Life of Warcraft

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Nov 25, 2009

Filed under: Video Games 40 comments

Yesterday John Funk asked what the world would be like without WoW. I think the following is an amusing (if impertinent) answer to that:

Assume 15 million subscribers.

Assume they play an average of 100 hours. (Which is probably low.)

That’s 1,500,000,000 (1.5 billion) hours of Warcraft.

Which is 62,500,000 days.

Which is 171,233 years.

Which is 2,195 lifetimes, using the current life expectancy of 78.

Over two thousand lifetimes of gameplay.

Of course, this is based on the assumption that players will clock an average of 100 hours. Sure, there are people with weeks and even months of in-game time clocked, but there will also be some with just a couple of hours.

Without any way of breaking it down, the “100 hours” is nothing more than an extremely conservative guess. I’ve Google’d about and I couldn’t find any solid numbers. (Which isn’t surprising, since it’s not the sort of thing Blizzard is likely to proclaim / admit.)

Exercise: How could we go about coming up with a better “hours played” estimate? Is it possible to look at the player dB, get a count of total characters / levels, and do the math from there?


From The Archives:

40 thoughts on “Life of Warcraft

  1. LazerFX says:

    I don’t know, but my in-game /played total across all chars (excluding ones deleted) is 70d 12h 07m… at the moment, and ticking up as I write ;)

    That’s nothing to the old MUD days though… I had over a year online time on the Discworld.

  2. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus, do you count Gold farmers? Do you count Bots?

    These might work 24/7, giving a positive skewness to your hour-distribution.

    You might also want to take out those with a free trial and abandonned it. These aren’t really worth considering, except if someone is using trials over and over.. but I doubt it.

    (Same thing if you wanted to evaluate the average # of hour each player of Dwarf Fortress played. You should take out the cowards who abandon after 5 minutes, otherwise 90% of your distribution will be in the 0-10 minutes)

  3. Rhykker says:

    If you look at the xfire statistics (and only a portion of WoW gamers use xfire)…

    An average of 250,000 hours are played daily, divided by ~55,000 WoW xfire users playing per day, which comes to an average of 4.5 hours per day per person playing.

    Scanning my xfire list, friends have played WoW for:
    ~5000 hours
    ~4500 hours
    ~2000 hours
    ~1000 hours
    ~1000 hours

    The numbers then start to drop off rapidly, but many people I know who play WoW and have xfire don’t always have xfire running while playing WoW, so their hours aren’t logged.

    Furthermore, WoW has been xfire’s #1 game for ~1500 days, or 4 years, so I think it’s safe to assume that these statistics have been relatively constant throughout time.

    So 250,000 hours played daily multiplied by 365 days a year multiplied by 4 years… 365,000,000 hours. And again, that’s only counting the xfire users, which consist of a tiny fraction of the overall WoW community, and does not factor in the huge player spikes such as when expansion packs are released.

    I must admit, though, that those who use xfire regularly are likely to be more of the “hardcore” gaming type than the “casual” gaming type, so they would likely log more hours.

  4. Aziz Poonawalla says:

    Extrapolating conservatively, I’d argue that every level requires an hour of gameplay. Of course it takes some people longer because they are doing things like AH or the seasonal quests or battlegrounds, so lets also assume conservatively that every 100g is another hour of gameplay. We are still undercounting (but the averages are pulled down by low level players who outnumber the high level players. low lvl toons take longer to accumulate levels and gold, but high lvl toons are online longer.)

    I assume in fact that the amount of time spent playing is a Zipf distribution where the high end is the lvl 80 toons. We can get pretty quantitative here if we wanted to by estimating the gold/hour and levels/hour rate for lvl 80s and integrating with a Zipfian distribution in mind (or a Taylor series expansion with the first four or five terms, etc).

    At any rate, we could probably get a pretty decent estimate by tallying all the levels of all toons in the world and tallying all the gold in the WoW economy as well, and then feeding that into the model. If we can get those numbers as a distribution over player level that would make it even more robust.

  5. Kellandros says:

    Problem with finding total playtime for individual characters on servers is that loses deleted characters(which includes deleted accounts and deleted alt’s).

    Instead of working off of total playtime, why not estimate time played per time unit?

    Assume 10 hours played per week. One hour a night, plus slightly more on weekends. That should be pretty conservative; only really casual players will be under that.

