Rory Cellan-Jones

The cost of Warcraft

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 17 Oct 08, 16:07 GMT

If you've got any bandwidth limit on your internet use, you may have bust through it this week, especially if you have a teenage son. Why? Well it could be the cost of war - or rather World of Warcraft.

I've been keeping a close eye on my bandwidth use at home because I keep breaking through my 25gb per month limit. When I signed up to my ISP I thought that would be ample, but then found that we were using as much as 1gb a day, which seemed a lot. Then on Wednesday this week we broke all records, with more than 2gb downloaded. I was away from home, my wife's surfing habits are mostly limited to reading obscure economics blogs, so the spotlight fell on our teenage son, who spends a certain amount of time online in his room in the loft.

Screenshot from World of Warcraft, BlizzardHe was quick to come clean: "I did use a lot yesterday because a big patch for a game came out," he told me. The game was World of Warcraft - and, according to a colleague who is another WoW fanatic, the patch was around 2gb and took him almost a day to download, even on his reasonably fast connection. The online multiplayer game is about to release an expansion pack, a huge event for warcrafters, and this patch is apparently essential for those gearing up for the next version.

Now I don't resent my son's gaming habit - he does do his homework in between battling orcs and he's an invaluable source of information about a subculture which is a bit of a mystery for a man of my age. Reading through the notes about the patch, I realised again just how little I understand. It promises, apparently, "a hunter pet skill revamp, new talents and spells for existing classes, and the implementation of barber shops for players."

Err, right. But it's all set me thinking about the extraordinary impact that online gaming is having, both as a business and as a user of consumer bandwidth. We hear a lot about another virtual world, Second Life, but that's more of a media phenomenon than a commercial success. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, has around 11 million subscribers paying around £9 per month to play the game. That's one very lucrative business, and something that other game franchises are seeking to emulate.

But World of Warcraft - and other online games - are also sending a lot of data back and forth across the internet, even when they are not issuing 2gb patches. How much is difficult to tell. I've just read a technical paper by Austrian scientists called "Traffic Analysis and Modeling for World of Warcraft" (pdf link), and I'm none the wiser, though I think what they're saying is those gamers use a lot of bandwidth. My ISP said they'd seen the effect on traffic of the patch, but did not know how much impact normal gaming had.

When I spoke to Neil Armstrong from another internet service provider PlusNet, he confirmed that the World of Warcraft update had certainly been a major event: "It's a very big patch... we've seen a very significant increase in traffic." And he said online gaming in general did use up quite a bit of bandwidth - around 120Mb for a four-hour session. Not as much, though, as streaming video services like the iPlayer, which Plusnet's usage monitor tells me uses 250Mb an hour.

But it's clear that together online gaming and video streaming are having a dramatic impact on the amount of bandwidth consumers use - and they are increasingly having to pay for that. Mr Armstrong told me that a couple of years ago his average customer would rarely use more than 2gb a month, whereas now that's up to around 7gb. He said a third of customers using Plusnet's 15gb a month service were now finding they needed to top up, at 75p a gigabyte, for extra bandwidth. In other words, without really noticing, we're now paying more to go on a Warcraft quest or catch up on that missed episode of Strictly Come Dancing.

In my case, it means I'm going to have to shell out to raise my 25gb service with another ISP to 50gb a month. Ah well, I suppose it's worth it as long as World of Warcraft is quite as educational an experience as my son claims. It's certainly taught me a bit more about internet economics.


  • Comment number 1.

    Oh Rory,
    you have my sympathies. In our house we reached an amicable solution. Teenage daughter does housework in order to make a contribution to upping our monthly bandwith provision. I'm just as guilty as I have a penchant for iplayer. I do wonder how long it will be before ISP s alow us a bigger monthly allowance to compensate.

  • Comment number 2.

    probably not a good time for me to explain to you the "true cost" should also include consideration of the opportunity cost of what you could do with your time and the bandwidth.

    It would certainly be a bad moment to explain to my own wife and family that I have now spent 21 days and 17 hours and 4 minutes playing on Battlefield 2142. I'd make that about 15,600 Mb of date shifted, and about 787,852,800 joules of energy burned in my home (assuming my PC averages about 420W while playing) . That is about 6 gallons of petrol if Wikipedia serves me.

    add the router, server and cable energy costs, plus the machines in everyone else's homes (let us say there are 40 people playing) and then add the lights, heat and pizza delivery energy budget and suddenly MMOs are starting to look like very non-carbon friendly passtime.

