Prof Gets $100,000 Grant to Study World of Warcraft

Forget the infamous $600 toilet seat. When it comes to tax dollar expenditures that might raise an eyebrow, how does $100,000 to research how Americans play World of Warcraft sound?

As reported by the Orange County Register, Prof. Bonnie Nardi (left) of the University of California Irvine, received the $100K grant from the National Science Foundation for the project. At issue: why American players go to greater lengths to mod the popular MMO than do Chinese WoW players.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Said Nardi, not surprisingly a WoW player herself:

We are examining the many reasons for this disparity, including cultural and institutional factors. The vast majority of Chinese players are not ‘gold farmers’… They’re ordinary players like anyone. The media has blown that story out of all proportion. Many people think Chinese play for a job. They play for fun…


[The] Chinese have invented some interesting ways to play with the in-game economy… Ways that I have not observed here in two years of studying ‘World of Warcraft.’ Chinese players are more attuned to the aesthetics of the game… They talked more about color schemes, animations, architecture, and so on more than American players…


Here and in Europe and Australia/New Zealand people play with parents and event grandparents. Not in China. The older generation dislikes video games. People here play with brothers and sisters. But in China people don’t have brothers and sisters for the most part, so friend relationships are very important.

GP: Okay, so I’m trying to imagine the budget request for this grant:

  • WoW – $19.99
  • Burning Crusade Expansion – $29.99
  • Pre-order Lich King Expansion – $39.99
  • Hot Alienware PC – $3,000.00
  • Strategy guide – $24.99
  • 12 month WoW subscription – $180.00
  • Power leveling service – $250.00
  • Ample supply of black market WoW gold – $1,000.00
  • TOTAL: $4,544.96

So… the rest is going for pizza and energy drinks?

I’m having a larf at Prof. Nardi’s expense here, of course, but her research does sound interesting. Maybe not $100K worth of tax dollars interesting, but interesting all the same…

Via: Chronicle of Higher Education 

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  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s pathetic that the gov’t is bailing out private companies, but misappropriating money is bad regardless of how much it is.  Should we not get upset at someone who murders one person since there are serial killers out there?

    Regarding the OP, it may not be a unreasonable grant amount for what she proposes to do, but I don’t think it’s worth the expenditure (Would you pay thousands of dollars yourself to find out?  Why should the American people?) nor is it part of the government’s job.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Why do you think this kind of research isn’t going to help your children? As you say, WoW and other forms of online interaction take a huge amount of people’s time. So isn’t it necessary to understand why it’s so attractive and how it works, so we as a society can assess whether it’s beneficial or harmful, and design computer software that is more likely to be beneficial than not?

    Society needs information to make good decisions about technology, and the people in universities are the only people who can do this without a profit motive distorting their findings.

    And BTW… this professor teaches at the University of California, Irvine… a STATE university… and a research university with a science focus, hardly a liberal arts school. They are as much sponsors of her research as NSF, and in fact as detailed in other posts, will get a big chunk of her funding for the education of California college students.

  3. Am I the only one that thinks that this is insane? With the issues that are going on in the American economy right now and all the legitimate problems in the world, I am appalled to discover that the United States Government has given this individual $100,000 to study this!

    What is the beneficial value? What is the practical use of such information? Why not throw that money into solving one of the many real-world problems that this country is presently facing?

  4. Another UCI Student says:

    You guys really should at least do a bit of research on who she is before you slam her.  I’ve had a class with Prof Nardi before and she truly is doing quality studies on the social ecology of games such as wow works.  Another Professor here at UC Irvine is doing research on Second Life as well.  Both of these professors frequently are able to twist the course projects and all to gather basic information as to how to map and plan out their research. 

    And for the record, it is safe to say that Leeroy Jenkins (yes that video) has had a hand in her interest in wow.

  5. Anonymous says:

    $100K is a small grant. Depending on how she plans to conduct her research, there are all kinds of costs that can quickly add up, including fees that go to the school.

    As for the WHY, I can think of a lot of good reasons to do this kind of research. Millions of people of different backgrounds play it, for seemingly different reasons and with seemingly different results. From a pure business standpoint, she may come up with insights that help other companies design their games to have more global appeal. A $100,000 investment in a billion-dollar+ industry is a drop in the bucket.

