Where We Fish

This article analyses where players fish in the game World of Warcraft. It reveals the role of daily quests in shaping our fishing habits, demonstrates just how popular city-fishing is, and starts to reveal why we fish. This is (hopefully) the first in a series of articles that collectively examine why people fish in this massively multiplayer online game.

Daily successful casts by area. The map shows number of successful fishing casts (diameter of each circle), by area. Numbers are daily totals for all United States and European realms combined, based on a sample in July 2009. Click the map for a larger view.

A successful cast is one that does not catch a junk item, which might occur if the anglers’ skill is to low. There are 14 million successful casts each day, catching 16 million fish: Some casts catch more than 1 fish. In addition, there are 4.5 million unsuccessful casts (that catch a junk item). Unsuccessful casts are not shown on the map.

“Old Azeroth” refers to the continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms (the pre-expansion game). Within Northrend (the main area shown on the map), casts into coastal waters are shown separately from “inland” casts in other zones.

In each area, the total number of casts is divided into 3 parts:

  1. Open Water (dark blue) – Casts into bodies of open water.
  2. Daily-Related (gold) – Casts while trying to complete a daily fishing quest. This includes all casts while trying to complete the quest, not just those that catch a quest fish.
  3. Pools (light blue) – Casts into schools of fish.

Northrend is the continent hosting the current game expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. The continent is home to higher-level (more veteran) players. Expect to find most fishing activity here – and we do: There are 9.3 million daily casts in Northrend – two thirds of all successful casts.

A sixth of all casts are related to the daily quests, in spite of the fact that there is just one such quest available each day (the area varies between realms, randomly each day). The Northrend fishing quests are the most popular quests in the game – completed by over 300,000 characters each day. No, really – at least before patch 3.2 was launched, which made Heroic dungeons popular again. Anglers’ might be motivated by the additional reward. Or this might suggest a far greater need to guide players. Either way, it raises some questions, such as, why is there just one fishing quest per day in the current game expansion?

Ignoring daily quest-related fishing, the most popular single location is Dalaran’s Eventide Fountain, with 1.4 million casts per day – equivalent to 1 person on each realm fishing there for 12 hours each day. The irony is that Dalaran’s Eventide Fountain is also one of the smallest body of water in the entire game. Cities account for a third of all casts – Dalaran is not the only popular city. At least half of the “Old Azeroth (Inland)” casts are casts in the waters of major cities (such as Stormwind or Orgrimmar).

So, half of all fishing activity is either directed by quests, or occurs in cities. Training (cooking and/or fishing skills) is also an important reason to fish, although it is harder to estimate how important.

Pool fishing is normally the fastest way to catch “valuable” fish. Yet only 17% of casts are from pools. Even if we look at areas with no quests and desirable “Northrend” fish, like the Grizzly Hills, half of all casts are still in open water. This isn’t the only example that suggests that anglers really are quite lazy, and don’t want to much hassle when fishing.

The remainder of this article explores some of these issues in more detail, using information about where we fish to start to explain why we fish. It also describes the method behind the numbers, with a technical appendix containing data.

Box: The Norwegian Context
16 million Azerothian fish are caught each day (across all US and EU realms). That’s more than 3 billion each year. If each fish weighed 1 pound, 2.7 million tonnes would be caught annually. That’s similar to Norway’s commercial fishing industry (up to 2.5 million tonnes). Curiously, Norway’s population (4.7 million people) is also similar to that of Azeroth (at the start of 2008, World of Warcraft hosted “more than 2 million subscribers in Europe, more than 2.5 million in North America”). And while Norwegians don’t eat all the fish they catch (much is exported to neighbouring countries), the citizens of Azeroth don’t eat all the fish they catch either (of the 27 most commonly caught fish that can be cooked, only 55% of the total catch are cooked – detailed below).

Box: Relative Popularity of Fishing and Battlegrounds
How popular is fishing compared to other aspects of WoW? Examine battlegrounds. Winning a battleground awards 3 marks, losing 1 mark. For every team that wins, another opposing team loses. So halving the total number of marks created each day, gives the number of battleground activities completed across all players. That’s roughly 1.1 million battleground activities per day, spread between all US and EU players. (That figure is not the total the number of battlegrounds per day: It’s the number of battlegrounds multiplied by the number of players in them when they end. Each battleground holds between 20 and 80 players, so the number of battlegrounds is considerably lower than the number of “battleground activities”.) Assuming the average battleground takes 20 minutes to complete (the actual time taken is far more variable), about 370,000 hours are played in battlegrounds each day. In contrast, 18 million fishing casts per day (including unsuccessful casts) each average 15 seconds, so a total of 75,000 hours per day are spent fishing. Roughly 5 times more play-time is spent in battlegrounds than is spent fishing. That comparison does not include travel. Battlegrounds require no travel – there is simply a small (normally under a minute) delay queuing for the activity to start. Some fishing activities have a high proportion of travel time. In the most extreme case, completing the daily quest “Blood is Thicker“, several minutes of travel leads to less than a minute of fishing.