    – 10 hours a week
    – 520 hours a year
    – 21.667 days per year

    To work backwards to amount of time spent over the past 5 years needs several other estimates.

    The number of players at the start of WOW is of course much fewer. I’m going to assume the player count can be treated as an increasing sequence to be summed [(n*(n+1))/2]; so we can pair off the earliest days against the latest days. Second going to assume that the number of players has been increasing faster more recently(expansions, game design changes to reduce annoyances and make leveling faster). So going to assume the lifetime average player base is about 1/4 of the current total(4 million).

    108.33 days played = 21.667 days/year * 5 years
    433 million days = 108.33 * 4 million assumed players
    1.18 million years

  6. Henebry says:

    Is WoW, then, the opiate of the masses?

    And if so, what’s the sinister link between Blizzard and the Papacy?

    1. Shamus says:

      Henebry: I think that it would be more correct to call WoW the Leading Opiate of the Masses.

      They should put that in their advertising.

  7. Josh says:

    So the moral of the story is: World Of Warcraft has effectively killed over two thousand people?

  8. arnold says:

    There was a time when I played too much WoW. It was an awful lot of fun–however, for me it was primarily a method to play with friends who lived in other states when we moved… Eventually, we stopped playing.
    Though we did log a lot of hours, it was a whole lot more fun, and IMHO more productive than if I had spent the same amount of time watching TV…

    But isn’t that how life is? We only have a limited amount of time to use, and we should ask ourself each day: “Am I using my time wisely?”
    If you enjoy video games, be it WoW or another, and it is a fun diversion/relaxation/help you wind down after a long day at work/whatever, then I don’t think it is a problem if you game. However, once it stops being a fun diversion, and you loose your life to it (think World of Warcrack) then I think it does become a problem. Would life without WoW be better? I don’t know. I think that people would find other ways to spend their time. Better or worse ways? That isn’t up to me to decide; each of us needs to figure that out for themselves. And that is a part of life.
    (edit for clarity)

  9. Dan says:

    You might be better off checking it against the national unemployment rate.

    Then measure it in man-wowrs.

    Thank you. I’ll be here all knight.

  10. Macil says:

    Sure, if I had designed the game, I would have a few fields for every player (on the account, that counted for each character, existing or existed, as well as all combined) that would record time-played only when the player was interacting with the character (pressing keys), with some sort of idle cutoff set at like a minute or two (reset whenever a key was pressed).

    I’m terrible at math, but I think you could query such a field and get a reasonable estimate of total-play time for every player. Bots/farmers/cheaters might skew the values, but hopefully #1. these accounts are deleted quickly, #2. you could adjust the final values to account for them.

    You could have further fields that break down the times by like — uninterrupted segments (active play time is dumped into another field at logout), a graph of the times of day you play, time-played by region, etc. I’d almost be surprised if Blizzard doesn’t have something like this for their own internal use.

  11. Carra says:

    I must be at ~5000 hours. I count for fifty!

    I can imagine why Blizzard would not want these numbers published. Who would want to play a game that has people playing six hours a day?

    As for getting an estimate? Hold a poll. It’s not perfect either of course because most people who will vote will be “hardcore” gamers which would inflate the numbers.

  12. UtopiaV1 says:

    “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” – George Orwell’s ‘1984’

    Thankyou Blizzard, for making fiction a reality.

  13. Macil says:


    They should really file 1984 in the Horror section. That was the scariest book I’ve ever read in my life.

  14. Audacity says:

    The real question is, what is Blizzard doing with all that siphoned life energy? Preparing to raise an army of undead, that’s what. But they wont get me, no sir, I’m too smart for ’em.

  15. Scott says:


    So the moral of the story is: World Of Warcraft has effectively killed over two thousand people?


  16. Tuck says:

    That's nothing to the old MUD days though… I had over a year online time on the Discworld.

    So why aren’t you playing now? Get back online, the MUD always needs more players!

    I’ve been telling Shamus to get on the Discworld MUD for ages…I don’t think he’s interested. :(

    Who would want to play a game that has people playing six hours a day?

    I play one that has people player 14+ hours a day. It’s great! :D

  17. Kyle says:

    For what it’s worth, I personally began playing WoW on September 1st, coinciding with me beginning school again. (I switched out of a gifted program, which was a mistake on my part, but that’s another story).