    Anyone for live action role playing? we'd be saving the planet as well as getting fitter and having fun.

  • Comment number 3.

    The patches dont happen every day. Or at least they are not 2GB every day! You may be fine with your original bandwidth for a while yet!

  • Comment number 4.

    This article is nonsense. The patch for Warcraft was indeed 2GB - but a patch of this size happens around once per year. Certainly not once per month.

    Even if it did happen once per month, that wouldn't account for the 25GB per month limit being used. The actual game, while being played, takes almost no bandwidth.

  • Comment number 5.

    My goodness.

    Hasn't anyone heard of unmetered broadband services?

    Chances are, Rory, you're a Sky subscriber. You could have their basic internet access for free.

    Or, just as I choose to do, you could upgrade for £10 per month - almost certainly less than the amount you're paying to your current supplier for metered access! - for unmetered access.

    As ever, shop around. Don't just accept the first rip-off deal from a flyer that comes through your front door.

  • Comment number 6.

    "I've just read a technical paper by Austrian scientists called "Traffic Analysis and Modeling for World of Warcraft" (pdf link), and I'm none the wiser, though I think what they're saying is those gamers use a lot of bandwidth. "

    Well you are partly wrong here. Warcraft can be run on a dial-up connection for all activities except patching. It uses very little bandwidth for regular play. Next time, try to find a source you understand, rather than quote something you clearly did not read.

    The above faq states a 56k connection as the minimum required to play the game.

    A patch of this kind happens around every 18 months, its basically a complete new version of the software. Similar to the large Windows service pack your computer may decide without asking you.

    To be honest, if you are to complain about this sort of bandwidth usage, then you would not be able to download rich media content from Itunes etc. As the web develops and better media quality becomes available, bandwidth usage is obviously going to rise.

    Software especially games, that are delivered online is a big growth area, so expect it to rise even more over the next few years.

    This is just the purchasing though. Properly programmed, an online game should use very little bandwith during actual play. This is a good read on the actual mechanics of the game World of Warcraft:

  • Comment number 7.

    When I read about MMORPGs I am eternally thankful that Sony are terrible at them.

    I was on Star Wars Galaxies for a year, during that time Sony released 2 downgrades to try and intentionally push their gamers to WOW.

    I quit soon after the second downgrade, at the time I was really angry at Sony, but now looking back it got me out of the black hole that mmorpgs are.

    I'm not saying they are not good, fun entertainment, in fact the opposite, for me living in the star wars universe was perfect. But the cost is so high and it isn't just bandwidth, fees, time. The cost for my wife was much higher.

  • Comment number 8.

    There are plenty of unmetered deals around, in fact I can't believe that with the sort of video, game and high bandwidth content that exists now that any ISP still dares to cap the usage let alone charge by the Gb. I suppose its akin to mobile phone company's charging for something as benign as a text message really, they are all out for their pound of flesh. I must say that the deal I get from my cable ISP at 20mb and unlimited usage (which actually is 20mb too) is fantastic. 58Gb so far this month and hardly had it switched on. I do watch/download a lot of BBC iplayer stuff and play Eve-Online (space MMORPG) but nothing over the top. Times are a changing and so is the infrastructure, it has to.

  • Comment number 9.

    Comments from Nimzovich, edmundmc are far more accurate than your article!

    I'm a big user of Everquest II, so is the missus, however our bandwidth for the game is next to nothing.

    There are regular small patches but nothing close to your 1gb per day...

    The fact is, the majority of the 'game world' your son is exploring is actually saved on his computer already. During play a minimal amount of data is sent back and forth that covers things like location of items (but not the data to actually display them onscreen, thats already on the computer) and event information.

    I humbly suggest you take a closer look at your own internet usage, you may be surprised to find that pdf files for inaccurate 'technical papers' can in fact be very large, a fact that is normally missed if you view them in your browser rather than download them first!

  • Comment number 10.

    Nimzovich pointed out that a patch that large happens on WoW about once a year. This is true.

    Note also that what level of graphics you play your game at will also affect your bandwidth. (And your tendency to lag in-game.)