On this page:

Also in this series: Favorite Fishing Places – Analyses the favourite fishing locations of World of Warcraft anglers. Both where and why.

Quests

World of Warcraft includes many “daily quests”. These are specific activities that can only be completed once per day, but can be repeated on subsequent days.

Figures for “daily-related” casts include all the casts into water while trying to complete daily fishing quests. For example, the quest “Dangerously Delicious” requires 10 Terrorfish to be caught. Terrorfish are caught alongside another fish about half of the time. So, while catching the quest fish, you will also catch about 20 other fish from Wintergrasp, casting 20 times in total.

Overall, 2.4 million casts per day are daily-related. A quarter of all casts in Northrend. 17% of all casts everywhere. That’s from the single quest available each day. Only available to more advanced characters (level 70 or above). And ironically, a quest that didn’t even exist in the original release of the Northrend expansion (it was added in patch 3.1).

These quests are not a niche activity: Once completions of the 5 quests are summed (to allow a valid comparison with individual quests that are available every day), the fishing daily quests are the most popular single quest in the entire game – completed 320,000 times per day (US and EU combined). That beats other profession daily quests (such as cooking, 230,000), the most important reputation-related daily quests (Sons of Holdir “Hot and Cold”, 140,000), “flagship” content (Argent Tournament “Taking Battle To The Enemy”, 130,000), and battlegrounds (combined battleground dailies, 100,000).

Box: Patch 3.2 Quest Changes
This article’s analysis is based on July 2009. With the release of patch 3.2 (at the start of August 2009), the Heroic dungeon daily quests became very popular – roughly twice as popular as the fishing dailies. The reward for these quests was dramatically improved by the patch. That change helps explain the sudden explosion of “Additional instances cannot be launched, please try again later” errors, triggered by insufficient computer server capacity to host all those new “dungeon runs”…

None of the Outland Daily Fishing Quests are completed by enough characters to regularly appear in the data. One quest sometimes appears – “Crocolisks in the City”. The fact it only sometimes appears suggests it is completed about 10,000 per day (US and EU combined) – accounting for around 50,000 casts per day in Old Azeroth’s “zone group 2” inland open water (mostly Stormwind and Orgrimmar). Which is a small part of the 1.7 million casts there. Since there is not sufficient data covering the Outland daily quests, they are not identified separately (they are simply counted within the “open water” totals).

Why do the Northrend daily quests have such an obvious influence on fishing activity? A combination of factors:

  • Convenience: The Northrend daily quests start from a quest-giver in the centre of Dalaran – the main hub of activity for higher-level characters. The quests are therefore very easy to find and accept. In contrast, the Outland daily fishing quest starts outside a city, on a different continent – far harder to find, and far less convenient to accept.
  • Rewards: Completing the Northrend fishing daily quest earns the angler about 30 gold, in addition to the value of the fish they catch. (30 gold has been calculated based on the average re-sell value of the contents of the Bag of Fishing Treasures – the quest reward. Specific items within the bag are worth hundreds of gold, although the chance of find them is very low.) 30 gold compares favourably to other straightforward daily quests (15 gold is more typical). The reward from the Outland fishing daily quests averages only 10 gold. That difference might explain why the Northrend quest is so much more popular, although neither 10 nor 30 gold are particularly large amounts of money – characters can earn that money easily from other activities. There are also a few items of fishing gear (such as poles and hats) and minipets (companion animals) rarely found in the rewards from both the Outland and Northrend daily fishing quests. The most useful items can be found in the reward from either set of daily quests, so these other rewards are unlikely to explain the difference in popularity between the Outland and Northrend quests.
  • Guided play: What shall I do today? Daily quests are helpful suggestions that influence the player’s decision about what to do in the game. They can help determine what type of activity is done (“to go fishing”), and precisely how it is done (“…in Wintergrasp”).

Fishing activity is twice as likely to be guided by daily quests as battleground activity (the daily battleground quest explains about 9% of battlegrounds completed, compared to 17% for fishing). One explanation is fun: Players enjoy battlegrounds more than fishing (or specifically, enjoy spending more time in battlegrounds), so are more likely to complete battlegrounds without the additional incentive of a quest. Another explanation is that fishing activity needs to be more closely guided than battleground activity – fishing is otherwise less “accessible” to players. Both explanations are viable.

That all raises some more questions:

  • Does the daily quest “mechanic” (process) match the activity of fishing? Perhaps a more relaxed, but longer, weekly quest is needed? Or more variety in quests, to introduce anglers to all the places fish are caught, not just 5 places?
  • Shouldn’t there be equivalent quests available to lower-level players? There are currently only a few lower-level quests in the game that require fishing, none of which are repeatable. Almost half of anglers do not learn to fish until their character reaches the maximum level – they’ve played the game for months before deciding to pick up a fishing pole (46%, based on a sample of 2,600, at the time of writing).
  • If fishing needs more guidance, perhaps the underlying fishing mechanic, or method by which fishing is introduced to the player, needs to be improved?
  • Why don’t rewards flow through the fishing activity itself? Catching the reward – not an indirect quest reward. Daily quests are often used to regulate the flow of rewards (by replacing historic hour-after-hour “grinding“, with day-by-day activity). Yet we are already seeing the main source of one valuable fish shift from the water to a quest reward (see the Savory Deviate Delight box below).

