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The making of the World of Warcraft

Eurogamer has a nice long look at the early days of World of Warcraft, way before Northrend and Outland and even Molten Core, back when the question wasn't just how big the game would get, but whether Blizzard, a company known for their polish rather than their size, could pull off an entry in this new MMO genre. They've interviewed some of Blizzard's luminaries, and the piece offers a really good look at what it was like at Blizzard even before WoW's release, when they were hashing out some of the ideas and mechanics that have now set the bar with World of Warcraft: the stylistic Warcraft look, and questing as storytelling (originally, they thought they'd only do quests through the starting levels, and then have the game move to a grinding, monster-killing stage towards the end, but players said the game was boring without quests).

There are all kinds of great little tidbits in here: originally, Warcraft III was planned with the over-the-shoulder look that WoW now has, and that's one of the reasons they wanted to create a more straightforward RPG game. Tom Chilton showed up on the team about a year before WoW's release, and to his surprise, the game was almost completely unfinished -- the level cap was only 15, the talent system wasn't implemented, the AH or mail systems weren't in, PvP wasn't in at all (of course, even at release it was pretty barebones), and endgame raiding was nonexistent. Most of the things we think of as intrinsic to the World of Warcraft -- even things like the Horde and Alliance not speaking to each other -- were debated and almost not in at all as they moved towards release.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, Instances, Raiding, Interviews

Ten things WoW players should know from E3

Blizzard, as you probably already know, was not at E3 this year (officially, anyway -- they did have at least a few folks wandering the exhibit halls). But that doesn't mean there wasn't anything for you WoW fans: both Elizabeth Harper and I were there from working with our sister sites Joystiq and Massively, and as WoW fans, we saw plenty of awesome games and demos that you should know about.

So even if you haven't been paying attention to E3 information on other sites, here's a quick wrapup of ten different things you should know from last week's big convention if you're a WoW player. There were no big expansion announcements or hints at future Blizzard releases -- they're saving all of that for BlizzCon this year. But there were a few games to watch, a few booths to marvel at, and a few trends to notice that you'll want to be aware of even if you're spending most or all of your gaming time in Azeroth. Hit the break for the first four.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Events, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard

"My Life as a Night Elf Priest"

A University of California Irvine anthropologist named Bonnie Nardi has been studying one of the strangest cultures known to man lately, and she's going to be presenting her findings in a book called "My life as a Night Elf Priest" -- that's right, she's been taking notes on the weird sociological experiment known as Azeroth. It sounds pretty interesting -- she's been examining the way Chinese and American players play the game (and of course the differences between them), and she's also looking into how games like WoW can bring us closer together rather than isolating us socially.

It's funny -- as a genre and a technology, MMO games are actually in the absolute earliest phases of their history. Socoiologists and psychologists have been studying real humans for thousands of years, and yet it's only in the past few decades that they've gotten access to MMO games, like little petri dishes of condensed human behavior. Nardi may be one of the first to try and scientifically examine how players use (and are affected by) this technology, but she'll definitely be far from the last.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Study: MMOs bringing in $1.4 billion a year

If America's bankers want to get back into Moneytown, apparently they could do a lot worse than designing a hit MMO -- a study by a group named Screen Digest says that the MMO market is hotter than ever. After dropping down to a total of $701 million in 2008, games like World of Warcraft are seeing their revenues rise again, up to a total of $1.4 billion. And not surprisingly, WoW is still leading the charge -- while their overall market share is dropping very slightly, from 60% of the market down to around 58%, they're still making more money than ever. And while other games are picking up some numbers, according to Screen Digest, they're not really stealing players from Azeroth -- they're actually pulling new MMO players in.

Which is understandable -- during times of economic downturn, online games like MMOs are actually positioned to do very well. Why spend $15 on one night at the movies when you can spend it on a whole month of entertainment? World of Warcraft may have brought the MMO monster to the surface, but according to numbers like these, this is a game genre that's going to be extremely popular (and profitable) for a long time to come.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Economy, Making money

Why the expansion isn't revolutionary (and why it shouldn't be)

Big announcements (at events like BlizzCon) about expansions (like Wrath of the Lich King) always bring up the question of whether the planned updates to the game are any good or not. If it were just a regular patch people might complain about a particular buff or nerf, or lament that they have no chance or desire to see a particular new dungeon, but no one would expect a mere patch to totally revolutionize the MMO genre.

Expansions though, for some people, are supposed to be the thing that doesn't just expand the game, but changes the face of the entire gaming world. "More of the same" is just not good enough for them. But as much as I, too, would love to see more innovation in MMO gaming, and even World of Warcraft in particular, I have to tell you, folks, Blizzard is made of mere mortals and some of you may be setting your expectations a bit too high.

No WoW expansion can ever totally revolutionize the MMO genre, because at this point the genre is mostly WoW. While there are, of course, other games out there, WoW is the current MMO superpower, with a population larger than some countries of the world -- it defines the standard upon which to improve. To "revolutionize" the genre, you'd need a different, better game, because for WoW to change too drastically would mean turning the game into something other than what it is: replacing the current game with entirely different mechanics, ways of playing, even reasons for playing altogether. Expecting WoW to become something other than what it is unfair, even if that were to be an improvement, because then it wouldn't be WoW anymore. It could also be a financial disaster to keep the name but change the game, as the fiasco with Star Wars Galaxies proved (read up here to find out how their "revolutionary" New Game Enhancements turned out).

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Expansions, BlizzCon, Wrath of the Lich King

MMORPG's After World of Warcraft

Love it or hate it, WoW has changed the face of the MMO genre.  The Escapist considers how things have changed since WoW has taken over.  When you have such a successful game, how can in development games break hope to break into the market?  There are a lot of up and coming games dealing with exactly this issue.  Now, whether the next big MMO will simply be a further refinement of WoW's model or something entirely opposite - only time will tell.  But the MMO's of the future can't help but be a response, of some sort, to WoW's huge success.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

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