’s use to keep the game playable as a pure concession to gameplay. That’s what I’m using the HFDF to represent here. But I digress.

Stormwind is a big city by Azerothian standards, but lets face it, we can run from the front gate to the Tram in the Dwarven District in about 2 and a half minutes. And the tram from Stormwind to Ironforge only takes 1 minute, end to end, presumably crossing under the zones of Elwynn Forest, the Burning Steppes, Searing Gorge and Dun Morogh to Ironfoge. Where I live, I can’t even get to the grocery store from my house in less than 5 minutes.

The Method

So, building on Tobold’s experiment, here’s my method for measuring Azeroth. Using addons that provide in game map coordinates and run speed, I’ll measure the width of Kalimdor by riding from the eastern tip of Tanaris through Thousand Needles and Feralas to the dock where the boat to Feathermoon Stronghold departs. I’ll call the distance between any two x,y points on the coordinate system a standard “unit.”

  • I’ll plot my course as directly as possible from the each zone’s starting location to its exit location along the route noting the x,y coordinates of each start and end point and the total travel time.
  • Using the wonderful world of trigonometry courtesy of Pythagoras, I’ll calculate the total east-west travel distance for each zone.
  • Repeat the second step for each zone or subzone and add the east-west travel distances together to give total east-west distance.
  • Measure a standard control run and ride speed (units per second).
  • Apply assumptions regarding run speed and the HFDF to arrive at a range of widths of Kalimdor.
  • Multiply by 3 (width x apparent height) to approximate the total area of Kalimdor.
  • Multiply by 2 (assume Eastern Kingdoms is equal in area to Kalimdor) to approximate the total area of Azeroth.

The Results

Total travel time from east to west Kalimdor: 15:08 at 171% run speed along a roughly diagonal path through each zone/subzone.

Total travel time from east to west Kalimdor at 100% run speed: 25:58 or 1,558 seconds.

Length of total path: 198.7 units and the fox runs across four measured segments– Tanaris, Shimmering Flats, Thousand Needles and Feralas.

Total east-west distance traversed: about 137 units (Pythagoras FTW!).

100% Run speed expressed as a function of units: 0.3182 units per second (Control measured by a simple straight run).

Since we know how many “units” a character covers at normal run speed and we’ve calculated the total east west distance as a function of units, we just need to determine what a “unit” is, then just do the multiplication to get the total area of Kalimdor and by extension, Azeroth.

“Marathon” run speed (12 mph/19.3kph, or 17.6 fps/5.36 mps) means a unit would be about 55 feet or about 17 meters.

“Hiker” run speed (2mph/3.2kph, or 2.9fps/0.88mps) means a units would be about 9.2 feet or 2.79 meters.

These would be without any HFDF modification.

Assume HFDF=1 (no distortion):

If our heroes were capable of marathon run speed, Kalimdor would only be about 1.4 miles across (even shorter than Tobold estimated) and Azeroth would be about 3.81 square miles/9.77 square kilometers.

If only hikers, Azeroth would be about 0.15 square miles/0.39 square kilometers.

Assume HFDF=10:

Because I’m applying the HFDF to each dimension, areas increase 100 fold. So at HFDF=100, Azeroth would be about 381 square miles/977 square kilometers as marathoners, much less as hikers.

Assume HFDF=100:

Azeroth would be about 38,000 square miles or 97,000 square kilometers, as marathoners, much less as hikers.


On its face, Azeroth is a very very small place. If I can cross a “continent” in much less than a half hour on foot, either I’m a GOD, the place is small, or I need to suspend some of my disbelief for the sake of fantasy and pretend its bigger.

Not so ironically, the more “real” the assumptions were (i.e., hiker v. marathoner, less v. more HFDF) the smaller Azeroth became.

Looking on the bright side though, even at the low low estimate of 0.15 square miles for the whole of Azeroth, its STILL twice as big as the Magic Kingdom!

Bottom line for me, MMO worlds don’t need to be large, but they do need to feel large to be immersive. In this regard, I think WoW has succeeded in creating a world that definitely feels much larger than it “really is” even if it does feel much smaller than the game universes of other MMOs like EQ2 or especially Eve.

What makes a game world feel immense to you? Travel time? Zone diversity? Something else?

4 thoughts on “Gnome on the Range– Measuring Azeroth Redux”

  1. There is no need to estimate the hero’s run speed. Distances in game are very tangible and even laid out in standard yards for us.

    All you have to do is get to the max range of a spell like a heal (40 yards) and then time how long it takes you to run to your target from said 40 yard range. I think it’s around 6.5 seconds to run 40 yards at 100% speed… though it would be easier to measure by hamstringing someone in a duel and then running 40 yards (more accurate).

    Anyway that puts a character’s speed at roughly 6.15 yards/sec or 12.6 miles per hour.

    Our blisteringly fast epic mounts run at an amazing 25 miles per hour and a Gladiator flying mount with Crusader Aura travels at roughly 54 mph.

  2. Also just to comment on the article as well… I really don’t feel like WoW’s world is big enough at all. They’ve created an amazing thing, but there’s really no massive overlooks or huge valleys and mountains and things like that.

    I think I noticed it the most when taking an ICE train from Munich to Koln and just marveling at how huge our world is.

    If I were to develop an MMO, I think my goal for size would be around 10 times the size of WoW to really have a building block sizeable enough to accomplish the proper environments. Solutions to making it navigable could include mounts starting at level 6 or 10 (finish the lowbie area and get a mount, it makes sense) and have much faster mounts so that an area 10x the size of Azeroth actually only becomes 5x the size for traveling purposes. Also you could simply merge servers to have more of a playerbase to occupy this newfound space.

    – 60% mount at level 6/10
    – 100% mount at level 20
    – 160% mount at level 40
    – 240% mount at level 60

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