James Wallis levels with you

n00b World Reorder, part 1

The text that made up my Interesting 08 talk ‘Brave n00b World’ was part of a much longer document that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m not sure it’s ready for primetime—I’m not sure it’s ready for anything—but to catch the tide of interest in the video, here’s the first part of it. This one repeats a lot of the material in the talk but bear with me: it gets better, and there’s a lot of new stuff still to come.

* * *

I have spent the last few months on sabbatical, visiting a persistent fantasy world known as ‘Of Warcraft’. During this time I have made some preliminary observations about the nature of the world, which I am going to publish here in a series of short papers. It is my hope that this work may lead to further examination of this curious habitat, and the foundation of the academic field of Azerothian Studies, with a nice chair and honorarium for myself, &tc. &tc.


Part 1:
The Physical World of Warcraft

The world of Warcraft, called Azeroth by those of its inhabitants who care about such things, is supposedly one of a handful of small spatial bodies in an area of space referred to as the Great Dark. It is comprised of three main landmasses: Kalimdor; the so-far-unexplored Northrend; and the Eastern Kingdoms. This consists of two continents, Lordaeron and Azeroth, the latter of which is made up of two countries: Khaz Modan and Azeroth. This confusing situation is analogous to the continent of America, which consists of the regions of South America, Central America and North America, the latter of which contains the country usually called America. One might think this indicates that there may be other interesting parallels between Azeroth and Earth. One would be mistaken.

Even though it has an advanced civilization capable of creating flying machines and an astonishingly advanced postal service—of which more later—Azeroth has no local system of measurement. The idea of lengths or distances are alien to its inhabitants, which makes them annoyingly bad at giving directions. Occasionally ‘yards’ are mentioned but nobody can ever point at an item or a distance in the world and say that it is N yards long; and there is no way of knowing if this ‘yard’  is equivalent in any way to the terrestrial yard.

Despite all this, it is still possible to determine the size of the World of Warcraft with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

The longest straight, flat line that an adult human can walk in Azeroth without being interrupted by obstacles, mobs or the Horde stretches from the eastern end of the north parapet of the bridge into Westfall, across Elwynn Forest to the southernmost of the Three Corners in Lakeshire. An adult human walking at a steady pace will cover this distance in 18 minutes and 15 seconds. Humans walk at an average speed of 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) per hour, and therefore this route is roughly 1.7 kms (1.05 miles) long.

Extrapolating this to the whole of the Eastern Kingdoms, and using the best maps available, the continent is 5.8 kms by 14.25 kms (3.6 x 8.85 miles) and Kalimdor is Kalimdor is 7.3 kms x 14.75 kms. Taken together, the two main continents have a combined area of approximately 113 square kilometres. In terrestrial terms that’s about the same size as the city of Newcastle, or the London Borough of Hillingdon.

And if we assume that the world-maps produced by Blizzard Entertainment show approximately the entire surface area of Azeroth then we can wrap it around an imaginary sphere and calculate the diameter of the hypothetical ‘planetoid’ of Azeroth at 12 kilometres.

To a subjective observer, gravity on Azeroth seems to be lower than on Earth. Once again it’s hard to given an exact measurement, but given the existence of giants (whose hipbones would shatter as soon as they took a step under terrestrial gravity), plus the fact that a typical adult human can make a standing jump approximately 90% of their height into the air, and most adult humanoids can not only survive a fall of over fifty metres but can land on their feet and walk away, it appears to be less than 1G. This is not quite as expected: though small celestial bodies typically have low gravity, for a planetoid of the size of Azeroth one would expect to see gravity of about 0.003 m/s or, in the vernacular, buggerall.

We can calculate Azeroth’s gravity to a reasonable degree of precision. As noted, scales of measurement are rare on Azeroth but a chart on page 66 of one of the only authoritative works of Azerothian Studies to date (World of Warcraft Game Manual; Hutchens, Catalan et al, 2005) shows the heights of various humanoid races against a series of regular lines, allowing exact comparisons. Assuming that an average human on Azeroth is the same height as an average human on Earth, then a typical female Tauren is almost exactly two metres tall. We can therefore use a female Tauren—let’s call her Rula—as a measuring-stick to calculate the height of buildings, towers, cliffs and other tall things that can be fallen off.

