A Place to Play
Every day, people around the globe head to the same place to meet friends, test their mettle, and have fun. And it’s a place that doesn’t even exist.
World of Warcraft’s virtual realm boasts more people than Sweden. It earns $2 billion annually in subscriptions, outperforming many small nations. And this extraordinarily compelling, popular, profitable world is entirely a creation of software code.
The World that Conquered Earth
The landscape of World of Warcraft (WoW) may be virtual, but its impact is real.
The game helped transform the way we have fun...as well as the business of fun, influencing a computer game industry that earns more than $16 billion annually in the United States.
Offering rich imagery, engrossing experiences, and social connections, WoW raised the bar for gaming, building a universe of loyal fans—and imitators.
Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
Group play at BlizzCon, October 21, 2011
World of Warcraft debuted in November 2004, breaking all previous sales records in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Today it enjoys a cult following by millions around the world. In 2015 WoW remained the world’s number one subscription‐based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG).
World of Warcraft Software Makers and Users
Teenage boys binging on pizza and cola: that’s the gamer stereotype. But the image is outdated, thanks partly to World of Warcraft (WoW).
WoW's riveting visuals and social interaction helped broaden gaming’s appeal. As of 2011, nearly 45 percent of all players are female, and the average age is 37.
AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
Former Maine senator Colleen Lachowicz, November 15, 2012
What happens in World of Warcraft stays in World of Warcraft...not if you’re running for the Maine Senate. Colleen Lachowicz, 2012 Senate hopeful, came under scrutiny for her “crude, vicious, and violent comments” made while playing WoW.
Virtual Becomes Real
Multiplayer games created online communities, which then became real-world communities.
World of Warcraft’s (WoW) unprecedented popularity and interaction revolutionized the way players relate to each other. Conventions, like BlizzCon, and gatherings of people who share a WoW“Guild,” as well as individual friendships (and romances), defy the stereotype of awkward loners.
Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
BlizzCon 2014, Day 1
BlizzCon, held annually since 2005 at the Anaheim Convention Center, attracts nearly 30,000 attendees. Fans enjoy product announcements, game previews, speaker panels, and group play opportunities. BlizzCon also serves as an in-person meeting place for online friends.
Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
BlizzCon 2014, Day 1
Cosplay, from “costume play,” is a popular activity at BlizzCon. Convention goers create intricate costumes of their avatars or well-known characters, complete with complex props and accessories. The BlizzCon costume contest attracts hundreds and awards thousands of dollars in prizes.
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo
US Army Spc. Anthony Decamp, and unidentified soldier at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baqouba Iraq, June 30, 2009
With gaming servers located around the world, popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like World of Warcraft, enable deployed soldiers to keep in touch with friends and stay up to date on the latest game play.
Paladin costume, ca. 2011–2013
World of Warcraft - themed games, 2007–2015
Not Just Fun and Games
“All work and no play” supposedly makes one dull. But what about all play and no work? Reports of gaming addiction fuel both fear-mongering hype...and legitimate worries.
“Gold farming,” in which people (typically in developing countries) play for long hours to collect and sell virtual currency and high-level characters, raises concerns about exploitation.
Photo by and courtesy of Jin Ge
Gold farm in China
In World of Warcraft, gold is acquired through repetitive basic tasks. Human “gold farmers” are used to increase players' in-game currency, which is then sold for real money. Eighty percent of gold farmers reside in China and include children and labor camp prisoners.
Credit: Pavel_Barter via gamesradar.com/all-that-glitters-a-gold-farming-report/2/, November 27, 2009
Gold farming advertisement in the WoW city Orgrimmar
Player-made artwork and advertisements often appear within World of Warcraft. Here, slain bodies have been arranged to advertise a gold farming website.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
Game addict Ryan Van Cleeve, Sarasota, Florida, June 3, 2011
Rising obesity rates, withdrawal from everyday life, and even death have been linked to video game addiction. Ryan Van Cleeve says World of Warcraft made him feel “godlike,” but everyday life was “profoundly disempowering.”
Hardware and Software: The Power to Play
World of Warcraft may be a virtual realm, but the hardware and software it depends on is very real.
