Massively Multiplayer game as a work place

More than two years ago, I wrote a post titled When People are Cheaper than Technology. The basic premise there was that the cheapest and best solution to many problems we are trying to solve by building software systems could be to make people part of those systems – basicly what Amazon is now trying to do with the Mechanical Turk.

I also wrote another one on what I called Games With a Cause – trying to make simple, fun games that whose use would result in data with some research or even monetary value. I even made one, with limited success 🙂

But earlier this week, in yet another nutty conversation with my friend Haukur, we started discussing the incredible amount of time that people all over the world are spending, playing Massively Multiplayer games (MMORPGs). What if just a tiny portion of this playing time could be turned into some “real work”?

The numbers are staggering:

  • A MMORPG game player will spend on average between 12 and 21 hours per week playing their favorite game. (source)
  • Ultima Online players spent more than 160 million man hours playing the game per year around the year 2000
  • World of Warcraft recently reached 5 million subscribers. If the 12 hour number from above holds true that’s more than 3.1 billion man-hours in a year.

A typical man-year (must they be called person-hours to be politicaly correct?) has about 1600-2000 man-hours in western coutries, so Blizzard (the maker of World of Warcraft) is controlling what equals a work force of 1.5 million people! Even if you could only turn a miniscule amount of this time into monetizable work…

And what could that work be? Most of these games have advanced trading systems. Maybe some financial simulations could be run in the game world, if I remember correctly the Nobel prize was awarded a couple of years ago for work in experimental economics. The MMORPGs could be ideal testbeds. Or maybe “stealing” a few computing cycles in the vast grid of connected computers. Or maybe somehow building tasks like image recognition (a la Amazon’s Mechanical Turk) into the gameplay. Or…

My hunch is that simulations of how markets and societies respond to different settings, rules and events would be a good bet.

Imagine – if you could make Blizzard a 0.30$ per hour, that would amount to about 15$ a month, which is incidentally the same as the month subscription – and you could play for free!

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