  6. Anonymous says:

    lmfao! you got to be kidding!! wasting 100k on researching a video game? this chick has to be off her rocker…or totally addicted to the game. so much so, she convinced some high ups to pay her to play!! sure 100k isnt alot now-a-days….but c’mon, there HAS to be something better to spend that money on. like health care? maybe someschool stuff? that grant is just out right stupid and no valuable information can come from it… oh wait…playing WoW is a possible cure for aids? what a total waste of time and money. get a life "Proffessor" Bonnie. rofl pathitic

  7. Mira says:

    What’s sad is idiots like the poster who don’t understand research and research funding.  There’s a lot of valuable research to be done by studying one of the most popular forms of interactive entertainment on the planet. 

  8. Circus Boy says:

    The real question is why would someone give a grant to have a video game researched?  What major impact is this going to have on society?  Being a gamer myself…we all have to realize WoW is just a fad.  Granted…a fad that has been around for a few years, and will probably be around for a few more.  But like all other video games…it will be replaced.  Look at games like Everquest, Phantasy Star, Final Fantasy Online, and even Ultima Online!  They were all once great in their hayday, but people barely talk about them anymore except for the hardcore fanboys.  In a few years when we all have moved on from WoW onto the next great MMORPG…will all of this spent money have been worth it?

  9. Scretchen lvl 70 mage says:

    This is a totally absurd waste of my tax money and I am sure it is not the most outlandish, worthless study that only fools in liberal arts colleges can ponder on over an expensive, oversized cup of coffee.  This is a yet another example of why the federal government needs to stay the hell out of the education system.  Education should be dealt with at a state level.  Yes, I’m a hateful Libertaian.  WOW is one of the most addictive games of all time and it is no wonder a liberal arts college professor has boldly turned all of her wasted spare time pew-pew’ing NPC’s into a big tax money payday.  What a scam.  Thanks for ripping me off, I thought I was paying for something that would actually help my children at some point in their lives and not professor’s WoW addiction.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Why is this site being such a troll about this? It’s an interesting aspect of modern sociology, of course it should be studied. I can think of a lot worse things to spend a $100k research grant on.

  11. Poo says:


    Seems with all those multiple accounts and playing all day… the only thing that comes to mind is "multi-boxing the arena"…. 🙂

  12. Doug Holton says:

    Like others mentioned, the university will get 45-50% of that money, and the 50K left is nothing.  It will basically support 1 grad student to work on this, plus some travel money or something like that.

    Bonnie Nardi is an esteemed researcher in the fields of HCI (human computer interaction) and CSCW (computer support for collaborative work).  I would say that the overarching goals of the research are to study creativity in an online setting, and to look at how businesses can learn from online multiplayer games, since people willingly and without pay spends hours a day doing "work" in these games.

    From the proposal:

    "Can these principles be translated to other environments such as work, or does the very context of "play" have inherent qualities that cannot be easily translated?"


  13. Anonymous says:

    Yesterday, the federal government offered insurance giant AIG an $85 billion loan…and your bitching about 100K ?

  14. Ace ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I’d think she’d just multibox five characters, would explain the amount of cash required. Alternatively she could set up 5 different computers so she can hire a full group to investigate WoW with.

    Fun stuff, hope she finds something worth a damn.

  15. Xlorep DarkHelm says:

    My post was, y’know, in response to the snarky side comment GP made. However, since you didn’t bother to pay attention to it, for the sake of argument, let’s copy it down here:

    GP: Okay, so I’m trying to imagine the budget request for this grant:

    • WoW – $19.99
    • Burning Crusade Expansion – $29.99
    • Pre-order Lich King Expansion – $39.99
    • Hot Alienware PC – $3,000.00
    • Strategy guide – $24.99
    • 12 month WoW subscription – $180.00
    • Power leveling service – $250.00
    • Ample supply of black market WoW gold – $1,000.00
    • TOTAL: $4,544.96

    So… the rest is going for pizza and energy drinks?


    So I tacked on something else, specifically, to the last little thing GP put in the article. How Dare I Make a Comment Tied To The Article! FOR SHAME!

    Take your self-righteous attitude elsewhere please, thank you. I was not saying, commenting, or otherwise in any way making any kind of statement about Dr. Nardi’s research. It was strictly a joke comment to add to GP’s little fun & humor.

    "I’m not responcabel fer my comuter’s spleling errnors." — Xlorep DarkHelm

  16. ZacharyMiner says:

    I’m pretty sure it was a joke. 

    As someone who is in an academic environment (and who’s done some MMORPG research before), $100,000 seems like it could be a fairly reasonable amount, depending on her budget. She could easily be using some of that money to "buy out" her time as a professor, so that she doesn’t have to teach classes at the same time that she’s doing hardcore research. That’s pretty common at big universities. So, I agree with earlier posters that people should look into what that money is actually buying before they rip into her too badly.