    The point is, I have a lot of spare time.

    Anyway, so in about 3 months, I have accumulated 11 days of /played time on my main character.

    I do afk a lot, but still. 11 days times 24 hours is 264 hours, so more than double your amount.

    My main is level 74.. Time to get it up to level 80!


  18. bkw says:

    Wow. According to Altoholic, I have 520 days, 14 hours spread across the characters I still have.


    To be fair, I’ve had wow running in a window on the side while I’ve been programming, and almost all of my leveling time was spent dual-boxed, so it’s not /all/ active game play time.

    Most of it is, tho. :[

    Disclaimer: I’ve been playing since launch, and I still maintain a family of four. Honest!

    I used to MUD during college, too (Copper ][ Diku, and was an imp in the original Sojourn). If GUIMMOs were around when I was in college, I doubt I’d’ve graduated …

  19. Sheer_FALACY says:

    I know I hit something like 80 days /played… on two different characters. Yeah, a bit much.

    On a completely unrelated note, Steam is having some interesting sales. Batman for $25 (helluva deal) and Dragon Age for $37.50 (quarter off, probably anyone who’d get it at that price already bought it…). And, y’know, some other deals. They end today, in theory, which is funny because the sale has a countdown timer which says 42 hours left – longest day ever!

  20. SkeevetI says:

    If you will recall Shamus, my old roommate had a solid year of in game play time. Granted he started playing at the launch of the game but that is still a serious amount of time. The sad thing is is that i know there has to be someone out there with waaaay more than that

  21. Melf_Himself says:

    “Over two thousand lifetimes of gameplay.”

    Let us consider though that the lifetime of your average WoW addict is perhaps not as potentially productive as the lifetime of an average member of the population.

    In other words, chances of them inventing a cure for cancer instead of playing WoW: slim.

  22. 1d30 says:

    I’d like to see how much time was spent by WoW players in total emoting while naked.

    How much value in goods was taken as loot for greed vs. need.

    How many iterations of each monster have been slain charted by country of the player’s IP address.

  23. tussock says:

    People only labour about an eighth of their life (40 hour week for 40 years), so it’s more like the equivalent to seventeen and a half thousand working lives.

    Which is a pretty small town, really, a remote rural service centre or something. But squeezed into just five years it’d be a quarter of a million people’s mean lifetime working output, or 0.005% of the world’s useful activity.

    So, if it was a thousand times as big (everyone on earth playing 200 hours average), it might be worthy of historical interest.

  24. wererogue says:

    Cor, all that wasted time that could have been spent watching T.V.

  25. Vadimirin says:

    At the time I left I think my playtime on my one level 70 was just under 1 month. My total playtime was only around 2 months, and that was across a lvl 70 Hunter, lvl 45 Mage, lvl 35 Druid, and a handful of alts I couldn’t have played more than 10 hours on each.

    That means for each level 70+ there’s probably a month of gameplay put into it, but that will vary since I was a really crappy hunter for a LONG stretch of time I was playing him.

  26. Tuck says:

    Here’s the numbers from the finger info of a couple of current players on the Discworld MUD:

    First logged on Fri May 23 21:09:53 2008.
    195 days, 23 hours, 29 minutes and 8 seconds old.

    First logged on Sat Aug 25 07:08:16 2007.
    348 days, 1 hour, 9 minutes and 21 seconds old.

    My own (main) character:
    First logged on Tue Nov 25 08:42:08 2003.
    276 days, 2 hours, 2 minutes and 49 seconds old.

  27. Falco Rusticula says:

    I don’t have log data for all my characters, but here’s a pretty safe way to work it out:
    Assume I play one hour per day. (I have fixed time slots. On a weekday, it’s one and a half hours on the computer; at the weekend, it’s three. Allowing for times I’m online but don’t play, or for when I’m on holiday/at uni, it averages at one.)
    I have been playing for approximately one year and two months. Maybe three months, but let’s play safe and go with two.
    365+31+30= 426 hours logged over all characters. Sounds reasonable.

    Then realise that I’m a fairly casual player. Hardcore people with steady computer access are likely to have logged at least twice that. People who’ve been playing since Classic? Raiders? Roleplayers? A lot of WoW’s player base now is made up of people who’ve been there for a while, rather than new blood. (You *get* new blood, but it’s small compared to the long-timers.) Those people could easily have a couple of thousand hours logged.

