World Of Warcraft

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.

Impact

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.

Group play at <em>BlizzCon</em>, October 21, 2011

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).

Blizzard Entertainment at NASDAQ Marketsite, March 7, 2011

Jason DeCrow/AP Images for Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard Entertainment at NASDAQ Marketsite, March 7, 2011

Blizzard, part of Activision Blizzard, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2011 by ringing the closing bell at the NASDAQ. In 2015 Activision Blizzard reported net revenues of $4.66 billion.

Blasted Lands zone, <em>WoW: Cataclysm</em>, 2010

Blasted Lands zone, WoW: Cataclysm, 2010

World of Warcraft Software Makers and Users Poster

World of Warcraft Software Makers and Users

Who's Playing?

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 But the image is outdated, thanks partly to World of Warcraft (WoW).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.

Former Maine senator Colleen Lachowicz, November 15, 2012

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.

Marina Schlenzig, June 20, 2012

Photo: Michael Klug/DAPD

Marina Schlenzig, June 20, 2012

Marina Schlenzig, a 61-year-old retired secretary from Mittweida, Germany, shatters gamer stereotypes. Schlenzig is an avid World of Warcraft player, fighting at the highest level.

Wendy Harmer and son Marley, October 25, 2006

Wendy Harmer and son Marley, October 25, 2006

Carolyn Rose and husband Robert Moser, July 12, 2006

Carolyn Rose and husband Robert Moser, July 12, 2006

“Swifty” on <em>WoW Cataclysm</em>, December 24, 2010

“Swifty” on WoW Cataclysm, December 24, 2010

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.

BlizzCon 2014, Day 1

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.

BlizzCon 2014, Day 1

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.

Crovo <em>Warcraft</em> Wedding, September 28, 2013

Crovo Warcraft Wedding, September 28, 2013

US Army Spc. Anthony Decamp, and unidentified soldier at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baqouba Iraq, June 30, 2009

US Army Spc. Anthony Decamp, and unidentified soldier at Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baqouba Iraq, June 30, 2009

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.

Gold farm in China

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.

Gold farming advertisement in the <em>WoW</em> city Orgrimmar

Gold farming advertisement in the WoW city Orgrimmar

Game addict Ryan Van Cleeve, Sarasota, Florida, June 3, 2011

Game addict Ryan Van Cleeve, Sarasota, Florida, June 3, 2011

Technology

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.

<em>World of Warcraft</em>, 2004.

World of Warcraft, 2004.

World of Warcraft requires a complicated system of displays and controls spread across networks and servers, known as “realms.” WoW’s software allows for the game’s intricate interplay between players and customizable user interfaces.

Water-cooled PC module, by Imfaceroll Gaming

Water-cooled PC module, by Imfaceroll Gaming

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.

Screenshot of user interface for Beginner, <em>WoW: Warlords of Draenor</em>, 2014

Courtesy of William Harnack

Screenshot of user interface for Beginner, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014

WoW newbies, fear not. Beginners are given a simple user interface that can be customized as skill sets increase.

Screenshot of user interface for Advanced, <em>WoW: Warlords of Draenor</em>, 2014

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.

Screenshot of “Those Who Couldn’t Be Saved,” <em>WoW: Legion</em>, 2016

Screenshot of “Those Who Couldn’t Be Saved,” WoW: Legion, 2016

Screenshot of user interface for Raid, <em>WoW: Warlords of Draenor</em>, 2014

Screenshot of user interface for Raid, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014

What’s Where?

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)

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.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) diagram (developer’s perspective), 2010

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) diagram (developer’s perspective), 2010

Teamwork

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.

Early Blizzard team (then known as Silicon &amp; Synapse), ca. 1992

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment Inc.

Early Blizzard team (then known as Silicon & Synapse), ca. 1992

Frank Pearce (far left), Michael Morhaime (far right), and Allen Adham (striped shirt) founded Blizzard as Silicon & Synapse in 1991.

Teams of artists and musicians work behind-the-scenes to create the look, feel, and sound of <em>World of Warcraft</em>

Teams of artists and musicians work behind-the-scenes to create the look, feel, and sound of World of Warcraft

Samwise Didier Video Poster

Samwise Didier, Senior Art Director, World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment

History

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.

<em>Warcraft: Orcs &amp; Humans, 1994</em>

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment Inc.

Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1994

Warcraft: Orcs &. Humans was a 1994 real-time strategy game for the personal computer. Several original elements, such as the fictional world of Azeroth and the Orc race, continue today in World of Warcraft.

The Evolution of OrcsOrcs, <em>Warcraft: Orcs &amp; Humans</em>, 1994
Orc development, <em>World of Warcraft</em>, 2004
Orc development, <em>WoW: Warlords of Draenor</em>, 2014

The Evolution of OrcsOrcs, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1994 Orc development, World of Warcraft, 2004 Orc development, WoW: Warlords of Draenor, 2014

Michael Morheim Video Poster

Michael Morheim, President and Co-Founder, Blizzard Entertainment

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.

Screenshot from <em>Ultima Online</em>, 1997

Credit: © Electronic Arts Inc.

Screenshot from Ultima Online, 1997

Ultima Online was the networked version of the Ultima computer games released in 1997. It was the first massively mutiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to gain wide-scale popularity.

Screenshot of <em>EverQuest</em>, 1999

Screenshot of EverQuest, 1999

Screen capture of a MUD, late 1980s

Screen capture of a MUD, late 1980s

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.

Hand-drawn map of <em>Dungeon</em>, January 1982

Credit: © Steven Roy

Hand-drawn map of Dungeon, January 1982

Players of text-based adventure games often created hand-drawn maps, like this user-created map of Dungeon, to keep track of areas within a game.

<em>Forsaken Realm</em>, 2011

Credit: © Blue Flame Labs; Moby Games/Contributed by user Cavalary, May 19, 2011

Forsaken Realm, 2011

The success of World of Warcraft has led to a slew of imitators with a similar look and feel, like Forsaken Realm. These games are often short-lived.

<em>Zork I: The Great Underground Empire</em>, 1980

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, 1980

Listing of <em>Adventure source</em> code

Listing of Adventure source code