World of Warcraft (commonly acronymed as WoW) is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). It is Blizzard Entertainment's fourth released game set in the fantasy Warcraft universe, which was first introduced by Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994. World of Warcraft takes place within the world of Azeroth, four years after the events at the conclusion of Blizzard's previous release, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. Blizzard Entertainment announced World of Warcraft on September 2, 2001. The game was released on November 23, 2004, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Warcraft franchise.
The first expansion set of the game, The Burning Crusade, was released on January 16, 2007. On August 3, 2007, during the 2007 BlizzCon event, Blizzard announced a second expansion set, Wrath of the Lich King, to be released on November 13, 2008.
With more than 10.9 million monthly subscribers, World of Warcraft is currently the world's largest MMORPG in those terms, and holds the Guinness World Record for the most popular MMORPG. In April 2008, World of Warcraft was estimated to hold 62% of the massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) market.
Unlike previous games in the Warcraft series, World of Warcraft is a MMORPG, not a real-time strategy game. There are some similarities with previous games in the series, including the use of the same setting of the world of Azeroth as well as following a similar art direction. As with other MMORPGs, players control a character avatar within a game world, exploring the landscape, fighting monsters, completing quests and interacting with NPCs or other players. In common with many other MMORPGs, World of Warcraft requires the player to pay for a subscription, either by buying game cards for a pre-selected amount of playing time from a retailer, or by using a credit or debit card to pay on a regular basis.
In order to enter the game, the player must select a realm or server to play on. Each realm acts as an individual copy of the game world, and falls into one of four different categories depending on the rules that realm uses. Realms can be classed as Player versus player (PvP) where open combat between other players is allowed, or Player versus environment (PvE) where the focus is mainly on defeating monsters and completing quests. Roleplay variants of each of these are also available. On a PvP or RP-PvP server a player may create characters belonging to only one faction, either Horde or Alliance, but not both. Realms are also categorized by language, with in-game support in the language available. Players can move established characters between realms for a fee.
Once a realm has been selected, the player can either select one of their previously made characters to play or create a new one. Following on from the storyline in the previous games in the Warcraft series, players can choose their character to be a member of either the opposing factions of the Alliance or Horde. Only characters from the same faction can communicate, group with and trade with each other. From there a player selects which race, such as Orcs or Trolls for the Horde or Humans or Dwarves for the Alliance. Players also select which class they wish their character to be, with choices such as mages, warriors and priests available. Some classes are limited to particular races. Players can further customize their characters as they play—as characters become more developed, they gain talents, allowing the player to improve the abilities of that character. Professions such as tailoring, blacksmithing, mining, cooking and first aid can also be learned by characters. While a character can be played on its own, players can also group up with others in order to tackle more challenging content. In this way, character classes are used in specific roles within a group. Players can also team up their characters with others to form guilds, allowing characters in the same guild unified communications and a shared guild name and identity.
A large amount of World of Warcraft revolves around questing. These tasks or missions are usually available from non-player characters (NPCs). Quests usually reward the player with experience points and in-game money that the character can then spend on buying new skills and buying new equipment. It is also through the use of quests that much of the game's story is told, with NPCs sometimes performing a small routine once a quest is handed in. Sometimes, quests of this nature are linked together by a common theme. Where one quest ends, another starts, forming a quest chain. A unique aspect of World of Warcraft is the use of a "rested bonus" system, increasing the rate that a character can gain experience points after the player has spent time away from the game.
Quests commonly involve killing a number of creatures, gathering a certain number of resources, finding a difficult to locate object, or delivering an item from one place to another. During this process, a character may get attacked and killed by a creature, becoming a ghost at a nearby graveyard. Characters can be resurrected by other characters that have the ability, or can self-resurrect by moving from the graveyard to the place where they died. If this location is unreachable, they can use a special NPC known as a spirit healer to resurrect at the graveyard. When a character dies the items being carried degrade, requiring in-game money and a specialist NPC to repair them. Items that degrade heavily can become unusable until they are repaired.
As well as being able to complete quests and enter dungeons, players can also fight against other players in the game. World of Warcraft contains a variety of mechanisms for this. Firstly, some realms allow player versus player to take combat almost anywhere in the game world. In these environments, members of opposing factions can attack each other at any time. Player versus environment (PvE) servers, by contrast, allow a player to choose to engage in combat against other players. On both server types, there are special areas of the world where free-for-all combat is permitted.
World of Warcraft also makes use of battlegrounds. These locations act in a similar way to dungeons or instances in that only a set number of characters can enter a single battleground, but additional copies of the battleground can be made to accommodate additional players. Each battleground has a set objective, such as capturing a flag or defeating an opposing general, that must be completed in order to win the battleground. Competing in battlegrounds rewards the character with tokens and honor points that can be used to buy armour and weapons. Initially a ladder-based system was implemented, where the honour points accumulated in a week would affect that character's standing in the ladder, allowing them to purchase more powerful weapons and armour.
World of Warcraft takes place in a 3D-representation of the Warcraft universe that players can interact with through their characters. The game features two continents on the world of Azeroth. In this game world, players use their characters to explore locations, defeat creatures and complete quests. By doing this, characters gain experience points. After a set amount of experience points have been gained, a character gains a level, opening up the option of learning new skills or abilities, exploring new areas and attempting new quests. As a player explores new locations, a number of transport shortcuts become available. Players can discover "flight masters" in newly discovered locations and then use those NPCs in order to fly to previously discovered locations in other parts of the world. Players can also use facilities such as boats or zeppelins in order to move from one of the continents on Azeroth to the other. Although the game world remains reasonably similar from day to day, seasonal events that reflect on real world events such as Halloween, Christmas, Children's Week, Easter and Midsummer have been added. Locations can also have changeable weather such as rain, snow and dust storms.