Box: Savory Deviate Delight
More Savory Deviate Delight is cooked than Deviate Fish are caught, even though each dish requires one fish: About 300,000 Savory Deviate Delight are cooked each day, but only 110,000 are caught directly by fishing. How can this be? The Bag of Fishing Treasures, the reward for completing the Northrend daily fishing quest, has a 50% chance of containing “2-4” Deviate Fish. Thott offers more detail – the equivalent of 1.6 Deviate Fish per bag. The daily quest is completed around 320,000 times per day, so about half a million Deviate Fish enter the wider economy via the quest reward. Vastly more than are caught from the water.

Food for Thought

The source data (explained below) contains both the number of fish caught, and the number of cooked dishes created that are made from that fish. For the 27 fish that are commonly cooked (and therefore consistently appear in the source data), the proportion that were actually cooked was calculated. This included multi-fish dishes, such as Fish Feast. The method is not perfect, because raw fish do not have to be cooked immediately, but the results should be reasonably representative.

The most valuable (when auctioned) cooked fish are the most likely to be cooked: 80-90% of fish like Glacial Salmon and Dragonfin Angelfish are cooked. Less valuable Northrend fish, is less likely to be cooked: Only 70% of Imperial Manta Ray, and 50% of Fangtooth Herring, is cooked.

The fact that up to 90% of certain types of fish are cooked shows a very widespread understanding that “certain fish are worth cooking”, and that most such fish find their way from an angler to a capable cook (if the angler cannot cook). Of course, we don’t know what proportion of players are involved: For example, it is possible that 80-90% of the fish are being caught by a minority of players, and the many “clueless” players are not cooking anything. However, the popularity of daily-quest related fishing suggests fishing is not restricted to a small niche group of players. Indeed, fishing may be more “mainstream” than core activities like Battlegrounds (based on earlier evidence, 3 times more characters complete the fishing daily quests than the battleground daily quests).

So, we can assume that around 90% of all cook-able catches would be cooked, if the angler wanted to cook them. Why aren’t 90% of all caught fish cooked? Over the 27 cook-able fish studied, just 55% of the total catch was cooked.

What’s most fascinating about this pattern is that the cooked fish in the second group will still sell (cooked Imperial Manta Ray are worth 1-2 gold at auction on most realms), they are merely worth less than the first group (cooked Glacial Salmon sell for 4-5 gold). Why are they less likely to be cooked? It is possible that raw fish are being stockpiled raw for future, although there is no reason why their value will ever improve. It is possible that a proportion of anglers are discarding “less valuable” catches because the process of cooking and selling the fish at auction is “to much hassle” (time consuming, an extra activity to worry about). It is most likely that cooked dishes are viewed in social, not monetary terms (see box). So if none of an angler’s friends currently need a particular dish, that fish is simply not cooked.

(Auction market prices and the need of friends both reflect the same underlying gameplay needs. So a cooked fish that is worth more will also be more likely to be demanded by friends.)

Box: Feeding Friends
“Auction” monetary values of cooked fish allow tangible comparisons. But many cooked dishes are never sold – they are part of the “non-trading economy”: Items created for use by a player and/or their friends. The official Toplists (described in the method) list the “most auctioned items”. This is assumed to count the number of auctions of each type of item, not the number of items in total. Cooked fish is commonly sold in stacks (sets) of 20, although is sometimes sold in smaller groups, even individually. For this example, each auction counted in the Toplist is assumed to contain 20 cooked dishes. This means our estimates of the proportion of dishes auctioned will tend to be to high. Just 24% of all Fish Feasts cooked are successfully sold at auction. Only half of the Firecracker Salmon (another popular dish) cooked are successfully sold at auction. These figures may be slightly misleading (for example, it is possible to auction the same cooked dish more than once), but give an indication of the strength of World of Warcraft’s non-trading economy. The Fish Feast is primarily used to feed a raiding group – a large party of players, generally all belonging to the same “guild” (small social group). It is no surprise that at least 3/4 of Fish Feasts are not auctioned.

Even less likely to be cooked are the “trash fish”, such as Rockfin Grouper. These fish are commonly found in open water and can be cooked. But they do not give a “buff” (bonus to character attributes) when eaten, so can only be eaten to restore “health” (vitality) and “mana” (magic-casting fuel) – and there are many plentiful sources of such food (not least, the Mage class). Typically only 25-35% of the “trash fish” caught are cooked.

