Measuring Economic Activity in an Online World: Challenges and Opportunities

Isaac Knowles
Indiana University

Economic activity is a universal facet of human life. In the last century, we have relied upon government agencies to generate the statistics necessary to understand how our economic world operates and changes. But these statistics do not capture the ebb and flow of the literally hundreds of virtual economies that now exist in cyberspace. The result is that a terribly important part of online cultural life is largely unobserved.

In this talk I will present initial results from an analysis of the economy of a major virtual world: the World of Warcraft. Since 2012, I have recorded a substantial portion of the economic activity in this world using an API that was introduced by the world’s publisher, Blizzard Entertainment. The goals of this project are four-fold: First, to understand the challenges of gathering and analyzing economic data in virtual environments; second, to understand the economic history of this particular environment; third, to look for relationships between fluctuations in a major virtual economy and the real economy where its players live and work; and fourth, to attempt to understand whether changes in the virtual economy correlate with other measures of player well-being, such as the general mood of the player community as evidenced on online forums. My presentation will focus on the time preceding and following a major virtual economic policy change in the World of Warcraft.

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