According to the Rula scale, a drop from a measured point on the flight tower in Thunder Bluff is 33.5 metres. According to tests conducted by myself and members of my research group, the guild <unassigned variable>, it takes a given body—Rula—an average of 2.5 seconds to fall that distance. An equivalent fall under 1G would take 2.61 seconds. We will blame the difference on the approximate nature of the measuring processes and cheap stopwatches, and assume that Azeroth’s gravity is the same as Earth’s.

This means, if Azeroth really is a spherical planetoid with a diameter of 12 kms, that the planet must have an average density of roughly 5850 grammes per cubic centimetre. That makes its average density more than 500 times greater than lead. (I am indebted to Dave Morris for his assistance with these calculations.)

The extreme density of Azeroth would explain why it is impossible to pick up many objects from the ground, including ones that you have just dropped. As soon as a discarded object hits the earth we theorize that it picks up a thin coating of superheavy dirt, making it impossible to lift. Living creatures avoid the effects of this dirt sticking to their extremities by having evolved frictionless pads on the soles of their feet. This observable phenomenon, endemic to Azeroth, is known to virtual-world scientists and animators as ‘foot slide’.

Rare soils that do not possess this extreme density (pieces of coal, elemental earth, Un’goro soil) are prized by the locals and can fetch high prices at the auction houses. In addition, pressure within the superheavy crust of the planetoid causes deposits of comparatively lighter elements like copper, tin, iron, gold and mithril to be extruded through fissures in the surface, where they form regenerating nodes that can be mined. It also explains why, though many locals are seen toiling at rock-faces with picks and shovels, they never seem to get anywhere, and why there are never any root vegetables for sale.

More interestingly, the existence of such a small, dense planet has implications for the relativistic flow of local spacetime. Einstein’s theory of general relativity states that time runs at different speeds under different gravitational strengths, and the Pound-Rebka experiment has proved that clocks at high altitudes run slightly faster than those at low altitudes. On a small body with a very high density these effects will be much more noticeable over comparatively short distances. We believe that these effects of time-dilation and compression can explain the well-known Azeroth temporal phenomenon of ‘lag’, although we are trying to form a theoretical model to show how zeppelins can cross an ocean in the time it takes to draw a line across a map.

However, all this assumes that Azeroth is a standard astronomical body, and it isn’t. Despite the existence of in-world globes depicting its surface as a sphere, and that anyone standing at the Black Temple in Outland can see a small round planet in the sky that appears to be Azeroth, the world of Warcraft is in fact flat. There is no visible curvature of the world, which is unusual given its small size. Stars do not move across the night sky, indicating that Azeroth is static in relation to the rest of its universe. What’s more, dawn happens simultaneously wherever the observer is in the world, and sunset works the same way. Ergo it’s flat, albeit populated by a number of misguided ’round-earthers’. Berks.

Conclusive proof on the matter comes from the research of the Canadian Dr T. Paypayaso (I’m assuming from the quality of his research that he has a PhD, plus frankly they’re easier to get hold of than parking tickets these days), who has demonstrated by swimming to its edge and jumping around like a prat that Azeroth is (a) flat, (b) finite and (c) rectangular.

I will examine the implications of this extraordinary discovery in my next post in this series. Meanwhile I need your essays, a thousand words on ‘How can Azeroth be said to have a food chain when nothing ever eats anything else?’ on my desk by Thursday.

(You can find part 2 of this essay here.)

Categorised as: game design | geophysics | mmorpg | world of warcraft


  1. Boing Boing says:

    Astronomical calculations on World of Warcraft…

    Using a series of ingenious measurement techniques and calculations, James Wallace has calculated the size, gravity, and density of Azeroth — the World of Warcraft. Turns out that although Azeroth is tiny, it has a near-Earthlike gravity, suggesting t…

  2. anno says:

    I propose a space mission to discover the exact distance between Azeroth and Outland and to finally lay to rest the debate on the existance (or otherwise) of space dragons.