If we are collectively “wasting” part of the catch because it isn’t valuable enough, why bother catching it? There are 3 likely explanations:

  1. Fishing for something else: Inland open water fishing in a zone like the Grizzly Hills will catch both Glacial Salmon and Fangtooth Herring. We know Glacial Salmon are likely to be cooked, so perhaps the Fangtooth Herring are being abandoned as a “trash fish”, that the angler did not wish to catch? Rare catches, such as the Sea Turtle, may cause a lot of other fish to be caught (up to 10,000 casts, in that extreme case).
  2. Achievements: For example, Fangtooth Herring School are the best place to try and complete “One That Didn’t Get Away” – and a lot of Fangtooth Herring will be caught in the process.
  3. Fishing to relax, not to catch any particular fish: If you are just fishing for the joy of fishing, the usefulness of what you catch may not be important.

Perception of Pools

Pools (schools of fish) are normally the most efficient place to catch “valuable” fish. In most cases, 80-90% of the catch from a pool will be the valuable fish, compared to 20-30% from fishing open water. Anglers have to keep on moving between different pool locations to sustain fishing. However the much higher proportion of valuable fish caught generally make pool fishing the fastest way to catch valuable fish.

Yet overall, just 17% of casts land in pools. This rises slightly, to 19%, in Northrend, where the most valuable fish tend to be.

Not all locations offer anglers a choice between pools and open water. And not all daily quests offer that choice. If only Northrend locations where pools are available are counted, and all daily-quest-related casts are excluded (leaving 3.3 million casts per day), still only half (49%) of casts land in pools.

The actual proportion of valuable fish caught from pools is greater than half, because the “catch rate” from pools is higher. For example, 70% of all Dragonfin Angelfish caught comes from pools.

A survey of El’s readers, conducted during July 2009, asked the question “Which water do you mostly fish?” 1,374 votes were cast.

62% thought they mostly fished in pools, with a further 16% fishing pools and open water about the same amount. Only 22% thought they fished open water more.

Roughly the opposite of actual fishing activity. So, either perceptions differ dramatically from reality, or the sample is biased:

  • Perceptions might be altered by the volume of useful fish caught (which in certain cases will be higher from pools than open water). It would also be easy to subconsciously discount fish caught while completing the daily quests.
  • More likely is that the survey is biased towards more “hardcore” anglers. We might expect readers of a topic-specific website to have above average interest in that topic. The best evidence is that almost half of those who thought they mostly fished in pools added, “only until I catch a Sea Turtle“. The Sea Turtle is a very rare mount, only caught from Northrend pools. Anyone trying to catch it can expect to invest several days in the process – more “typical” players are unlikely to try and catch it.

This suggests that pool fishing is more popular among more dedicated anglers. So perhaps pool fishing is more likely to be considered “to much hassle” by less “hardcore” anglers. And perhaps that correlates to the “hassle” of not cooking less valuable fish (discussed in Food for Thought above)?

Training

The higher-level zones of Old Azeroth (4,5 and 6 in El’s Gazetteer) are not as commonly fished as parts of Northrend. The fish caught here are not valuable for their cooked buffs (as certain Northrend catches are). However, an unexpectedly high proportion of the fish caught are cooked, for example:

The only rational explanation for this pattern is that these fish are commonly (even primarily) being used to improve characters’ cooking skills. Either directly (by cooking their own catch) or indirectly (by buying the raw fish from an angler, and cooking it).

World of Warcraft’s cooking profession requires a new cook to cook sequences of different recipes. For example, a cook might start gaining skill points in the profession by cooking Brilliant Smallfish, but after about 60 dishes, more and more Brilliant Smallfish dishes must be cooked to raise skill, until eventually skill increases stop. Instead they must start cooking another dish, such as Longjaw Mud Snapper. And… you can read the rest here. At each skill level there are several different dishes that can be used to efficiently level cooking skill. The need to continually change dishes means that a cook cannot start cooking Northrend dishes: They have to work their way through Old Azeroth and Outland first. When a cook is using fish dishes (very common when they are also improving their fishing skill), they need to fish from many different locations.

The influence of training is clear in the higher-level zones of Old Azeroth, because there are few other reasons to fish here.

The highest-level group of zones is the easiest to examine. Waters where Raw Whitescale Salmon and Darkclaw Lobster are caught. There are only 3 fish-based recipes that easily allow a cook to raise their cooking skill from 275 to 300. The third recipe is based on Large Raw Mightfish, which is rarely caught alongside Darkclaw Lobster (so is reasonable to assume that 75% of the catch is also cooked). There are 2 non-fish alternative recipes, but both are inconvenient for players to acquire (Runn Tum Tuber Surprise and Smoked Desert Dumplings).

About 70,000 fish-based dishes are being cooked in this group each day. Simplistically, if each cook requires 25 dishes, just under 3,000 characters are levelling their cooking skill through the 275-300 range each day. (3,000 characters per day would be about 1 million per year – about one character for every 4 subscribers, which seems plausible.) If we then assume that, overall, there are 3,000 characters per day training cooking using fish-based dishes, and that 1-450 skill requires 2,700 casts, then 8 million successful casts per day can be explained as players training their skills.

That’s a rather large, rough figure, with several fairly wild assumptions. So let’s try another.

