World of Warcraft Background
Just over 15 years ago, Blizzard Inc rocked the gaming world with Warcraft: Orcs Vs Humans, a Real Time Strategy game that combined ground breaking graphics, a in depth story line, the requirement to think about strategy more than ever before and multiplayer gaming all in one – a first for the gaming industry. You will be surprised to learn that the first version of Warcraft arrived before the hugely popular Command & Conquer franchise.
With the success of the first release of Warcraft, Blizzard went away and a couple of years later came out with Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness which expanded the universe, introduced new characters and species and made the game more involved than ever before. Central to the game was Blizzard's belief that multiplayer gaming was the wave of the future. Never before had a game had so much attention placed on the multiplayer aspect. You need to remember that this was back in the late 90's and even the concept of the Internet was new to most people, so you can definitely say Blizzard were ahead of the curve on the idea of multiplayer games.
Warcraft is one of the few games where the developers have spent time building a universe in which the action takes place. By creating this universe they have added depth rarely seen in other games. At first glance the story might seem quite basic, just think Lord of the Rings with a mixture of medieval technology and a healthy dose of fantasy. The result? Castles and wizards, swords and dwarves.
Unlike the previous versions of Warcraft the game play has changed slightly from a God like role to you controlling a single character. To begin you have to select whether you are going to play as a member of the Alliance (humans and their allies) or the Horde (Orcs and their kind). Each species has its own strengths and weaknesses so it's down to you which one you go with. The character that you control is known as your Avatar, which is your representation in the virtual world. The aim is to build up the attributes (known as leveling) of your Avatar to become bigger, stronger and have more skills to take on ever harder quests.
You should note that World of Warcraft is completely different to other games you may have bought in the past because instead of playing against the computer you are entering a world online (you can't play it offline) where there are other real people to play with and against. The game also differs slightly in that it operates a kind of ‘pay as you play' scheme so you have to either pay a monthly subscription to keep logging in or buy pre-paid playing time – from a business point of view Blizzard really hit a home run on this one!
Innovations in World of Warcraft
As I mentioned earlier, Blizzard have been committed to building quality multiplayer games since 1994 with the original release of Warcraft: Orcs Vs Humans. They made the multiplayer aspect such an integral part of the games that this experience didn't go to waste when they created World of Warcraft because now it's officially recognized by the Guinness book of records as the most popular MMORPG ever made and one estimate by mmogchart.com puts their market share at 62% of the entire MMORPG industry.
When you play WoW for the first time you can see why it took Blizzard nearly 5 years to develop. There are a huge range of innovations and features that couldn't be found in other MMORPG's at the time it was launched. Even some thing as simple as Avatar reincarnation was revolutionized by Blizzard. In other games when an Avatar died it took a while for them to come back and be back at the same level they were before they died. Blizzard did away with this and made reincarnation swifter and easier for players to get back in the thick of the action. The same concept applies to damage an Avatar suffers in battle, recovery is quicker to help casual gamers compete on nearly the same footing as hardcore gamers.
Just like in the original Warcraft games, there is still a sense of harvest, build, grow. In this case your Avatar needs to earn gold to buy weapons, eat, sleep and generally survive in the virtual world. This is made easier by completing ‘quests' which once completed give you gold or weapons. WoW has been praised for the amount of variety there are in the quests which ensures players never get bored doing the same repetitive things over and over again.
You have probably played strategy games in the past and discovered that once you ‘got' the system it was fairly easy to beat the computer no matter what. Well believe me that all changes in WoW because you are playing against the most ruthless opponents…other humans. You will find that WoW is literally a virtual community that mirrors much of the real world. You need to earn gold to survive, you need to buy weapons and items with the gold and you need to interact with others to become more successful.
The social aspect in particular mirrors the offline world because you can join different guilds which are set up to help pool resources and provide a level of protection from other players. Guilds tend to stick to geographical borders and you are unlikely to find an British player in a predominantly German Guild!
WoW in the Real World
Just like the real world, there is a thriving micro-economy both inside and outside the game. Inside the game you can collect resources like copper and sell them at auction in exchange for gold. You can then use the gold to buy new weapons and enable you Avatar to survive in the virtual world. Just like an eBay for WoW, you can put any items you own up for sale and have people bid on them and buy them off you.
In a somewhat surprising twist, virtual goods and virtual money has taken on a physical value in the real world. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to letting you buy items and gold for real money. The exchange will be arranged within the game but the money changes hands in real life. Now dealing outside the game is strictly prohibited by Blizzard but that hasn't stopped many people from taking part. Just so you can get an idea of much money is changing hands, if you wanted to buy 140,000g of virtual gold it would cost you $999.99!
Now given the massive popularity of WoW and the legions of hardcore PAYING subscribers it's hardly surprising the film studios have sat up and taken notice – especially considering the commercial successes of films like Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia which share many of the same fantasy elements. The Warcraft movie is very much still in the planning stages and given the slow progress many analysts are saying it probably won't get off the ground. It was originally supposed to be ready by 2009 but don't worry if you missed it because even now they don't know who's going to star in it!
There are rumours though that since Spider-man 4 has been shelved, the director Sam Raimi has been brought in to help spearhead the project. Any details at the moment are pure speculation and hyperbole but it is said that the story will focus on the Alliance but not be quite as epic as Lord of the Rings. However, there is still plenty of real world material out there to satisfy the thirst of the hardcore gamers. A whole series of fictional books have been written about the Warcraft universe and cover all points in its history and take on the point of view of both the Horde and the Alliance. New heroes are introduced as well as villains. If the books are not enough there are even comics from Marvel, quarterly magazines and artwork inspired by Warcraft.