The Aspatial Economics of Virtual Worlds

Edward Heath Robinson
The Journal of Virtual Worlds 2014 7(1): pp. 1–21
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This article compares and contrasts the economic geography of the physical world with that of virtual worlds, with an analytical focus on the spatial (and aspatial) characteristics of Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo II (released in 2000) and its massively multiplayer online roleplaying game World of Warcraft (released in 2004). The purpose of this article is to show that although virtual worlds are not immune to aspatial economic laws, geographic constraints on economic interaction in virtual worlds are optional inclusions. Virtual world designers can manage the inclusion, disinclusion, and degree of emphasis on space and place in order to carefully craft a specific user experience. Hence, even though virtual worlds may provide the illusion of operating in a spatially bounded environment, the underlying mechanics of the world may not have spatial constraints. Nevertheless, the article concludes that there still remains a role for geographic analysis in virtual worlds, especially because, though space may be deemphasized, virtual world designers still may go to great effort to emphasize place to create the users’ experiences. Further, the study of the economics of virtual worlds may provide insight into possible future economic situations of the physical world as increasingly more physical goods become digital.