This article analyses the favourite fishing locations of World of Warcraft anglers. Both where and why.
The most popular single zone is the Grizzly Hills, with Azshara’s Bay of Storms and Wintergrasp in joint second place. Reasons are split into artistic (music, scenery), emotional (relaxation, memories), practical (fish caught, convenience), and social (companions, player interaction) themes. Overall, each theme has similar importance. The article discusses the apparent contardiction between desires for solitude, and to be surrounded by life.
This is the second of several topics that explore the reasons people fish in a virtual world, ultimately drawing parallels with fishing in the physical world.
Also in this series: Where We Fish – Analyses where players actually fish in WoW.
Fishing in the game World of Warcraft (WoW) is a simple process: Find some water, cast, wait for a bite, reel in. Remarkably similar to, well, fishing. Most places in the game world contain water, so the game’s anglers have a lot of choice where to fish. Everywhere is slightly different: From variations in scenery to the usefulness of the fish caught.
El’s Extreme Anglin’ (a guide to WoW fishing) invited its readers to reveal their, “favourite place (in the world of Azeroth or Outland) to go fishin’, and why.”
262 individuals posted between 22 May and 8 June 2009. A prize was offered (to one randomly selected entrant), so entrants must have been aged at least 18, and living in the United Kingdom or United States. This meant that only about half the readership were eligible to post. Individual responses can be read here. Thanks again to everyone that contributed.
WoW’s game world is divided into zones. The environment (and fish) within each zone tends to be the same, so favorite places to fish can be grouped together by zone name.
A total of 304 favorite places were identified. Some responses identified more than one favorite place – all were counted.
Overall, 51 different zones (or similar area, such as an ocean or dungeon) were mentionned. Almost every zone was the favourite of someone: A “long tail” distribution, in which the most popular 8 zones account for half (159) of all mentions, and many zones are mentionned just once or twice.
This is important because it means there is no single definitive zone design. No one place that everyone is going to love. Variety is as important as perfection.
The top 3 locations are illustrated below. Percentages are the proportion of all mentions as a favourite place:
Grizzly Hills – 12% (35 mentions)
Azshara’s Bay of Storms – 7% (22 mentions)
Wintergrasp – 7% (22 mentions)
- 6% – The Barrens and Sholazar Basin.
- 5% – Dalaran, The Frozen Sea, and Stranglethorn Vale.
- 3% – Feralas, Howling Fjord, Nagrand, Tanaris, and Zangarmarsh.
One grouping of zones is also worth comment: 5% of mentions were for cross-faction cities – fishing in a capital city belonging to the opposing (enemy player) faction. For example, a Horde player might like to fish in the Alliance city of Ironforge.
Comparison to Actual Fishing
The table below compares the top 3 favourite places to fish, with the how popular those zones are to actually fish. Actual values are described in Where We Fish.
|Zone||% Favourite||% Actual Successful Casts|
|Grizzly Hills (inland)||12%||4%|
|Azshara (Bay of Storms)||7%||1%|
The relationship between what we say we like doing, and what we actual do, isn’t terribly strong… This implies there are different reasons for selecting a favourite place, and actually fishing. The next section examines the reasons given for picking a favorite fishing location.
The reasons given in each response were broken down into the key themes – words or phrases that summarised the reason given. These words were then grouped into 4 the logical groups that emerged, listed below, and fully analysed by the remainder of this article.
|Artistic||140 (24%)||The artistic atmosphere and ambience of the place: Music, scenery, sky.|
|Emotional||179 (30%)||The personal emotions felt in the place: Commonly relaxation or solitude. Includes personal memories of the place.|
|Practical||131 (22%)||The gameplay benefit of fishing in the place: What fish are caught, and the convenience of fishing there.|
|Social||145 (24%)||The interactions between the angler and other creatures or players in the place: Creatures nearby and Player-vs-Player threat (or safety). Includes role-play.|
There were of total of 595 reasons identified. The percentages shown are the proportion of all 595 reasons. The method is based on the interpretation of words, and some themes partly overlap, so do not read to much into the precise numbers. The key conclusion is that each theme is of similar importance.
An average of 2.3 reasons per response were identified – not every type of reason was given by every respondent. This may be either because:
- some reasons are not important to certain anglers, or
- respondents only gave the first few reasons that they thought of.
