Players create characters and develop them over time, forging relationships with other gamers and going on quests to gain experience or loot. Whether they play with strangers, friends or alone, Warcraftâ€˜s polished virtual world proves easy to get into and hard to get out of.
More than 11.5 million players from around the world, from all walks of life, spend hours a day in the world of Azeroth. They embark on epic adventures, battle other players or just hang out. And each of them pays developer Blizzard Entertainment $15 per month for the privilege.
Though the gameâ€™s success has spawned dozens of imitators, not one has posed a serious threat to Blizzardâ€™s dominance. But perhaps the best praise for WoW is that other game designers love to play it. Among its devotees are Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov and BioShock creative director Ken Levine.
â€œItâ€™s the game Iâ€™ve played more than any other,â€ Levine told Wired.com. â€œItâ€™s an aesthetic masterpieceâ€¦. So much of the world tells a story when you look at it.â€
Most videogames wear out their welcome after a few months. But Blizzardâ€™s stewardship of its persistent world â€” filled with orcs and trolls, humans and dwarves â€” has been so successful that the game shows no signs of slowing, even a half-decade on.
Amazingly, World of Warcraft almost didnâ€™t happen. The worldâ€™s most popular MMORPG has its roots in real-time strategy games Warcraft: Orcs & Humans and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. In 1998, while half of a Blizzard development team was assigned to work on Warcraft III, the other half ended up working on a game that was canceled.
With nothing to do, the team members looked at the games they were playing the most at the time â€” massively multiplayer online games like Sonyâ€™s EverQuest and Electronic Artsâ€™ Ultima Online. At the time, both games topped out at around 200,000 subscribers each, and Blizzard thought it could do better by making a virtual world that was more accessible to newbies.
â€œWe felt there was such an opportunity in that genre, and that Warcraft was such a great universe for a game like that,â€ said Blizzardâ€™s Rob Pardo, the first lead designer on WoW. â€œWe started talking about it, getting excited about it, and we decided to make it.â€