  3. […] came across this amusing post on the dimensions of the World of Warcraft today (thank God for BoingBoing!). Some of the methods employed are questionable (one commenter […]

  4. Mark says:

    Are you sure you didn’t run rather than walk? I’m pretty sure it took me about 5 minutes to walk from the harbour at darkshore to the next zone south. I know it’s not straight but that could affect your calculations.

  5. […] James Wallis presented a geographical survey of the World of Warcraft. [video] [video] [theory] […]

  6. james says:

    I’m absolutely certain I walked it. It was incredibly dull.

    (Next someone’s going to tell me that the line I described isn’t completely straight and flat as you have to walk around a tree two-thirds of the way along, you wait and see.)

  7. Sirens Song says:

    Note: The line that you walked is not completely straight – you have to walk around trees for about two-thirds of the way. :)

  8. SyKoHPaTh says:

    The line you described isn’t completely straight and flat, as you have to walk around a tree two-thirds of the way along.

  9. james says:

    And I added additional time to compensate for trees, rivers, the corpses of my enemies, et cetera. Next!

  10. jahangir says:

    First gravity must be below 1G, and then it is approx. 1G? I am confused. Perhaps our assumptions about bone strengths etc., are not consistent with the physiological aspects of the native species.

  11. james says:

    Gravity appears to be less than 1G, but the moment one exposes it to some Good Hard Sciencing that hypothesis is proven to be rubbish. 1G it is.

    I have a theory about how dragons, zeppelins, flying taxis etc. work in part 2.

  12. Peter says:

    What if Rula hits terminal velocity very quickly? You should drop her from several different heights in order to separate the component of her velocity contributed by little g.

  13. Mark says:

    Hold on, I’ve got it. It came to me in a dream, or maybe heat stroke.

    Okay, there’s many different “realms” for WoW, maybe each one has been ripped from Azeroth (the world) and made into tiny copies of the real thing and as a result of magic, fairies, wizards or hamsters with shotguns, each little planet has the exact same value for gravity as the parent, while being an exact copy one n’th of the size. But if all the “realms” were squashed back together gravity and distance would be sorted out (as Azeroth would return back to it’s real size).
    This’ll work because somehow Stormwind is meant to have a population of 20,000, so they must be split between each “realm” as well because in no sodding way could that little town hold that many people.

    There, solved!

  14. Peter says:

    Did you actually project the flat map of Azeroth onto a globe (mathematically, I mean), or did you do a simpler calculation just to find roughly how large the globe would be? In either case, where did you assume the equator to be in this calculation?

    If you did the former, how much did this distort your land-area figures?

  15. says:

    Azerothología, o el estudio de Azeroth…

    James Wallis, diseñador de videojuegos, aprovechando unos meses sabáticos, se ha dedicado a estudiar con ojo científico Azeroth. Los resultados los está presentando por partes en su blog. La primera parte es un estudio del medio físico de este ser…

  16. […] The full paper can be found at Cope, the weblog for […]

  17. Bill says:

    “I’m assuming from the quality of his research that he has a PhD, plus frankly they’re easier to get hold of than parking tickets these days”

    Oh really so 5 years of 70 hr work-weeks is just like getting a parking ticket?

    what’s your PhD in? asshole

  18. james says:

    That’s correct. I have a PhD in asshole.

  19. Al says:

    Bill, his might not be but yours is, apparently, in “asshole.”

  20. […] to this James Wallis blog post, the World of Warcraft landmass is about the same size as […]

  21. Snowflake Mekkatrekk says:

    Hello Mr. Wallis,

    A friend tipped me on the news of your research in and on Azeroth, since he knew I’m into the same kind of crazy stuff. I watched your video and was happy to see that there were others who were trying to apply real science to this digital fantasy world :)

    I write to you because exploration and scientific measurements in Azeroth has always been my core interest, ever since I started playing WoW in its dawn. Over the years, I have developed tools and methods for accurate distance measuring, down to inch precision and accuracy. To my knowledge, I am (or was at least, I’ve not been active for a while) at the very front of this field. Please let me know if you’re interested and I’d be happy to help you!

