Another unfortunate truth is that because in-game gold and some items have actual worth outside the game, stealing account passwords and hijacking accounts is a real concern. A number of recent keyloggers (Trojan horse programs that monitor and record keystrokes looking for account numbers/names and passwords) have been aimed specifically at WoW. A number of players have logged on to find all their gold missing and their items sold to a vendor and the gold from that gone as well - having been mailed to another account, which they have no way to track. It is the WoW equivalent of a mugging. One popular way to get such a Trojan horse/virus delivered to a WoW player is to embed it in a modified version of one or more of the popular game add-ons. As with anything downloaded from the Internet, players need to download add-on files only from well-known sites. Blizzard has stated that account hacking has become more popular than gold farming as the way to obtain gold for selling.

One good way to combat account hijacking is to buy and use a Blizzard Authenticator, which is a little device that displays a random six-digit code that must be entered after the password in order to log into the account. The code changes about every 30 seconds, so it would be useless for a key logger to record it. The Blizzard Authenticator is available for the cost of $6.50 from the Blizzard store. Blizzard doesn't charge shipping for the authenticators, and I would guess they sell them at a loss. However, these are a very effective way to safeguard an account, and at that price, there's no excuse not to buy one. Additionally, it gives parents another way to control access to the WoW account. Even if your child figures out your password (because it's the same one you used to lock them out of adult content on your cable channels) they still have to physically have the authenticator in front of them.

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If you or your child has a cell phone or iPod, Blizzard also has several versions of the Blizzard Mobile Authenticator (for iOS and Android devices). It's an application that functions like the Keychain Authenticator. It's a free download in the Apple or Google app store for your device. That gives you even less reason to not secure your account.

Addiction (or Time Sink, Take Two)

There have been a number of stories in the news about video game addiction. Since WoW has the largest number of players, it's natural that stories of addiction to playing WoW are big news. That's not to say such attention is entirely unwarranted. There have been apparently true stories of an infant in Korea that died of suffocation because it was left alone while both parents went to an Internet café to play a few hours of World of Warcraft. In another story, a girl in China died due to exhaustion after playing the game for several days straight. Another story tells of one player stabbing another player to death because the other player "stole" an in-game item. These stories can still be found online, but the dates of most of them are in 2005 - not long after the game was released. I chalk much of this up to media sensationalism at the time. The game's been out for many years now, and it's lost the media's interest. We don't see stories about the guy that lost his job because of getting caught spending a couple hours a day updating his fantasy football stats on company time, but just Google the term "fantasy football addiction" and you'll see both satirical and real stories. Such stories are just not new and noteworthy.

It is true that for the players doing end-game raid instances, World of Warcraft can take large chunks of time. Organizing a 25-person group, making sure everyone is there on time, has the items they need, and knows their tasks and so forth can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Once inside the instance, failing at one boss can mean a lot of having to redo earlier work. Learning the strategy of the fights that works for a particular guild may take many attempts stretching over days or weeks. The time required to do end-game instances is one of the major complaints made by end-game players. Blizzard doesn't have a complete answer to this problem yet.

Blizzard has made a number of changes to the game to reduce the time commitment for these players specifically and players inside instances in general. (Time commitment isn't a problem for other parts of the game.) The end-game raid instances used to require 40-person groups - period. That's been dropped to 25 and 10-person groups, which results in less cat herding and allows for smaller guild sizes in general. A more recent change is that players anywhere in the virtual world can be "summoned" directly into instances to the spot where the party is. This aids in substituting a player that has to logout or is having computer or Internet problems. The design of the newer end-game instances allows them to be done in smaller chunks of time with breaks between major fights where the instance can be paused for the day (or night). Even with these changes, end-game raiding still takes a larger time commitment than many parents would like. You and your child will need to address this issue if and when they get to the point of running end-game content.

I don't want to belabor this topic longer than necessary. Any activity can become an addiction to those so inclined. Eating, smoking and even exercise can become addictive, so why would video games be exempt? As a parent, the trick will be allowing your child to play enough WoW so that they don't feel they are unjustly restricted while limiting play time so that it doesn't preclude other activities such as family time, school work or sleep. That's not unlike what parents are expected to do for any of the activities that their children really enjoy. As mentioned, WoW provides some tools to help enforce limiting play time, but ultimately, parents really just have to do their job.