This is an important distinction. Do all those themes need to be present for each player, or can environments be customised to specific sets of player? Unfortunately it is not possible to provide an answer. The fact that no one place was widely agreed to “be favorite”, suggests that variety is important – no single mix of themes will make everyone happy. And, as this quote reminds us, people do not always act in the same way all the time (quotes are all from respondents, but anonymised):
“I’m a moody bastard when it comes to fishing. Some days I enjoy standing on a picturesque log in a lush jungle setting, such as Sholazar. Other days I prefer to mess about in the sewers and fountains of Dalaran.”
Artistic themes are the visual, sound and atmospheric qualities of the place. The most common words used were: scenery, beauty and music.
It is hard to quantify exactly what form of art is desirable. But the following quote gives a clue: In spite of World of Warcraft being a low-fantasy setting, there are desires to experience a place in the game that one could also experience in the physical world:
“Grizzly Hills is my hands-down favorite area, especially the inland river area in the south. Every time I am in that spot, I always think how much I’d love to go camping there, for real! It’s so scenic and relaxing, and again, the music is wonderful. It’s a beautiful area!”
The artistic qualities of the place as seen when fishing are most important, for example:
“Nagrand, on the Elemental Plateau or any of the other places nice and high up. Gives a nice view of Nagrand which is such a beautiful zone to look at.”
The Nagrand example shows the importance of having a good view, which is often best from higher altitude. Yet gravity tends to mean that open water is found at the lowest points of each zone’s geography – anglers are fishing in valleys.
The water is similarly important. Entirely logical, since by definition, the angler spends a lot of time looking at the water. Yet most of WoW’s water looks remarkably similar. Blue and stationary.
The Undercity is an example of an exception:
“I like the sickly green glow of the water. It’s refreshing, after all that clear blue ick in the rest of the world.”
Waterfalls, visibly moving, and “steamy” water are also popular, in spite of the fact that it is often harder to hear or see the bobber splash (and so harder to catch fish). Rain, which splashes as it lands on the water, was also mentioned.
Other areas of water could be made to be far more dynamic. For example, seas could have waves or even tides, rather than being perfectly flat.
Notions of looking at the sky, the horizon, or the sunset are also often mentioned. Coastal anglers tend to look out across the water: Their field of view contains a lot of sky. One of the factors (not the only one) behind the popularity of Azshara’s Bay of Storms may be the permanent “autumnal” atmosphere of the zone – the sun always seems to be setting, regardless of the time of day. This may create completely the wrong atmosphere for most game activities (the zone is more widely disliked by players), but perhaps it suits fishing?
Emotional themes refer to the personal emotions felt. There’s a clear link from artistic themes – for example, the setting sun over open water may create a feeling of solitude. If a respondent cited “the sunset” as a reason, it is included within the Artistic theme. If they cited “solitude”, it’s here. The most common words used were: memories, relaxation, peaceful, solitude, not crowded, and quiet.
“It’s a rare part of the game that’s a calmer, simpler pleasure. It’s relaxing to just listen for the splash, then click.”
Relaxation. Calm. In some cases, a chance to “wind down from real life”.
Critically, the ability to relax within an otherwise fairly hectic game world. To take a break. To “zone out”. It’s what Scott Cuthbertson (in The Battle for Azeroth) attributed much the game’s success to: Fishing keeps players immersed in the virtual world, when they would otherwise break from the game completely.
Consequently relaxation often implies solitude. The desire to get away from it all. To have time alone.
“Solace, not piscine glory, is the real prize of fishing.”
Solitude can mean several things:
- Geographical remoteness and isolation.
- Not having to talk to anyone, including friends.
- Somewhere that is not crowded.
Several respondents cited locations that are especially well hidden, such as the Dancing Troll Village or Silithus‘ coastal village. Others simply walked out across the water to gain a sense of remoteness:
“I love running out on the water with water walking, and fishing just about anywhere. … Something about standing on the water, looking into the unfathomable depths below, the occasional shark circling beneath your feet. However what makes it even better, is setting up your cook fire on the top of the water and cooking your catch.”