  17. Sean Duncan says:

    Dr. Nardi’s got multiple level 70s characters.

    Again, this was a ridiculous post that could have been, y’know, actually researched a little before slamming her work?  Just a thought.

  18. Xlorep DarkHelm says:

    Don’t forget the complete restarts she’d be forced to do once any powerleveling service and/or gold purchases are identified and the account gets massive bans from ol’ Blizzard.

    "I’m not responcabel fer my comuter’s spleling errnors." — Xlorep DarkHelm

  19. A UCI Student says:

    I’m quite sad to see this article seeming lampooning Prof. Nardi’s field of research. I’m a UCI student and I’ve met Nardi in person on several occasions in some of my lectures. She’s actually been studying WoW for quite some time already, and is genuinely fascinated with how people interact via WoW and games like it. After all, she works in Informatics, which is a branch of computer science that specializes in the study of human/machine interaction.

    However, I’m not quite sure what to think of the 100k grant. I’m pretty ignorant of the sort of costs research projects (especially tech-oriented social ones) pick up.

  20. Kate Reay says:

    The US government — at least, most of the branches I submit grants to — recognizes that successful grant proposals (ones awarded money) are considered public information, and therefore can be released to whomever requests. So finding out the rest of the budgetary details may be no more than an FOIA away.

    Anyway, the budget will include (1) indirect costs to the University, generally 20% to 30% (2) some percentage of the PI’s salary and benefits (which usually come in at 30%+ of the salary) (3) funds for graduate assistant (which may or may not include benefits) and (4) supplies as suggested in the article; and may include a mandatory line item for travel funds if the NSF is one of those organizations that insists all important people must come to Washington for an orientation — although since this is Nardi’s fourth NSF grant, she may be off the hook for that. The abstract suggests that there’s going to be some heavy survey work, so that sort of number-crunching costs something; and there’s going to be an analysis component, which generally run 10% to 20% of the award (the NSF has no required minimum or maximum for evaluation costs).

    And, finally, according to the NSF award notice (, she actually got $100,007. The notice also includes her email in the event that you want to go straight to the source for a copy of the budget.

    What I really find interesting in the abstract is the statement that she intends to study modding as "an act of creative collaboration." Meaning, I presume, that mod developers are in the habit of kicking around ideas with each other and coding by committee. So — they’re using an open-source framework, yes? Huh. You know, I may actually see if I can get a copy of the grant proposal myself — the more I think about it, the more I wonder what she’s looking at.

    Okay. It’s defined as a small project (under $500,000) in the Human-Centered Computing program area, no cost-sharing, no indirect limit, so it’ll have one to two investigators, and at least one student/post-doc. No mandatory travel. Applicant may request that salary data not be released outside the federal government….

    Sorry. I’m geeking. I’ll go away now.

  21. Sean Duncan says:

    This is the most embarassing GamePolitics post I’ve seen in ages.  For a site that prides itself on generally being clueful about how and why academics study games (and the political implications of such activities), this post is simply… stupid and naive?  I won’t reiterate all the points previous comments made about the realities of doing research at Universities, as well as the cuts taken by academic institutions; I’m frankly still shocked at how crappy of a post this is for what’s usually a really informative and well-reasoned blog.

  22. mark_n_b says:

    This is likely a study of cultural disparagy in high tech recreation.  There are plenty of practical applications for software developers in creating products for the global market if this study results in diffinitive results. And that’s just one potential reason for a study like this.

    There is considerable bias showing in this article, which might be acceptable if it weren’t such an uninformed opinion.  I can think of a million valid reasons to be against a grant like this, because you don’t know how the money would be spent is not one of those million valid reasons.

    Salary, travel, research, and facility costs have all already been mentioned, and this is just the general layman analysis.

    A $100,000 grant for a year long study is not a large grant.  If the good doictor hires a research assistant she’s already out more than half her budget for the team of two. A little more informed justification would be in order before anyone can reasonbly be against the study.  What is the money actually going to?  What is the reason for studying this?  How does this grant compare to others given out?

    Once those questions are answered then you can start making jokes about what a huge waste of money this is.

  23. Sarcasmorator says:

    "How does $100,000 to research how Americans play World of Warcraft sound?"

    It sounds better than billions of dollars in bailouts for industries that hamstrung themselves with their greed in the real estate market over the last decade. $100K is a decent amount to study a genuine social phenomenon as far as I’m concerned, and it’s chump change compared to the amount of money being wasted every day in other areas.