60% of the Raw Mithril Head Trout caught are cooked into Mithril Head Trout. This is the most efficient fish-based dish to cook between around cooking skill 175 and 225 – roughly 60 dishes need to be cooked. 80,000 Mithril Head Trout are cooked each day. 60 per cook-in-training implies 1,300 characters are levelling their cooking skill through the 175-225 range using fish each day. Applying that number of characters to a full 1-450 course, implies 3.5 million successful casts per day can be explained as players training their skills.

Neither figure is accurate – we don’t know precisely how each player chooses to train, we don’t know that all players train all the way to skill 450 (the current maximum skill), and some of those dishes may be cooked simply to be eaten. But there is enough evidence to make it likely that several million casts each day are due to players actively improving their cooking skills (with fish-based dishes).

It should come as no surprise that a lot of characters are training their skills: Look how much junk is being caught! There were 4.5 million “unsuccessful” casts – 24% of all casts.

Junk items are sometimes caught when an anglers’ skill is to low to fish in an area. The proportion of junk caught depends on a combination of location and the anglers’ (effective) fishing skill. That mix means it is not possible to estimate precisely where junk is caught, or estimate the number of anglers who are still training their fishing skills. However, anglers with high skill are far less likely to catch junk than anglers with low skill. A quarter of all casts catching junk, suggests quite a high proportion of anglers are still improving their fishing skills…

This conclusion is not unexpected: The most commonly read section of El’s Anglin’ is the training section – even though a detailed guide is not required to train fishing.

Box: Levelling Professions
WoW’s professions require a lot of effort by the player to “level” – to raise to the maximum skill. A small industry has grown up around providing detailed guides to players, that describe the most material or time-efficient method of improving skill in each profession. Few players care what they do or make. Increasingly professions are trained for their passive benefits (commonly a bonus to a character’s attributes), rather than the ability of the profession to manufacture or collect “valuable” equipment or materials. I suspect that players collectively tend to “level professions”, not actively use those professions once they are trained. That may reflect an underlying flaw in the way professions are designed: They do not scale like the rest of the game. The same techniques taught to new players at level 5 are still in use at the maximum level. And while the rest of the game gradually evolves from simple quests and combat, to highly complex group activities (such as “end game” raiding), professions basically stay the same. Consequently, “reaching 450” (the current maximum skill level) comes to be seen as “the end”. For manufacturing professions, advancing beyond 450 (by acquiring rare recipes), normally requires the player to complete non-profession activities, such as raiding or improving reputation with factions.

Urban Anglin’

It is not possible to calculate precisely how many casts land in each of the cities of Old Azeroth. We know that 1.7 million casts land in open water in “zone group 2” – which includes all those cities. In comparison, there are roughly 300,000 casts into inland waters of zone group 1, and 100,000 for zone group 3. Those zones groups are made up of similar numbers of zones, and contain similar fish. It is reasonable to conclude that about 1.5 million casts in Old Azeroth are within cities. Just over 10% of all successful casts, everywhere, are in Old Azeroth’s cities.

21% of all successful casts (2.9 million) are in the city of Dalaran. Excluding daily-related casts, 22% of all successful casts are in Dalaran.

Overall, about a third of all casts are in cities.

Capital cities added in the first game expansion (The Burning Crusade) do not contain fish-able water – a curious design decision given the popularity of urban anglin’.

None of the common catches in Old Azeroth’s cities are especially valuable. With a few exceptions (described below), there’s nothing special to be caught. In addition, the most common catch in Old Azeroth’s cities, Raw Longjaw Mud Snapper, is also the least cooked of commonly caught fish: Just 21% of the Raw Longjaw Mud Snappers caught are cooked into Longjaw Mud Snapper. This suggests that anglers fishing in Old Azeroth’s cities are less likely to be training cooking than in other parts of Old Azeroth.

So what are they doing?

  1. Training fishing skills. Characters (whose level is below the maximum) gain a “rested bonus” while in cities. The bonus accelerates subsequent character development (faster “experience point” gains). Cities are also relatively safe. So cities are ideal places to fish, if you only want to improve fishing skill.
  2. Achievements. There are 2 specific rare fish that can only be caught in cities – Old Crafty and Old Ironjaw. These are not terribly useful (except at very low level), but they do award achievements, so will be sought by certain players.
  3. Relaxing! Cities tend to be “chill out” areas, where players can gather, chat, relax, wait for activities to start. Old Azeroth’s cities are less popular than Dalaran for “chilling out”, but it still happens.

Dalaran contains 3 distinct areas of water. Excluding daily-related casts, total daily casts in each area of water are:

  • Eventide Fountain – 1,442,000 (57%)
  • Violet Hold – 109,000 (4%)
  • Underbelly – 1,000,000 (39%)

Dalaran is a small city, so all these areas are convenient. Why do they differ in popularity?

The Eventide Fountain (illustrated right) contains a sequence of coins, each of which is inscribed with the thoughts of a famous individual within the game’s lore (story background). Initially, this makes fishing varied, and what you catch is “interesting”. There is also a sequence of achievements, culminating in “The Coin Master”, requiring anglers to catch at least one of each of the coins. So a passing novelty can rapidly become a 3 or 6 hour fishing marathon, as the angler tries to catch “that last missing coin…”

The Underbelly contains one special catch – the Giant Sewer Rat. It’s a minipet – a companion creature, often collected (particularly by female players – the main fan site for pet collectors is the only major WoW website where the more than half of visitors are female).

