A whole new world

There is a world that came into existence only 2 years and 8 months ago. In this world, at least 7 languages are spoken. There are villages and metropolises. There’s trade and commerce. There are wars and treaties. And there’s been a population explosion. This week, that world hit a milestone—reaching 9 million inhabitants. That’s ...

600299_warcrft5.jpg
600299_warcrft5.jpg

There is a world that came into existence only 2 years and 8 months ago. In this world, at least 7 languages are spoken. There are villages and metropolises. There's trade and commerce. There are wars and treaties. And there's been a population explosion. This week, that world hit a milestone—reaching 9 million inhabitants. That's more than the entire population of Somalia, and only slightly smaller than Sweden.

What is this world of which I speak? It's World of Warcraft (WoW), what's known as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Launched in November 2004, WoW has become one of the most popular PC games in the world, and will soon release an expansion pack in China, swelling its ranks even further. To take a look at how WoW's population of 9 million stacks up against real life countries, click here.

As the numbers show, this ain't no mere fantasy game, catering to a small niche of die-hard geeks. No, this is an insanely lucrative business, involving masses of people and masses of cash. Let's do some rudimentary math. The pricing varies from country to country, but each subscriber must pay at least $20 just to get started. Thereafter, subscription fees are, at the very minimum, $13 per month. Multiply all that by 9 million, and also the monthly subscription times 12 months, and what do you get? $180 million in initiation revenues, plus an additional $1.4 billion per year from one game alone! 

There is a world that came into existence only 2 years and 8 months ago. In this world, at least 7 languages are spoken. There are villages and metropolises. There’s trade and commerce. There are wars and treaties. And there’s been a population explosion. This week, that world hit a milestone—reaching 9 million inhabitants. That’s more than the entire population of Somalia, and only slightly smaller than Sweden.

What is this world of which I speak? It’s World of Warcraft (WoW), what’s known as a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Launched in November 2004, WoW has become one of the most popular PC games in the world, and will soon release an expansion pack in China, swelling its ranks even further. To take a look at how WoW’s population of 9 million stacks up against real life countries, click here.

As the numbers show, this ain’t no mere fantasy game, catering to a small niche of die-hard geeks. No, this is an insanely lucrative business, involving masses of people and masses of cash. Let’s do some rudimentary math. The pricing varies from country to country, but each subscriber must pay at least $20 just to get started. Thereafter, subscription fees are, at the very minimum, $13 per month. Multiply all that by 9 million, and also the monthly subscription times 12 months, and what do you get? $180 million in initiation revenues, plus an additional $1.4 billion per year from one game alone! 

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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