    Now, my husband and I play not WoW but The Lord of the Rings Online, which patches every *quarter*. Its predecessor, Asheron's Call, is now in its tenth year and still patches every *month*. This does take bandwidth; it also takes time. Since I'm at home all day, I generally patch my husband's computer and my own during the day, when many players are either at work or at school and total bandwidth usage is less.

    LoTRO is also issuing an expansion pack, The Mines of Moria, on November 18. Part of the new material will be downloaded when the servers come up; part will come either from a purchased CD (which, of course, you can patch without using any bandwidth at all), or from a purchased online patch which can be downloaded but not used before the servers come up, again reducing the peak in bandwith use. This is a new practice for Turbine and we're looking forward to seeing how well it works.

  • Comment number 11.

    Moore's Law states that circuit speed should should double every 2 years, since it's inception in 1958. It's happening.

    We should expect bandwidth requirements to follow suit and prepare for it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Try, Be Broadband mate, 18 pund a month... without a doubt the best ISP i have ever had the pleaseur eof dealin with a customer service 2nd to none. plus they dont lie to ou about the speed you will atain

  • Comment number 13.

    got to laugh 120Mb for a 4 hour session!!

    There are games out there with Vast playerbases, Eve online for example, which i play and have found that only about 8Mb are used in a 4 hour session.

    For a game as large and complex (graphically) as world of warcraft where the vast majority of all the pretty graphics are stored on your computer (courtesy of all the HUGE periodic update patches) why the hell does it use so much bandwidth??

  • Comment number 14.

    I think daft bloggers who assume we want to know intimate details about their personal lives and bored surfers looking at funny dog clips on youtube should stop wasting bandwidth and let us gamers put it to good use.

    And what's this about "a bit of a mystery for a man of my age"? I think you're under the misapprehension that these games are solely for kids. Don't let the cutesy style fool you. I know retired married couples who play WoW together and I'm sure they're older than you.

  • Comment number 15.

    The basic packages offered by many ISPs need to be updated in terms of their download allowances. Think of all the people who use consoles for their internet gaming! Maybe they seem to forget that theyre using large amounts of bandwidth to play COD4 etc. Add to that the new movie download services and game download services, a download limit might be reached within days!
    The ISPs need to catch up with the growing trend for online gaming, streaming, music and movie services.

  • Comment number 16.

    Am I the only person who seems to object to paying £10 a month for what amounts to clicking on a moving object and watching it animate for you? Not including the £800 PC you need to run it smoothly, and the cost of electricity and extra bandwidth, should your budget not stretch to an unlimited bandwidth option.

    But, hey, maybe I'M the mug?!

  • Comment number 17.

    Another out of touch, middle aged journalist who thinks he can up his blog traffic by mentioning world of warcraft. Oh and how nice to include that picture from the BBC archive again.

    1st of all, yes this sort of patch is very rare.

    2nd Normal world of warcraft usages uses much less bandwidth than a game like second life

    3rd of all, why don't you do some simply investigation, install a bandwidth meter and PLAY a game, its as simple as that. Then you could report how the BBC exclusively discovered such and such.

    You cite an academic paper that isn't even about bulk bandwidth and then cite plusnet's online meter. It's hilarious.

  • Comment number 18.

    This article is so out of touch it is almost cute.

    As a current player of MMO's EVE Online, Lord of The Rings Online and a former player of World of Warcraft I can assure the author and anyone else who is interested in this subject that MMOs do not use up huge amounts of bandwidth.

    Yes their patches can be quite large but as various people above have already pointed out these large patches tend to be fairly infrequent.

    Indeed, most MMOs do their utmost to limit the amount of data that is shunted back and forth between the player and their server as more data = more lag = unplayable game.

    As others have pointed out above World of Warcraft (and I also know EVE Online is the same) can be played on a standard 56k dialup connection - which certainly won't be pushing any bandwidth limits.

    While many MMOs do have fancy graphics the processing of these graphics is done on the users PC and does not effect how much bandwidth the game is using.

    In terms of general everyday bandwidth usage the main culprits tend to be downloading/streaming music and video content.

    I work in a small office with a 25gb monthly usage limit. The only time we have ever come close to hitting this bandwidth limit was in August during the Olympics. The reason - everyone was using BBC's I-Player to watch the Olympics.

