PlayOn: What I want to be when I grow up.

Doing the daily surf on Virgin Worlds and saw that Brent had picked up a very cool article on PlayOn about accumulated leveling times in WoW since the release of BC.

The data suggests that it will take a player on average 15 full days of accumulated playing time to reach level 70, and that the 10-day mark is crossed at approximately level 56.

A really interesting bit of work with real data.  Lots of other wonderfully good stuff on the site too. 

Three things of note:

First, I’m reassured that our little twice weekly group is somewhat on track.  According to their leveling curve, level 44 (where we are) should take about 7 days of accumulated play time to reach.  Last check, my level 44 priest had just over 7 days under his belt.  Not bad, considering we only play about 4-5 hours a week on average, and by and large only doing instances.

Second, I’m an imbecile for not knowing these guys existed until now.  I guess I don’t get out much.  For those that don’t know,

The PlayOn project at PARC is an investigation into the social dimensions of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and virtual worlds – extensive, persistent 3D environments that are populated by thousands of players at any given moment.

PARC as in former Xerox PARC.  Those zany knuckleheads that brought you the laser printer, ethernet, the GUI, the mouse, distributed computing…in the early 1970’s.

Third, I feel like my entire life to date has been wasted because doing what PlayOn does is what I could have been doing all this time.  Great stuff.  Check it out.

Measuring Azeroth: Bright Lights, Big Cities?

A while ago, I took a shot at measuring the size of Azeroth, WoW’s homeworld consisting of two continents. In this post, I take a shot at measuring the size of each of the three original Alliance cities, Stormwind, Ironforge and Darnassus and seeing what comes out of that.

The Method

For this exercise, I’m using the coordinates provided by TitanBar to determine approximate boundaries of each of the cities. Then, I approximate the shape of each city and calculate the area. Stormwind and Darnassus are pretty much rectangular which Ironforge is almost a pure circle.

Next, based on my previous calculations I translate those to a range of “real” dimensions. I use two different run speed assumptions, a Marathoner and a Hiker, to estimate the size of a unit expressed in the coordinate system. Again, I’ll apply the Heroic Fantasy Distortion Factor or “HFDF” (a fudge factor that represents a certain amount of dimensional distortion to keep a game playable) to the calculations to give a range of fantasy-equivalent dimensions. In this case, I only used and HFDF of 1 and 10.

Its hard to dial into “real” numbers for these sorts of measurements. In MMOs, about the only thing you can count on dimensionally that the devs can’t play with is time. So time is like the speed of light in an MMO– a universal constant. A game “yard” or “meter” may or may not be what it says and may vary from place to place unbeknowst to us, but if it takes me X minutes to do something, it takes me X minutes to do something, period. Tell me its 500 yards or 500 miles, I don’t care. If it takes me 5 minutes, that’s my reality.

Just for a preliminary reality check, you can run across Stormwind in about 2-2.5 minutes. Without getting out your slide rule, that would make it feel like something a good deal less than a ½ mile at a full run. Just to let you know I’m not completely nuts, my raw “Marathoner” estimate of this distance is about 2,600 feet/800 meters, so I think the raw data is in the ball park before taking any kind of creative license or HFDF into account.



For a Marathoner, the area of Stormwind is about 277 acres/95 hectares.
For a Hiker, 6 acres/2.5 hectares.

For a Marathoner, the area of Stormwind is about 35 square miles/95 square km.
For a Hiker, 1 square mile/2.5 square km.



For a Marathoner, the area of Ironforge is about 213 acres/89 hectares.
For a Hiker, 6 acres/2.5 hectares.

For a Marathoner, the area of Ironforge is about 33 square miles/89 square km.
For a Hiker, 1 square mile/2.5 square km.



For a Marathoner, the area of Darnassus is about 157 acres/65 hectares.
For a Hiker, 6 acres/2.5 hectares.

For a Marathoner, the area of Darnassus is about 24 square miles/65 square km.
For a Hiker, 0.70 square mile/1.75 square km.


For reference, the area of Manhattan is about 20 square miles/51 square km; San Francisco about 47 square miles/122 square km and the historic core City of London, about 1 square mile/2.6 square km. On the Marathoner scale, Azerothian cities are somewhere between Manhattan and San Francisco (Marathoner, HFDF=10). On the Hiker scale, they’re barely the City of London (Hiker, HFDF=10).  Without distortion, a trip across town could literally be a walk in the park.

Not surprisingly, each of these cities, by whatever measure, are all about the same size with Darnassus being a bit smaller.

Here’s a big surprise though: compared to all of Azeroth (381 square miles/977 square km; Marathon standard), each of the principal cities represents nearly 10% of the entire surface area of both continents combined!

Again, so you don’t think I’m completely nuts, it takes about 5 minutes to run from the gates of Stormwind (where you just click in to Elwynn Forest) to the zone boundary with Redridge Mountains. Lets think about that. If Stormwind were overlayed on Elwynn Forest, it would probably cover at least ½ of the zone.


Take that a step weirder. It took me about 5 minutes to walk the Deep Run Tram end to end. Yes, under the train, the whole way, and BTW what IS that body of water that’s supposedly somewhere between IF and SW? Lets think about this. About 2 Stormwinds laid next to each other gets you all the way to IF!

I suspect that if I walked it on the surface all the way from Elwynn through Redridge, Burning Steppes, through BRD, Searing Gorge, Loch Modan and finally, Dun Morogh, to IF the total North-South distance would be substantially greater.


So what does this all mean? Not much really, other than when I’m bored and my mind wanders, I’m prone to whip out an excel spreadsheet. But seriously, it does illustrate some of the interesting distortions that game devs can employ to both give an MMO universe a sense of immensity while also accommodating reasonable gameplay goals.

For cities to feel like cities, there needs to be a good amount of detail in them and that takes a certain amount of space. Wilderness zones, on the other hand, generally have a lower density of game matter and they don’t feel as busy as a city. As I’ve pointed out, even when the zones aren’t that big relative to major cities, players still balk at crossing “vast” expanses in the wilderness. As an enchanter, I’ve always hated that “endless” run across Elwynn Forest from SW to the Tower of Azora to train—a run that is effectively as long as running from the gates of SW to the Park or the Tram which I seldom complain about.

A hallmark of good game design (IMHO) is the way game devs can alter our sense of scale from zone to zone to right size the play space to its purpose without our being overly conscious of it. Its all about balancing immersion and playability for your target audience. And if that takes breaking a few laws of physics, well, who’s gonna call the Einstein police?

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?