Nation of Adoration

World of Warcraft’s seasonal holiday events temporarily reduce player interest in fishing. It’s always been the case, but the decline in fishing seems to be becoming more extreme over time:

Decline in Fishing Activity due to Holiday Events

The graph’s y-axis is the percentage decline in page views at El’s Extreme Anglin’ from the 7 days before each event, to the first 7 days of the event. Pageviews are a good proxy for overall angler interest. El generates hundreds of thousands of page views each week, so even small changes are significant. The x-axis orders events by date, from January 2008. The axis isn’t scaled correctly to show time, but holidays are fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. Events are shown by green dots, with a shortened date (month and year) and the name of the event.

The data is expressed as a percentage of the previous week, because while interest in fishing “waxes and wains” from year-to-year, changes week-to-week are normally minor.

All the events included last at least 7 days. Where one holiday runs concurrently with another event (for example, the “Lunar Festival” and “Love is in the Air” often clash), only the first event in the sequence is included. Interest in fishing also changes dramatically in the month new content is added, so events that clash with major fishing patches have been excluded (Noblegarden 2008 with patch 2.4, Hallow’s End 2008 with patch 3.0.2, and Noblegarden/Children’s Week 2009 with patch 3.1). Winter Veil is also excluded: The period leading to Christmas is particularly unusual – first students stop studying and have a lot of time to play, and then many players stop playing to spend time with family. This causes large changes in activity from week-to-week, which makes it hard to isolate Winter Veil in the data.

Only 12 separate sets of data can be compared. There is one out-lier – Midsummer 2008 – perhaps the early stages of Wrath of the Lich King testing may have caused a small traffic spike in the week before? The pattern shown on the graph is not certain. But I’m growing confident that events are increasingly impacting on fishing activity.

But why?

Explaining the Trend

Fishing is a solo activity that doesn’t change from week to week. So if a player becomes busy because they are involved in special holiday activities, fishing is likely to be one of the easiest thing not to do: It can “wait till next week”. It does not break any group commitments, such as raiding dungeons as a party of players.

Yet that doesn’t explain why holiday events appear to be having an ever-greater impact.

I expected to find a dramatic shift following the introduction of achievements, towards the end of 2008. These added new incentives for players to complete holiday activities. Yet the trend continues for 2 years, achievements or not.

Holiday events are sometimes improved, but the pace of improvements is very slow. They could not explain the trend because the majority of holidays have not been changed in the last 2 years. Similarly, fishing has undergone changes over the last 2 years, especially around the middle of the period shown on the graph. But none of those changes explain the event-decline trend seen.

A possibility is that players are simply becoming more focused on whatever “is new”. That pattern is apparent in “the Warcraft media” (primarily news websites), which increasingly obsess over the slightest change, often months before the change is playable. Part of a collective “addiction to previewing the future“.

Perhaps holidays are becoming more popular because a broader range of players are finding them appealing?

Appeal of Holidays

Holiday activities tend to be fairly easy to complete. There are some exceptions, but generally these events are accessible to a broad range of players, which is not true for all WoW‘s activities. It would be easy to conclude that these events have become more popular over time, because of a general “dumbing down” in the average level of player skill.

Perhaps the average amount of time players play World of Warcraft is declining? Players would now be busier people than players in past, so to complete event activities they have to commit a higher proportion of their playtime, so are more likely to not go fishing.

Holidays tend to fairly social events. From sitting around a Romantic Picnic Basket, to sharing food, or placing “bunny-ears” on passing gnomes (to make them look even cuter). So perhaps the trend reflects greater social activity within the game?

The themes of holiday events mirror physical world festivals. From the Chinese New Year (“Lunar Festival”) through to Christmas (“Winter Veil”). So perhaps the trend reflects a greater desire for a connection back to the physical world? Diluting immersion in the virtual.