    So I would suggest Mr. Cellan Jones looks closer to home before tilting at MMOs.

  • Comment number 19.

    One final point...

    I would suggest that if you are actually using 1gb a day that a lot more is going on than mere MMO and basic internet usage...

    I think you need to spend some time investigating your son's surfing/downloading habits in a little more detail...

    The Warcraft thing sounds like a bit of an excuse to be honest.

  • Comment number 20.

    maybe not the best article , but some of the comment's and those who posted them are really not on this planet.

    1. there is no such thing as a unmetered/unrestricted connections even a large business with a big phat fibre optic pipe's will have limits, the Backbone of the internet itself has finite bandwidth abilites.

    2. cable does not have umetered/unrestricted connections they have a thing called traffic shapping which runs between 3 pm and 10pm if you have a 20mb connection your allowed 3gb in that peirod , if you bust the limit which can be done in under 30 mins in some cases they drop you down to 10mb and you go on the 10 mb connection which have it's own allowences you can spiral down under 56ks for less than the download of a full dvd in under an hour. sons xbox360 reguarly downloads demos at over 1.5gb , my daughter watches iplayer ,4od, etc i use internet based backup solutions. so i can easily cripple my internet in one evening with cable and their support will tell you to switch my router off for 12 hrs by !!.

    4. have run a gaming site for 15 yrs, i can say there are not many if any 56kers on WoW or any moderm online game .the lag causing poor net performance would make other players not want you about, even games over 10yrs old like Counterstrike players with less 128k are kicked and banned from 99% of servers as it interferes with other players performance.

    5. I would also dispute the average bandwitdh for a wow player which we calculated at 6-8gb a month for the average player(based on monitoring the WoW clients of 10 players) A POINT TO REMEMBER WoW state low figures for in game bandwidth then misses all the stuff that the client does even when not in game.

    6. Virgin are crippled by an over subscribed and under funded network, bt and other adsl suppliers are crippled by poor infrastructure between the exchanges and customer, mobile 3g/gprs do not enough bandwidth nor do they have enough coverage.

    In conclusion i would not mind so much about the current limitations of what ISP's can provide, but at leat they should be honest in their advertising and try not to kid you that you can get the whole family on the net for just £20 a month this might be possible with restrictions but imagine if the bbc started restricting how many shows you can watch in one day then hide behind fair usage policies hidden miles deep in small print.

    P/s All my downloads and bandwidth usage are legal , and the slant from isp's that heavy users are up to no good is misguided and fundamentaly wrong trying to make me feel like a criminal or greedy because i know how to properly utilise the internet and it's services is a bit luditic, and with virgin touting 50mb soon what will be the point of this connection as after 20mins of full speed use you will be capped?.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am on the free Sky Broadband subscriber and I have never hit our broadband limit.

    We use the internet for iPlayer, News websites, Forums and ofc WoW

    2gb patch might happen every 1-2 years.

    The average patch size is around 30MB sometimes it might go into a few hunderd MB.

    I play for maybe 5-6 hours a day (addicted)

    If your hitting your limited check your computer for trojans or key loggers that or other services that might be broadcasting your hard drive to unknown locations!

    That is all anyone up for Black Temple?

  • Comment number 22.

    The paper refers to the modelling of WoW traffic so that it can be used in simulations of a new generation of wireless networks. It is effectively for research purposes.

    The paper's conclusions were that WoW's median usage was 6.9kbit/sec downlink and 2.1kbit/sec uplink. As these are counted together by your ISP, let's add them to make 9kbit/sec.

    A bit is an eighth of a byte, so let's divide that figure by 8 to get how many bytes per second = 1.125kbytes/second.

    This equates to about 4 mebabytes per hour. Much less than the 120mb stated in the article.

    The data the game sends is just 'state' information, 'where are other players?', what's the state of the game? It does not usually include graphics and other high traffic information as this is stored on your PC already.

    As others have stated, the patch is an infrequent occurance - a major game update.

  • Comment number 23.

    Poor Rory ...

    Let me illuminate you on another couple of fun internet facts :)

    1) Your article and the pdf where "slashdotted". As you will probably (or already have) discover soon, when this happens, a lot of Internet savvy users flood your article with "geeky" replies. Slashdotting occurs when a link to your article is posted on a similarly named website, and a lot of users from that website come forward and post "knowledge". Also, that's wht the pdf link is not working anymore.

