WoWconomics: Epidemics in the World… of Warcraft

Here we are friends, the final installment of your favorite weekly blog post: WoWconomics.

This article is not NEW, however, it is too relevant to ignore…

This week in class we learned about predicting the spread of epidemics through networks, and we have learned about several models that economists and scientists have developed to help model future outbreaks. However, we may need to look no further than the internet to find the best ways to model potential outbreaks, and with the help of the developers of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment, researchers have been able to see what an epidemic looks like in a real population. A population made out of fictional people.

World of Warcraft, in 2007, had an accidental glitch that mirrored a global epidemic more realistically than any model science had ever predicted, because it actually affected real people. When a virus called Corrupted Blood, which was supposed to be isolated to a separate part of the game, was accidentally introduced to the main population of an online server via an accidental teleportation by a player, it caused rampant destruction across tens of thousands of players in a matter of hours. Scientists have since looked back and attempted to model the viruses path across the server.

World of Warcraft offers a surprisingly close replica to our society in several ways that made this study particularly relevant. First, some players had access to abilities that allowed them to travel incredibly far in a short amount of time (similar to those few nodes in a network given long links) which allowed the disease to spread quickly across long distances. Additionally, characters were able to be re-infected, which some diseases allow for in reality as well. Also, some players acquired the disease and logged off immediately, and when they re-logged on at a later time, they still had the disease, allowing it to have longer gestational period than the game would allow. This mirrors real diseases in that some allow for people to be “carriers” and not succumb to the disease as quickly.

In the end, Blizzard fixed the problem by removing the disease from the game, claiming it was too dangerous for their players, but the real life implications of studying that disease have helped scientists see not only what a disease could do to a population, but also learn that potentially MMORPG games could be a suitable solution for scientific experimentation.





2 thoughts on “WoWconomics: Epidemics in the World… of Warcraft”

  1. I actually played WoW during this time and remember this ‘epidemic’ vaguely. Although I was never affected, I remember the panic it caused and the ways people would try to avoid it or keep it from spreading (logging off a character and leaving it alone). Thankfully, the game creators removed the disease, but it still scares me to see how fast it traveled and how something like this could happen in real life.

  2. Perhaps the virus used the strength of its weak ties to hop the network in great distances quickly. As we have learned the assumptions are that highly mobile and popular individuals can serve as a dense mass of weak ties, if the virus were to attach itself to teleporting players like that it could travel great distances to highly populated hubs and distribute its reckoning swiftly to unsuspecting players. Probably used a clever method to map the networks paths for the most efficient means of spreading its havoc. Hmmm…

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