  24. Zerodash. ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Q: Why do more American players mod WOW more than Chinese players?

    A: More Americans play WOW on computers they own.  More Chinese players play at internet cafes and computer centers. 


  25. Ang Chen says:

    i’m a student in SIUC from china. When I was in china, I played wow, so , very familiar with the chinese player psychological action. I am very intersted in this research. SO you can contact me with my email. I am willing to be the volunteer.


  26. Anonymous says:

    yes any real man would get a tricked out alienware pc. but remember, this prof is a woman. and she knows nothing about ‘real’ technology. only the technology involved with a kitchen

  27. JustChris says:

    Alienware PCs used to be a good value- back in the days when colored cases were just coming in and gaming rigs didn’t look like a Transformer’s shinguards. It’s just that "big company" effect where you just sucker in as many customers as possible that changed Alienware from its mom-and-pop business state.

  28. Anonymous says:

     I like how its a bunch of cunts bleeding all over the floor about how this money got spent when really its very legitimate research, i wouldnt be suprised if all these bitches up here complaining got left by the man the "love" for wow…. hahahahaaha fuckin dumb bitches GO PROFESSOR I WISH I HAD YOUR CLASS!!!! ! WOO~!!!

  29. Stonwalljkrantz says:

    LOL…you can (and should) do this research using the immense and undoubtedly rich data set that Blizzard is collecting on the activity of the gamers…in fact…I am sure that the CIA/FBI/DHS or someone is already working that…so the FEDS are double-dipping by paying out this grant…whoopie!

  30. Chuma says:

    And assuming she actually wants to LIVE during this study, which has no time frame showing in the article, she will need some money for food, drink, housing, taxes, electricity, gas, water, repairs, clothes etc…

  31. Anonymous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    If she really got into it, she would build her OWN computer, and use newegg.  (ok, I will advertise new egg since they are a freakin sweet site that definitely helps out between reviews and product details.  They deserve it, just like how I talk about GP on other sites, because they publish the same news 3 hours after GP does…  lazy news places…)

    I think she needs to get into character.  Lets go off of the average income of the average gamer, figure in all of the teenagers, she needs to work off of $30,000, lets make this 3 years of research instead then, haha.

    I’ll do the same research for $40,000, come on.  Gimme the grant.  She better be pulling in kids to come and play the games instead then, because she is too old.  That is the only way I can validate $100,000 and her salary I am sure some university is paying her too.

  32. janarius says:

    She might have to pay participants (say a small gift certificate) in order to get them to participate in her study. Not everyone is willing to participate in a study that could be boring or unworthy of their time and attention. BTW, this is something that is prevalent in most social science studies.

    Besides university fees, I hear that grants often include annual licensing fees for statistical programs and such.

    In any case, she must have done great job in convincing the NSF in granting that amount of money.

  33. Overcast says:

    LOL, What a Major waste of money. Like who controls that budget? What kinda drugs are they on and you think she could hook me up with some? 


    Ok, that’s going to have me laughing all day.

  34. Neeneko says:

    Not to mention the University gets a big cut of that, usually around 50-60% of the grant money.  Then there are going to be traveling expenses (since often one presents such material at a confrnce)… burning through $100,000 can actually go pretty quickly.

  35. Vacavriach says:

    She may also have to travel to China, Europe, or Australia/New Zeland to gather research information or conduct interviews with players that normally would not be able to interface with her just playing the game (interviewing a wider player base than just people that were online at the time).  International travel isn’t cheap.

    I certainly wouldn’t mind getting paid to research gaming.

  36. Anonymous says:

    While she’s doing that, she can also study the effects of longterm physical inactivity on the human body >_>

  37. nightwng2000 says:

    Mr. Chandra has a good beginning.

    But also look at how many players she will be using in the study to play the game.  Will she just being going online and talking to existing players, or will she be setting up multiple PCs and multiple accounts.  You HAVE to buy seperate accounts for each player.

    Plus, if her study takes place on campus, she does have to pay for the research facility.  And even if it’s a closet, universities charge an arm and a leg… Plus a few up to date bionic replacements too.

    It’s a little more expensive to run a research project than one might think.  Sometimes, it does actually turn out to be an unreasonable or illogical amount, but it still costs quite a bit.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 has also updated his MySpace page: Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  38. Flamespeak says:

    It will probably be her and maybe two or three other people who do nothing but play the game for at least eight hours a day every day for a year and the extra income will go toward covering the living expense of the people involved in the study.

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