And the Violet Hold has… surprisingly little of consequence. There is an element of variety – a Rusty Prison Key that opens a locked box containing a few items of equipment. But this reward is not useful to most players.

So, themes like convenience and relaxation are only part of the explanation for the popularity of cities. The Violet Hold has convenience and relaxation, yet few anglers cast there: There are places nearby that offer convenience, relaxation, and something of “value”. Convenience is still an important factor, as the box below tries to demonstrate: There are 2 minipets caught directly by fishing, and 9 or 10 times more anglers appear to be trying to catch the Giant Sewer Rat.

Box: Mr. Pinchy and the Giant Sewer Rat
There are currently 2 minipets (non-combatant companion pets) that can be caught by fishing – Mr. Pinchy and the Giant Sewer Rat. 110,000 casts per day land in Highland Mixed School. All the fish caught in those pools are inferior to fish caught in Northrend. The only apparent reason to fish Highland Mixed Schools is to catch Mr. Pinchy. The Giant Sewer Rat lives in the sewers of Dalaran. Excluding quest-related casts, there are 1 million casts into the Underbelly each day. The only obvious reason to fish in the Underbelly (except the daily quest, which has already been excluded from the cast total) is to catch a Giant Sewer Rat. Rate rates for both pets are similar – about a 1/500 chance. Wwhy does the Giant Sewer Rate seem to be so much more commonly fished? Partly this is because Mr. Pinchy has been in the game since 2007, while the Giant Sewer Rat was only added at the end of 2008. Established characters are more likely to have caught Mr. Pinchy already. But part of the explanation is convenience: Catching Mr. Pinchy involves travelling to a distant area, and then constantly flying between different pool locations. The Rat can be caught by fishing open water (without moving), and is caught in Dalaran, the city that currently forms a hub and “hang out” place for higher-level players.

Creative Method

Where do all those numbers come from? Blizzard, the game’s creators, do not publish this information in sufficient detail. Some “creative” analytical techniques need to be applied to the data they do publish:

  1. Total “gatherings” (catches) for each commonly caught fish were extracted from the official “Toplists” for all US and EU realms.
  2. 2 sample days were taken – Friday 10 and Sunday 12 July 2009. Based on traffic at El’s Anglin’, Sunday is the busiest day of the week, and Friday the quietest. Neither day is influenced by technical downtime (“maintenance”). There were no new game patches (changes to content) in July 2009. July is relatively quiet month (students away from college/university). However levels of WoW player activity are constantly in flux, so no month can be described as “a typical month”. Totals for US and EU realms were added together (both totals are very similar), and the 2 days averaged to give a single US+EU daily total.
  3. Named fish were then assigned to water-types (inland, coastal, specific pools, etc) and zones (or groups of zones), by cross-referencing each fish to the places those fish can be caught, based on El’s Fish Finder. This also allows rare catches (that are not listed in the toplist) to be factored in.

The final stage is complex, so I’ll start with a simple example:

  1. Raw Whitescale Salmon are only caught from open inland water in a group of zones El’s Gazetteer calls “Group 6” (zones like Eastern Plaguelands and Winterspring).
  2. 40% of the catch from inland open water in zone group 6 will be Raw Whitescale Salmon.
  3. A total of 45,000 Raw Whitescale Salmon are caught each day.
  4. So a total of ( 45,000 * ( 1 / 40% ) = 115,000 ) fish are caught each day in zone group 6.

Easy! A precise figure for 40% of the total can be multiplied straight up to give 100%. All zones in the group are the same, so in this case it is not possible to split individual zones.

  1. Zone Group 5 (places like The Hinterlands) only has one fish unique to that group, Oily Blackmouth. Unfortunately that fish is also caught from pools, so cannot be used to calculate the group 5 total.
  2. Both Raw Nightfin Snapper and Raw Sunscale Salmon can be caught in only groups 5 and 6. The catch rate of each varies by time of day. Fortunately, the sum of the 2 fish is always the same – 35% of the zone’s catch rate.
  3. So, 35% of 115,000 total catches in zone group 6 equals 40,000 Nightfin+Sunscale.
  4. There are 86,000 Nightfin+Sunscale catches overall. If 40,000 are in zone group 6, the remaining 46,000 must be in zone group 5.
  5. So a total of ( 46,000 * ( 1 / 35% ) = 135,000 ) fish are caught each day in zone group 5.

In Northrend (where the majority of fish are caught), almost every zone has a unique pattern of fish. That means individual zones (and sometimes areas within zones) can be analysed, rather than summarising groups of zones.

Catch proportions like “40%” and “35%” are based on reasonable sample sizes (a few hundred catches), which means they are not perfectly accurate. There is a small chance of an error at each stage of the calculation – one of the reasons the results are quoted with a high level of rounding (“millions”, not tens).