Sustaining the complex world of Azeroth, with its cavalcade of Goblins, Orcs, and Draenei, requires real-time coordination between local and remote systems. This complex interaction of software and hardware demands fast processors and video cards, as well as high speed Internet access.
The Right Game at The Right Time
Why did World of Warcraft (WoW) triumph? Because it was fun.
Its fantasy landscape was beautiful and its “quests” complex. WoWwas simple enough for beginners, yet let sophisticated users customize their experience. Plus, it debuted as prices were falling for powerful video cards and fast processors.
Credit: © Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
Screenshot of user interface for Advanced, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014
This screenshot shows the user interface for a maximum-level player during the Hellfire Citadel raid, including a central grid tracking all raid team members. The UI is from a Healer's perspective and conveys valuable information for that role.
Credit: MedievalDragon via warcraft.blizzplanet.com, December 13, 2015/© Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
Screenshot of “Those Who Couldn’t Be Saved,” WoW: Legion, 2016
Quests allow players to earn money, gain experience, build reputation, and advance character storylines. They also allow for interaction and coordination between players, underscoring the rich narrative quality of WoW and other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORGs).
Courtesy of William Harnack/© Blizzard Entertainment Inc.
Screenshot of user interface for Raid, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014
Raids encourage social interaction within WoW. Accommodating 10 to 25 players and varying in difficulty, raids require a coordinated effort among players to succeed and slay raid bosses.
That Orc attack seems to be on your computer. But World of Warcraft is actually choreographing a complex global ballet of hardware, software, and far-flung users.
Remote servers supply settings, game rules, non-player characters, and more. Each gamer’s computer, meanwhile, processes the visual, audio, and player information—so the game looks different to each player.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) interaction (player’s perspective)
MMORPGs rely on real-time updates. When players execute a command, the command is recognized as code by the game engine. The game engine instantaneously coordinates a series of checks and updates before sound and visuals are relayed back to players’ displays.
Courtesy of Arnold Hendrick
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) diagram (developer’s perspective), 2010
MMORPGs have complex infrastructures that must communicate, track, and update data across thousands of servers worldwide. This diagram demonstrates the numerous interactions between a player’s computer, the Internet, and game servers.
World of Warcraft server blade, 2007
Like making a Hollywood film, creating World of Warcraft is a collaborative effort.
Directors, producers, artists, writers, lighting consultants, composers, and others rely on a toolbox of animation, graphics, storyboard, music, and other software to bring the game and characters from their brains to our screens.
Teams of artists and musicians work behind-the-scenes to create the look, feel, and sound of World of Warcraft
- Sam “Samwise” Didier, Senior Art Director, Blizzard
- Cole Eastburn, 3D Artist, World of Warcraft, Blizzard
- Laurel Austin, Principal Artist, Creative Development, Blizzard
- Russell Brower, Senior Director of Audio, and John Kurlander, Engineer & Score Mixer, WoW Mists of Pandaria soundtrack
- David Sabee, Conductor, WoW Mists of Pandaria soundtrack
Samwise Didier, Senior Art Director, World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment
Old Game, New Medium
World of Warcraft is a brilliant example of inventive re-use.
The online game that debuted in 2004 evolved from Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, introduced a decade earlier as a single or dual player game for a standalone PC. The company adapted its successful Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos game engine to fit the online environment, bringing a proven product to a new medium and a global audience.
The Evolution of OrcsOrcs, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1994 Orc development, World of Warcraft, 2004 Orc development, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014
Michael Morheim, President and Co-Founder, Blizzard Entertainment
World of Warcraft expansions, 2007–2016
A Growing Community
Solitaire has its charms. But from the earliest days of computing, people have wanted to play with others.
Early games such as Maze War and Empire let users interact with people on their network. But not until the 1980s did games begin to span multiple networks, offering broader interaction.
Once Upon a Time...
World of Warcraft (WoW) tapped into a venerable tradition of fantasy computer and board games, many inspired by the Orc-infested lands in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Dungeons and Dragons, text-based computer games such as Oubliette and Adventure, and graphical games such as Ultima all paved the way for WoW.