    What does that mean? I don’t have a clue.

  28. Wouter says:

    Maybe you can look at “average number of months active” and multiply it by “average hours per month”. Both seem easier to obtain than getting the number out of the blue.

  29. Helm says:

    I logged about 2hrs in a free trial before I thought “I really don’t like this game” If that helps

  30. Andrew B says:

    Just a minor quibble, but I’m pretty sure the WOW advertising says “Over 11 million people have experienced [the game]…”. I can’t help but think that if they had 15 million actual subscribers they’d use that number. Over 11 million have experienced implies that eleven million and one people have played it at some point. If they were current players, you’d say “subscribers”. If there were 15 million of them, you’d damn well SAY 15 million.

    As for when it ends, well, when there is such a significant technological shift as to render the current platform outdated I suspect. Possibly when someone cracks the getting the whole population on one server/world problem.

  31. Mayhem says:

    Well, Altoholic gives me a figure of roughly 228 days played across all my toons.
    That works out to be over 5000 hours. Seven and a half MONTHS of in game time. I knew there was a reason I didn’t like to look at it.

    A number of people in my guild are in excess of 300 days, and none of us are currently hardcore raiders. On the other hand, all of us have been at some point. Certainly WoW pre the burning crusade expansion was a heck of a time sink – I’d regularly spend 40 hours a week working and 50 hours in game raiding. These days it is much more accessible, the longest raid dungeon can be comfortably completed over two evenings, instead of a week!

  32. Tigeriffic says:

    I’ve got two 70+ characters and two 60+; I’ve stopped playing so I can’t check my total time, but from what I can remember it’s something like 50-60 days total with all alts. (I’ve repeatedly started playing, got my main to the cap, wandered around aimlessly or pvp:ed for a couple of weeks and then quit the game again. I don’t like raiding.) I’ve been playing on and off since launch.

  33. Nalano says:

    I have no alts to speak of, but my eponymous main has clocked 215 days, 21 hours, 56 minutes, 12 seconds and counting. That’s almost 5182 hours.

    That includes play over the past four years, with a year’s hiatus. But then I was one of those “hardcore” types that raided nightly like a second shifter.

  34. krellen says:

    I’d wager WoW’s responsible for at least as much death as Willamette, Colorado.

  35. Sam Goodspeed says:

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  36. David V.S. says:

    How about money?

    There is now a fairly stable conversion rate from WoW gold to dollars.

    How much WoW gold is in existence? What is it’s dollar value?

    How does the wealth in WoW compare to the US GDP? The wealth of the Roman Empire?

    Keep in mind Blizzard owns all of this: the user agreement is quite explicit that they own your virtual wealth. It’s certainly not a very liquid form of wealth but it is entertainingly huge and measurable in dollars.

  37. Gavin Clifton says:

    Should compare it to the amount of hours spent reading by the general population. I bet the clocked up hours of people with their head in a book is much higher but no one ever seems to see that as a bad thing.

  38. Elethiomel says:

    It is very difficult to extrapolate. You can’t extrapolate from number of existing characters and levels, because of the numerous hours potentially spent stuck at 60, 70, and now 80 for a bunch of the higher level toons, plus toons below level 10 (and deleted accounts) don’t show on the armory.

    On RP servers some toons are perpetually stuck at an arbitrary level, logging hour after hour cybering in Goldshire.

    You can’t extrapolate from the amount of gold in the bank, because gold gets spent. Repairs, Rep rewards, money sinks like flight training, the mammoth and the motorcycle… gold enters the economy over time, sure, but gold also leaves the economy through these channels; there may be an accumulation-over-time effect but if so it is extremely slow over the whole population.

    Any poll would be biased one way or another, unless it was of random account-holders, and if you can get access to a list of random (truly random amongst all who hold an account) account-holders you probably have access to the /played information as well; in other words, this would be very hard to do.

    I agree that 100 hours is a very conservative estimate for the average time played total by a player; while a lot of players just put in a few hours and leave the game, anyone who levels a toon steadily and is exploring their way through the game will spend at least 100 hours getting to max level for the first time.

    It’s an immensely popular game that’s designed to reward continued play. 2000 lifetimes of play is a lot, but it’s spread across the whole of the world.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.