Similar techniques can be applied to other zones, but in some cases the method is more complex: Resolution of series of possibilities that can only add up in a certain way.

Approximations

Calculations may make assumptions about catches. Some examples:

The split between catches in inland groups 1, 2 and 3 (the lower-skilled zones of Old Azeroth) is resolved by comparing slightly different volumes of 3 fish (Raw Brilliant Smallfish, Raw Bristle Whisker Catfish, and Raw Longjaw Mud Snapper). But there are a few zones within zone group 2 where extra fish can be caught. And in the case of Deviate Fish in The Barrens, the catch can come from both open water and pools. Making an assumption about the proportion of Deviate Fish caught from each source is reasonable, because the absolute number of fish caught is low: In this case, 100,000 Deviate Fish compared to 1.1 million Raw Longjaw Mud Snappers. However, you will not find detailed analysis of those particular groups, because the calculations aren’t robust enough to probe those groups in detail.

Ulduar is another example of “fudging” insignificant details. You won’t find it on the map, because the total number of catches there is trivially small, and merges seamlessly into Sholazar Basin and Crystalsong Forest. Don’t believe me? 60% of the catch in Ulduar is Glassfin Minnow, which are also caught in Crystalsong Forest. There are only 70,000 Glassfin Minnow caught everywhere, in total. So, in the most extreme case (no fish were caught in Crystalsong Forest), the maximum possible total catch in Ulduar would be 110,000. It is probably a lot less.

Sometimes a fairly small proportion is important to “get right”. The total catch in Wintergrasp is based on Giant Darkwater Clam. Just 4% of the catch in the zone. Wowhead’s sample data is reliable for this zone (no pools, variations in water type, or changes over time), so that 4% is 4% of a sample of 1 million (non-junk, non-quest fish) catches – which is rather accurate. Still not convinced? Well, you may curse the Pygmy Suckerfish that cling to your fishing line. But I’ve discovered a use for them: They are not caught in every Northrend zone – critically not caught in Wintergrasp. Once fish had been estimated for all areas and types of water in Northrend, estimated Pygmy Suckerfish catches (from pools and open water where the fish is caught) were compared to the total number of Pygmy Suckerfish actually caught. Just 3% more Pygmy Suckerfish were actually caught than estimated. Remarkably accurate, given all the wild assumptions and errors within the whole process.

The intention is not to produce perfect analysis, but analysis that is perfect enough to draw conclusions about the overall patterns.

Validation

It is possible to compare the total number of fish listed in the original Toplists, with the estimated total number of catches: 19.7 million fish were identified on Toplists. 4.5 million of those were junk catches (unsuccessful casts). Which leaves 15.2 million catches.

The estimated total catch is 16.2 million. This estimate should be slightly higher that the actual total, because the Toplists do not show very rare catches. Similarly, a few catches that are shown in the Toplists, like Crystallized Water, also come from sources other than fishing, so Toplist data for those was skipped.

Our estimated total is an accurate reflection of the data in the Toplists. But are the Toplists correct?

The relative volumes “feel right”: Casual observation confirms that a lot of fishing activity takes place in Dalaran. And that Wintergrasp always has a lot more anglers active on Terrorfish-quest days. However, if half the realms were missing from the Toplist data, the relative balance of fishing activity would be accurate, but the absolute amount of fishing would be wrong.

Dalaran’s Eventide Fountain is the most popular single fishing location (excluding daily-quest related casts). 1.44 million casts per day, spread across 501 realms is 2,900 casts per realm per day. Assuming 4 casts per minute, that’s 12 hours worth of fishing per day. In my experience there is often someone fishing from the fountain during the daytime, at peak (busy) times several characters can be fishing there, and it is probably empty late night/early morning. So 12 hours of fountain fishing per day broadly fits my observations.

The Stranglethorn Fishing Extravaganza is a fishing contest held only on Sunday afternoon. The main competition catch – Speckled Tastyfish – is caught 11,000 times on a Sunday by US players. No data is available for EU players (Speckled Tastyfish are not common enough to appear in the EU Toplists). There are 241 US realms, so that’s only 45 Speckled Tastyfish catches per realm. The competition requires 40 fish to win, and it is common for tens of players to compete, most of who will manage at least 10-20 fish by the time a winner is announced. There don’t seem to be enough Tastyfish catches recorded.

One explanation may be the way the Toplist data is gathered: For example, if the top 500 on each realm were gathered separated, then merged, less common catches may be counted on some realms and not on other realms. So the Speckled Tastyfish total might only be based on the 150 realms where the contest is popular. This would mean that all the data gathered “at the margins” (close to #500) would be underestimated. Another possibility is that data labelled as one day is actually “smoothed” into the previous and next day. Perhaps half the total Speckled Tastyfish catch is counted as Saturday and Monday. 5,000-odd catches on those days would be outside the top 500, so would be lost. That would only affect Speckled Tastyfish, which can only be gathered on one day of the week. Since (to my knowledge) no explanation of how the data is assembled has ever been given, it is not possible to be sure.