    Snowflake Mekkatrekk, retired Master Explorer Extraodrinaire of Earthen Ring (EU)

  22. .kaine says:

    One simple fact you could very well be overlooking is that Azeroth is infact spherical, and the only reason the time is the same across all the continents is because they all fall into the same timezone.

    There could very well be an immense body of water across the rest of the planet, or indeed more continents for Blizzard to base expansions on in order to drain more from our wallets, which we don’t yet see because Chris Metzen hasn’t made them up yet.

  23. As an anthropologist that studies the culture in and around this game I found your research and presentation highly interesting. I’d be very interested in any other research you do around this game as well as other virtual worlds. Thanks for taking the time to post this for all to read!

    Diana Harrelson
    Sollitaire on Bloodhoof US

  24. Dave says:

    Although you seem to have fallen in with the flat-earth crowd, I think you missed a possibility when accounting for the size of Azeroth if it is a globe.

    The flaw in your logic is assuming that published maps account for the entire surface of the planet. However, by published maps, it would be much faster set sail from eastern Azeroth and arrive in western Kalimdor, than the reverse which is actually done. This would also avoid the no-doubt treacherous giant vortex separating the two continents, which must be sailed around. Therefor, I think it is reasonable to assume a certain amount of unexplored open seas before the far east and far west sides of the known map connect. Unfortunately, no means of predicting these distances exist.

  25. […] n00b World Reorder, part 1 The Physical World of Warcraft (tags: gaming humor) […]

  26. […] very fine gentleman of high moral standing has concluded that Azeroth, the world in World of Warcraft, has an area of 113 square kilometers, or about the […]

  27. […] “I have spent the last few months on sabbatical, visiting a persistent fantasy world known as … Posted on July 2nd, 2008 […]

  28. Leathersoup says:

    Why wouldn’t you have used the Shimmering Flats? It would be much easier than tryint to calculate the Elwynn forest bit.

  29. elias says:

    Maybe I’m being pedantic, but I’d just like to point out that time dilation is not due to the force of gravity, it’s due to changing inertial reference frames.

  30. elias says:

    Anyway, awesome post! : )

  31. Gromag says:

    I have a pboem with the following “And if we assume that the world-maps produced by Blizzard Entertainment show approximately the entire surface area of Azeroth then we can wrap it around an imaginary sphere and calculate the diameter of the hypothetical ‘planetoid’ of Azeroth at 12 kilometres.”

    This grand assumption overlooks the clear climatic evidence that Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms are most likely to occupy the northern hemisphere of the planet. The climate and foliage follows a clear progession from (north to south) Temperate to Tropical (that fact that Kamildor has deserts may be atributted to the actions of the local ecology at the sothern extremities, i.e Silthids). If Azeroth follows earth trends this would place Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms between the 30 and 60 degree north latitudes…. this places the majority of the plant off of the “world maps”.

  32. Gromag says:

    Excuse spelling mistakes :)

  33. Mini Wee clone or Dr Weavil (but much smarter) says:

    You are buffons good ppl it is my observation that distance acounts for nothing in Azeroth as with Dr Whos TARDIS Time And Relative Dimension In Space ,
    many parts of the world are infact you may say folded pockets of space and time in relative quantity this can be proven by the insidiouse goings on of those people that i have observed jumping into walls in Stormwind after tracking many such a semmingly insane wall jumper i managed to repeat the effect leaving me in a place between space and out side of what i thaght was Stormwind after re aligning my self in this space found my self out side of stormwind but having traveled a great distance now if this is the case how can distance be mesured .
    and more to the point what neferious deeds are these wall jumpers up too in the space between space.