Instanced dungeons provide additional levels of privacy. Not only is it technically impossible for the angler to meet another player, but they create a polite way of indicating “do not disturb” (certain communication channels, such as “guild chat”, are always available, wherever a player is):
“Nobody can come bother you. And all the guildies will see that you are inside an instance and think you’re running a lowbie through, and so they won’t ask for anything.”
The importance of the location not being crowded can be seen from the following 2 quotes. Both anglers changed their favorite locations in response to patch 3.1, which added new fishing activities to the game (including daily quests and Sea Turtles):
“I loved fishing at River’s Heart, until it became a daily, so now I prefer to fish Northeast of Drakil’jin ruins. I prefer to be alone when I’m fishing.”
“Now with the fishing dailies and turtle mount though, a lot of the places that I found serene and relaxing are overrun with everyone working on the quests/achievements – though I do find some quiet time at the Kalu’ak village (Mo’aki) and fish there.”
Memories were mentioned in a quarter of all “Emotional” reasons. Most memories relate to a player’s character history. Perhaps somewhere they caught their first rare fish. Or somewhere they met someone. But they can also relate to memories of the player’s own (non-gaming) life:
“I love to fish in Grizzly Hills, it’s so beautiful and reminds me of fishing I did in the Mountains of Colorado when I was younger.”
Practical themes are the gameplay benefit of fishing – what you catch, and how convenient it is to catch it. One might expect this to be the dominant motivation for fishing, but it is of similar importance to the other themes.
2 thirds of “Practical” reasons related directly to the fish caught.
Valuable fish, such as Fish Feast (ingredients), Glacial Salmon, or Deviate Fish, were most often cited. Along with simply “making money” and “food”. Rare catches, such as Mr. Pinchy or the Sea Turtle were also mentioned.
A more general reason given was the variety of fish caught – lots of different “interesting” catches.
The convenience of the location explains most of the remaining third of “Practical” reasons. Many convenience factors were mentioned, including: frequently respawning pools (schools of fish), ability to gather other materials in the same zone, and fishing while waiting for nearby dungeon raids to start.
Completing achievements was also mentioned, but far less often than we might expect (completing achievements is a popular activity). This probably reflects the fact that each achievement requires a player to fish in a different zone, so “completing achievements” (in general) tends not to relate to a specific zone. It is also possible that some of the anglers keen to catch specific fish wanted to catch those fish in order to complete an achievement – but they merely stated the name of the fish.
Social themes are the interactions between the angler and other creatures or players. That rarely means “chatting to friends”. It is far more likely to encompass the actions of Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and creatures, or the threat that another hostile player might attack. These are all forms social interaction.
One of the reasons for the Grizzly Hill’s popularity is its bears. These bears appear to catch fish from the river. They do not help or hinder the angler. The bears simply provide a remote form of companionship – a sense that there is something “alive” nearby.
“My favorite spot used to be in The Frozen Sea by the penguins… Pengu and I had a ball!”
Pengu is the name of a pet penguin. Bears, penguins, frogs, Scalebeard (the turtle that lives in a cave in Azshara), NPC fishermen (including the Tuskarr), and less specific references to “animals in the background” were all cited.
Other players were also mentioned as companions. Sometimes these the anglers’ friends. They chat or drink (alcohol) or just fish with them. But more often, the other players are strangers. Like animals in the background, certain places are preferred because of other players occasionally pass by. For example, in Booty Bay (Stranglethorn Vale) other players will occasionally arrive and depart on the boat to Ratchet.
And while a player might seek solitude from the friends they already have, another angler fishing in their favorite place becomes a way of finding new friends – they have something in common:
“Among many others, fishing seems to have brought me a lot closer to strangers and make some awesome friends just fishing next to someone else in my personal favored spots.”
Roleplay is only practiced by a small proportion of players. In these cases, a character’s personal lore or background can influence “their” favourite place:
“I run a small cloth shop in by the peaceful clear Stormwind Canals. I love to sit outside my shop by the water when business is low with my trusty fishing pole and a lure.”
WoW’s “world” Player-vs-Player (PvP) combat is primarily based on the threat of attack: One can play on a “PvP realm” for hours and never actually be attacked by another player. But you could be. Players that don’t enjoy this form of PvP can play on non-PvP realms, but they can engage limited amounts of PvP, if they wish.