Technical Appendix

The numbers, for reference. Unless otherwise stated, all figures shown are total daily casts, in 000s (thousands), combined for US and EU realms.

Northrend
Areas Open Water Pools Daily-Related Total
Borean Tundra (inland) 222 339 135 561
Crystalsong Forest 55 59 0 114
Dalaran (sub-divided below) 2946 0 394 2946
Eventide Fountain 1442 0 0 1442
Violet Hold 109 0 0 109
Underbelly 1395 0 394 1395
Dragonblight (inland) 276 254 0 530
The Frozen Sea 355 219 269 574
Grizzly Hills (inland) 328 282 0 610
Howling Fjord (inland) 114 98 0 213
Sholazar Basin 615 301 305 916
Wintergrasp 2360 0 1327 2360
Northrend (coastal, except Frozen Sea) 298 184 0 482
Total Inland 6915 1334 2161 8250
Total Coastal 653 403 269 1056
Northrend Total 7569 1737 2430 9306

Numbers are total daily casts, in 000s, combined for US and EU realms. The daily-related column is included within the open water/pool figures (precisely where depends on the quest), so the total column is the sum of the Open Water and Pools columns. Zul’Drak is included within the Dragonblight figures (but is likely very minor). Ulduar is mostly included within Crystalsong Forest (also minor). “Northrend (coastal, except Frozen Sea)” includes coastal waters of Borean Tundra, Dragonblight, Grizzly Hills, Howling Fjord, Icecrown and Storm Peaks. Dalaran’s Eventide Fountain estimate assume the “lucky buff” is active half of the time (this alters the catch rate). Single-fish daily quests are assumed to average 5 casts per quest. 10 Terrorfish (Wintergrasp quest) require 20 casts. Catches for “Blood is Thicker” (Borean Tundra quest) and calculated from the number of Mostly-eaten Bonescale Snapper caught.

Outland
Areas Total
Total Open Water 359
Total Pools 243
Outland Total 603

Numbers are total daily casts, in 000s, combined for US and EU realms. Outland has no sea, so all casts land in inland water. One pool type – Highland Mixed School – accounts for almost half (112) of all pool casts.

Old Azeroth
Areas Inland Coastal Total
Open Water:
Zone Group 1 292 95 387
Zone Group 2 1742 311 2053
Zone Group 3 97 83 180
Zone Group 4 199 274 473
Zone Group 5 133 237 370
Zone Group 6 113 92 205
Total Open Water 2576 1092 3668
Total Pools 213 176 389
Old Azeroth Total 2789 1268 4057

Numbers are total daily casts, in 000s, combined for US and EU realms. Old Azeroth is Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. Zone groups are defined by El’s Gazetteer – each group has a different fishing skill required to avoid catching junk. Precise values in this table should be used with caution, particularly the split between groups 1, 2 and 3. The main conclusion to be drawn is that group 2 is a lot higher than 1 and 3, particularly inland.

Comparative Data
Value US EU Total
Daily Northrend Fishing quests completed [1] 173 148 321
Daily Northrend Cooking quests completed [2] 124 107 231
Daily “Hot and Cold” quest completed [3] 75 62 137
Saronite Ore collected [4] 3682 2926 6609
Adder’s Tongue collected [5] 940 825 1765
Fish catches identified in official Toplists [6] 10869 8837 19705
..which are junk items [7] 2490 1977 4467
..which are quest items [8] 570 502 1072
..which are Pygmy Suckerfish [9] 694 542 1235
Live Realms (actual number, not 000s!) [10] 241 260 501

Numbers are total daily, in 000s, except for realms. Notes:

  1. 1 of 5 daily Northrend fishing quests is available each day per realm, so each individual named quest performed across all realms is summed to give the daily total.
  2. The (1 of 5) daily Northrend cooking quests are the second most popular quest (once summed together as a daily total).
  3. The daily quest, “Hot and Cold” is the mostly commonly completed single named quest on US realms. The quest is available each day, so is the one that tends to “top the toplist”.
  4. Saronite Ore is the most collected individual item in Azeroth. It is common to collect several units at once, so the actual number of times Saronite ore nodes are mined is considerably less.
  5. Adder’s Tongue is the most collected herb.
  6. Only the top 500 gathered items are listed in the Toplists. This means that rarely caught items, like the Sea Turtle will never appear. However, the vast majority of all catches are (obviously) common catches.
  7. Junk items are sometimes caught when an anglers’ skill is to low for an area. These are classed as “unsuccessful casts”, and not counted in the analysis.
  8. Fish that can only be caught with the appropriate quest on your log.
  9. Pygmy Suckerfish is the most common individual named fish caught.
  10. Live realms that appear on each region’s “realm status” page. For EU, this includes all language realms.
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6 thoughts on “Where We Fish”

  1. Interesting post. I do think that you overlooked a key reason for the popularity of urban fishing however: the ability to multitask. When you are away from urban areas you are away from Trade. And it quite popular to fish while you are in LFG or spamming trade chat looking for a buyer. Dalaran is especially useful from the POV because you can easily warp to any major city to complete your transaction.

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