Blizzard had prepared a lot for the Nov. 24 launch of Shadowlands, the eighth expansion pack for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. But it didn’t see the strange mini boom coming in South Korea.
Let’s lay out the basic facts before moving to the big question of why the expansion is now the talk of the town among middle-aged gamers here. Whenever Blizzard has put out a new episode for WoW, there has been a logjam in the company’s servers as many players returned to the game.
This time, players have to wait at least two hours during peak times in the evening if they want to get into the overcrowded Azshara server. This server is WoW’s equivalent to the metropolitan Seoul, the biggest city drawing visitors from across the nation. More than 3 out of 4 WoW players are registered with the Azshara server, while other “countryside” servers are faced with rapidly declining populations.
The imbalance has long been a headache for Blizzard, which failed to get to the underlying mindset of Korean gamers, which is extremely similar to what it is in real life.
Seoul is a big city, but not big enough to host everyone who wants to get into the social, economic and cultural center of the nation. Soaring housing prices led to a number of real estate policy changes, mostly aimed at charging higher taxes on those who purchase houses in popular districts in Seoul. Yet it failed to push Seoulites to move to other, less populated cities. That’s because the benefits of living in Seoul outweigh the disadvantages in taxation.
Of course, WoW does not offer permanent cyber residences, nor does it set up apartment complexes. So why is the Azshara server now requiring gamers to wait in line for two hours to play Shadowlands?
The answer has to do with the shrinking free time of RPG gamers, many of whom are in their 30s or older. WoW is a traditional MMORPG, which means players have to spend many hours to team up with other guild members to defeat new enemies. For many of today’s gamers, such requirements are too demanding.
The only possible way out is to seek extreme efficiency. WoW and other RPG gamers in Korea tend to put priority on speed and perfection. Since they are playing for limited durations, mostly a couple of hours a day, slow-paced gaming is widely shunned and those who make many mistakes are ignored or sidelined.
So it’s not hard to see many WoW players here running somewhere all the time, carrying out quests without reading the instructions and buying top-tier weapons with the in-game gold they acquired with real cash.
The overcrowded Azshara server is the very place to be for such hurry-and-get-things-done players, since it’s easier to get necessary items and organize a team for heroic and mythic raids. Its in-game economy is bigger than any other server and more people means it takes less time to recruit team members.
Against this backdrop, conquering new monsters at the fastest pace possible has become the ultimate goal for many Korean WoW gamers. It is understandable that they have already overcome a host of obstacles (such as getting permission from their skeptical spouses) to play MMORPG, and their limited time shouldn’t be wasted.
At a time when mobility matters most, turning on a desktop computer to play a game is cumbersome and time-consuming. WoW, a representative PC-based MMORPG, has long been confronting a shrinking population, as more people realize they don’t have enough time to play WoW and instead move toward fast-paced games like League of Legends or pay-to-win mobile games.
Many Korean WoW gamers tend to pursue speed and efficiency to an extreme level, but this is a trend that cannot be reversed, at least in Korea where the value of speed is deeply cherished. Blizzard, therefore, should do something about the overcrowded Azshara server, so that I can also log in and go fishing or collect battle pets at a leisurely pace, which I believe are key components for solo players who find it overwhelming to catch up with the brutal competition.
By Yang Sung-jin (email@example.com
) Yang Sung-jin is the multimedia editor of The Korea Herald. -- Ed.