Virtual plague spreading like wildfire in World of Warcraft
9/21/2005 4:47:00 PM, by Jeremy Reimer
Players of Blizzard's incredibly popular World of Warcraft are reporting the outbreak of a virtual plague that is spreading across major cities in the virtual land of Azeroth, infecting player characters at an alarming rate.
The trouble started when Blizzard programmers added a new instance, which is a separate area connected to the outside world that players can enter and attempt unique quests. One of these instances, Zul'Grub, contained the god of blood, Hakkar. Hakkar was a powerful foe that could cast spells of his own, including a spell called Corrupted Blood. This spell did a large amount of damage to any player within the vicinity of the casting, and the effects lingered on after the spell was over.
What happened next was something Blizzard did not expect. Some of the players who had gone into the instance emerged back into the main world of Azeroth, and started spreading the Corrupted Blood disease to others who they came into close contact with. The infection soon spread into many of the cities and towns in the virtual world. Since the disease was intended to be a danger to powerful players, it tended to kill those less than level 50 almost instantly.
Game masters (GMs) tried to quarantine certain players from moving into new areas, but they kept escaping the quarantine and moving on to infect other people. A patch was issued to try and mitigate the damage, but it did not have the desired effect. According to a Blizzard poster on the WoW forums:
"It appears that the hotfix remedy concocted to combat the recent Azerothian outbreak has not yielded desired results. At this time, our medical staff is continuing to develop an effective cure. We look forward to ensuring the health and vitality of the citizens of Azeroth in the near future."
The most interesting thing about this "outbreak" is perhaps the reaction it has provoked among WoW players. Instead of being angry about the deleterious effects of a bug, many are treating this as an exciting and unprecedented event in the WoW universe. It would be even more interesting if epidemiologists in the real world found that this event was worthy of studying as a kind of controlled experiment in disease propagation.