Fishing is especially interesting, because equipping a fish pole automatically puts the player’s character at a huge disadvantage in combat. A character armed with a fishing pole will generally “die” in a PvP encounter.
Wintergrasp is popular partly because of the fish that can be caught there. But it is also a PvP-area: Even on non-PvP realms, PvP can occur in Wintergrasp. The PvP threat adds excitement and challenge to the process of fishing:
“It’s the whole likely to die thing.”
But this isn’t as simple as being threatened. If it was, Player-vs-Enemy (PvE – non-player) threats would be commonly mentioned. And they were not. Fishing with Freya was the only exception – a boss in (currently) the most dangerous dungeon in the game.
Unlike game-scripted enemies, players are inherently unpredictable. The unpredictable reaction of other players is what some anglers venture into hostile territory to seek:
“The reactions that some people have to a night elf riding on his turtle and catching fish in Orgrimmar are priceless.”
The “Alliance angler in Orgrimmar” is a fascinating psychological game:
- Every aspect of the game design and background tells other players that a Night Elf in Orgrimmar is a hostile entity.
- Yet the turtle mount (which moves at the same speed as running, and so is irrational to use) and fishing activity tell other players that this is a peaceful entity.
The majority of players conclude the entity is indeed peaceful, sometimes even waving, or fishing alongside them. A few players continue to react to the game design, and treat the angler as hostile.
The same logic applies elsewhere – fishing tends to be seen as non-hostile. A spirit almost reminiscent of events such as the 1914 Christmas truce. Groups of people that were previously instructed to kill one another, mutually decide to relax with each other:
“Imagine my surprise when I see no less than 7 people. 4 Horde and 3 Alliance, all sitting on the side of the lake, fishing. I join them, and even get a friendly wave from one of the horde. I was really moved by how different the attitudes to each other were when fishing is the focus. Peace can prosper even in a World of Warcraft.”
There is a contradiction: Anglers seem to want solitude, yet also to be surrounded “life” (companions, movement).
This might reflect different individual perspectives – one player likes solitude, another likes companionship. However, there are many responses where both reasons are given in the same paragraph, by the same player.
The concept is well documented by Parc in Alone Together. In spite of WoW being an inherently multiplayer game, players tended to spend much of their play time alone.
Nicolas Ducheneaut’s concept of “social presence” provides a specific explanation:
“The sense of being in a public social space can be attractive enough to conduct individual activities there.”
Yet fishing shows that this sense of being in a social space is so remote from friends, that the social space can consist of computer-scripted agents, not “real” people.
It’s precisely the same thought process people living in cities experience: The vast majority of the “people” that you encounter you will never know. And so long as they’re on the correct side of Masahiro Mori’s Uncanny Valley (they don’t look like a robot or zombie), we simply assume they are human. But we’ll never confirm that assumption. Never engage them as a friend.
“Dumb creatures” (like the bears fishing in the Grizzly Hills) are enough to satisfy some players. But the PvP examples hint at scope for far greater “remote” player interaction: Player reactions are far more complex, and therefore emotionally satisfying, than computer-controlled creatures. And in PvP the remoteness remains – a “hostile” player cannot also be your friend; you might not even see them again.
So while the most basic enhancement to fishing would consist of giving players a pet companion that casts a line next to them, the real desire is for similar, but brief, interaction with another unknown player.
A Perfect Place to Fish
There isn’t a perfect zone to fish in. Variety is important. But certain features tend to make an area more popular:
- Artistically, anglers need a clear view of the area around them. What they can see needs to be dynamic, changing, alive. The sky and the movement of the water itself are important.
- Relaxation implies solitude. That can mean geographic remoteness, somewhere that is simply not crowded, or isolation from chat communication. Solitude is not achieved by giving precisely the same activity to every player, so can conflict with “guided play”, such as quests.
- “Solitude” often demands a low level of “social” contact. This can take the form of nearby companion creatures, or brief contact with players an angler is not usually in contact with.
Where anglers actually fish is primarily explained by what they catch. In contrast, what an angler catches isn’t terribly important in determining a perfect place to fish – it’s only 1 of 4 equal themes. To mis-quote Henry David Thoreau:
“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”