  34. Rhillor of Argent Dawn says:

    There is another fundamental flaw in your calculations. (Besides all the others I mean :)) The assumption that humanoids in Azeroth are human sized. According to the “Titans R Us” theory (invented by yours truly :)) Earth humans would appear as titans if they landed on Azeroth. Therefore the native humanoids are in reality about 6 inches high. This accounts for the many giant insects often encountered, as well as the ability to fall from middling heights and survive unharmed. It also solves the 4rth power mass penalty for the giants. They dont need massive tree trunk legs or suffer from agonizing hip injuries because they are simply near normal size humans, with normal proportions.

    Plus I’m sure I saw at least one giant axe made from what appears to be a razor blade. Obviously it was dropped by an Earth visitor….

  35. AndyB says:

    Two concerns about this scientific method:

    1. Why would you assume humans are the same size as they are here. Heck, there’s a note-worthy difference between the average American and Japanese humans here…

    2. It’s quite possible the map showing the two continents does not represent the true vastness of the sea. These may be two small continents in a large body of water. Can’t trust map-makers to leave all that empty space just to be accurate…

    Funny read of course.

  36. tilt says:

    But… you can measure yards in the game. Nearly all spells have a range on them; you could, for example, use this to determine a 40 yd range (by having a friendly character stand at the max range of a 40 yd healing spell), and then measure the time required to walk or run to that character. This would be more accurate than relying on out-of-game average walking speeds to provide calibration.

  37. jp says:

    Well thank goodness its a fantasy world. Einstein said the smallest possible scale model of the universe is the universe itself.

    Also they make mods that measure distance and your calculations are way off.

  38. Russ says:

    Very interesting read. By the way, the oceans on opposite sides of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are not the same, alluding to more land content.

  39. james says:

    A good point, tilt, but there’s no way of knowing if a yard on Azeroth is equivalent to an Imperial yard. And yeah, I could have used Blink or healing-spell ranges but on the whole I thought walking it would be quicker, marginally less geeky, and funnier.

  40. […] It’s not often that a single post can be articulate, nerdy, informative, funny, and fascinating all at once, but James Wallis manages to hit every one of those marks in an article analyzing the virtual world of Azeroth from a scholarly perspective. […]

  41. FurryCrew says:

    I would like to say that Azeroth does indeed have root vegies…

    On a stick even!!

    P.S. very good btw, made me laugh

  42. Danny says:

    Wait you were wrong on one thing, I have occasionally (I think about 5 -10 times… in my about 3 year span of playing the game) seen one mob attack another and supposedly eat them, I have seen tigers in STV do this and I have seen some things attack the level five deer critters in the Elwynn Forest when I played alliance…

  43. james says:

    Dude, I asked for a thousand words.

    But yes and no. There are some animals that attack and kill other species–wolves and deer in the Elwynn Forest is one example–but the victors don’t do anything with the corpses of the losers. Needless to say I have theories about this…

  44. Enade says:

    wow that gave me a headache…

    If nothin gever eats anything where does all of our Smoked Talbuk Venison come from? And I was hoping to find some explanation to the magics in the game… lol

  45. tehmedus says:

    Linked this from
    thanks i loved it!

  46. […] is a continuation of the essay started here and synopsised on video […]

  47. […] content to simply muse on the condition and function of Azeroth, gaming luminary James Wallis, through his company Magnum Opus Press, has announced an arrangement […]

  48. […] day and downed three pounds of kelp damp with ketamine and cough syrup), has done the unthinkable: written a quasi-academic breakdown of the physics of World of Warcraft. He not only discusses the implications of mass and geography on Azeroth, he also touches on the […]

  49. Eric says:

    I posted this “essay” on the official WoW forums. Got some pretty interesting comments. Go have a look at

  50. Velimir says:

    Has anyone thought of possibility that current known part of that imaginary world is just part of the sphere. Because, as I asked one player, you can’t circle the map..
    Ofcourse, makers of the game then used some “rounding” to make their life easier.
    so, in the end, their world is flat, with rectangular limits, but it is extendable when time comes for new add-on so they can take more money for playing masses

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