    2) Users from World of Warcraft do not tolerate ANY sort of discussion/critiscism of their favourite game. Hence you will notice why your article has been called a variety of names. As usual, addictions can skew your perception. I play the game, it's fun, but it's just a game. YES, it does consume quite some time, and occasionaly bandwidth. No, it's not cheap to play, but it's that expensive. And a couple of beers cost more than £9 anyway.. so what's the harm?

    3) I would have to say that 1gb per day is becoming quite common. A couple of music tracks, some videos off you tube, keeping up to date with what your friends are doing on facebook, checking those couple of mails with funny attachments, .... multiply that by the number of family members ... and don't forget that zombie PC churning out millions of spam mail per day.

    To conclude, I found your article interesting to read, with some well placed questions.

    PS: You might want to stop your son from starting any more Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). That's the type of game World of Warcraft (WOW) is. And by the way (btw), the name of the patch is Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK). ;)

  • Comment number 24.

    Poor ganniterix, feeling the need to decry people who play WoW as geeky and unlikely to have found this blog other than by another website.

    Personally, I play WoW, often for several hours a day. I probably count as an addict but to be addicted to this computer game is probably less harmful and definitely less expensive than any other addiction. The subscription cost to me is £7.69 per calendar month - less than the cost of 3 beers or the petrol I use commuting to work in 3 days. In other words, it is cheap.

    I know enough about WoW to know that the name of the patch is not Wrath of the Lich King but Echoes of Doom. WotLK is the forthcoming expansion, due on 13th November while this patch paves the way for the expansion by adjusting the talent trees (skillsets) of each playable class, adding new content behind the scenes that WotLK will make available, adjusting the graphics and, best of all, bringing in weather patterns. It now snows in Winterspring!!

  • Comment number 25.

    online gaming in general uses hardly any bandwidth.

    iplayer on the other hand uses loads!

    bring good inet to the uk please :(

  • Comment number 26.

    Sigh aardfrith.... if you had read all my post you would have found the part where I say that I play the game too.

    But thanks for proving my point.

    "Users from World of Warcraft do not tolerate ANY sort of discussion/critiscism of their favourite game"

  • Comment number 27.

    Sigh, ganniterix. Your point was unfounded. You claim to play the game but you're promoting discussion/criticism. That alone denies your claim.

    Personally, I don't mind criticism of WoW so long as it's well founded. However, if you're going to cricise it, get your facts straight. Fancy not knowing the name of the patch, for starters.

  • Comment number 28.

    Worst nerds ever.

    I have unlimited from my ISP and they have never yet hit me with any bandwidth limits or restrictions (my record is 80Gb in just over 48 hours, all of it at approaching 1MBps. I can only guess those being shaped are either with the largest in the UK, or the one that doesn't go all the way (or hasn't so far). Both have an interesting, if inaccurate, definition of the word "unlimited".

    For a technology correspondent, Rory, I'm surprised that A) you don't have an unlimited supply of the fastest available ADSL; B) something as ubiquitous (if several years ago) as WoW is "a mystery", and C) that you'd 'fess up to it.

    Anyway, WoW is pants. Crysis kicks it's lily arse.

  • Comment number 29.

    I have a 10gb connection and I'll be lucky to reach that. Not because I don't use it but that my ISP limits me to 16kbs every night between 6pm and 11ish it makes it near enough impossible to download anything bigger than a couple of meg without making me pull my hair out.
    Having trawled the internet it's the same story for a lot of people on my 'deal' and the reason garnered from customer support? They do it to so that everyone can experience the internet at a fair speed. I wouldn't have a problem with that if it were true and everyone was limited to a respectable 2 meg but they can't tell me that reducing a connection that regularly performs at 4-5mbs to 16kbs is anything but unfair. Luckily I'm not locked into any contract so I'm now shopping around and examining as much small print as my brain can possibly interpret.

    Also a few small points, when my connection dips to 16kbs World of Warcraft does indeed become unplayable. Rendering the game is one thing but when those gnomes start walking past you in strobe it's anything but fun. And although I love World of warcraft to bits nothing beats blowing up a helicopter with a biffa bin like in Crysis. I love discussing world of warcraft and critizising it's faults but they have there own forums for such textual sparring so I won't abuse Rories...


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