A number of facilities are available to characters when in towns and cities. In each major city characters can access a bank in order to deposit items, such as treasure or crafted items. Each bank is unique to that character, with players able to purchase additional storage space. In the major cities of Azeroth, Auction houses also exist as a way for characters to sell items to others in a similar way to online auction sites such as eBay. Players can also use mailboxes, which can be found in almost every town. The mailbox can be used to collect items won at auction and also to send messages, items and even in-game money to other characters.
Some of the harder challenges in World of Warcraft require players to group together to defeat them. These usually take place in dungeons, also known as instances, that a group of characters can enter together. The term comes from each group or party having a separate copy or instance of the dungeon, complete with their own enemies to defeat and their own treasure or rewards. This allows players to explore areas and defeat quests without other players outside the group interfering. Dungeons are spread over the game world and are designed for characters of varying progression. A typical dungeon will allow up to five characters to enter as part of a group. Players having difficulty finding groups to venture into a dungeon with can use meeting stones, which attempt to match characters with groups requiring particular skills or abilities. High end dungeons allow more players to group together and form a raid. These dungeons allow up to forty players to enter at a time in order to face some of the most difficult challenges. As well as dungeon-based raid challenges, several creatures exist in the normal game environment that are designed for raids to attack.
World of Warcraft runs natively on both Macintosh and Windows platforms. Boxed copies of the game use a hybrid CD to install the game, eliminating the need for separate Mac and Windows retail products. The game allows all users to play together, regardless of their operating system. Although there is no official version for any other platform, support for World of Warcraft is present in Windows API implementations Wine and Cedega, allowing the game to be played under Linux and FreeBSD.
In South Korea, there is no software package or CD key requirement to activate the account. In order to play the game, however, players need to purchase time credits online via credit card or the ARS billing system. The minimum gameplay duration that a player can purchase via credit card is five hours. A player may also purchase game time by thirty hours or by increments of one week. A player also has the option of purchasing game time by one, three, or six months of gameplay at once for a slight discount.
In China, because a large number of the players do not own the computer they use to play games (e.g. Internet cafes), the CD keys required to create an account can be purchased independently of the software package. In order to play the game, players must also purchase prepaid game cards that can be played for 66 hours and 40 minutes. A monthly fee model is not available to players of this region. The Chinese government and The9, the licensee for World of Warcraft in China, have imposed a modification on Chinese versions of the game which places flesh on bare-boned skeletons and transforms dead character corpses into tidy graves. These changes were imposed by the Chinese government in an attempt to "promote a healthy and harmonious online game environment" in World of Warcraft.
The World of Warcraft Launcher (referred to in press releases and the menu bar as the "Blizzard Launcher") is a program designed to act as a starting point for World of Warcraft players. It was first included with the version 1.8.3 patch. The 2.1.0 patch allowed for an option to bypass the use of the launcher. Features of the launcher include news and updates for World of Warcraft players, access to World of Warcraft's support website, access to the test version of World of Warcraft when it is live on the test servers in order to test upcoming patches, updates to Warden, and updates to the updater itself.
Patch 1.9.3 added native support for Intel-powered Macs, making World of Warcraft a Universal application (as defined by Apple). As a result of this, the minimum supported Mac OS X version has been changed to 10.3.9; World of Warcraft version 1.9.3 and later will not launch on older versions of Mac OS X.
Because new content is constantly being added to the game, official system requirements often change. In version 1.12.0 the requirements for Windows were increased from requiring 256 MB to 512 MB of RAM. Official Windows 98 technical support was dropped, even though the game continued to run fine until version 2.2.3. After version 2.2.3, the official patches to version 2.3.0 failed on operating systems earlier than Windows 2000. By knowledgeably using an old update executable with new patch data, Windows 98 and Windows ME users could update from 2.2.3 using one of the released patches. Once successfully upgraded, the new version of the game then worked with Windows ME, although version 2.3.0 did not work with Windows 98 Second Edition unless applying updates to the operating system, including an unofficial third party's operating system modifications.
Within hours Corrupted Blood had infected entire cities such as Ironforge and Orgrimmar because of their high player concentrations. Low-level players were killed in seconds by the high-damage disease. Eventually Blizzard fixed the issue so that the plague could not exist outside of Zul'Gurub.
The corrupted blood plague so closely resembled the outbreak of real-world epidemics that scientists are currently looking at ways MMORPGs or other massively-distributed systems can model human behavior during outbreaks. The reaction of players to the plague closely resembled previously hard-to-model aspects of human behavior that may allow researchers to more accurately predict how diseases and outbreaks spread amongst a population.
The soundtrack for World of Warcraft was composed and arranged by Jason Hayes, Tracy W. Bush, Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford. It was released on November 23, 2004 together with the Collectors edition of the game. It is also sold separately on 1 CD, in the MP3 format.
World of Warcraft was almost universally praised by critics upon release, following a period of high anticipation before launch. Although the game follows a similar model to others in the genre and was noted for having many familiar concepts from roleplaying games, the new approaches to reduce pauses between game encounters was well liked. A common example was the new approach to character death; in previous MMORPGs a player would suffer a high penalty for character death, while in WoW a player would be able to recover and start playing quickly. Combat was another area where "downtime" or pauses between play were reduced. By allowing all character types to recover from damage taken, players could return to combat quickly. It was felt that these changes in pacing would make the genre more accessible to casual players, who would be able to play for short periods and still achieve something, while still having a depth of game that would attract players at all levels of interest in the genre. The concept of a "rested bonus", or increasing the rate at which a player's character gains experience was also welcomed as a way for players to quickly catch up with their friends
Questing was described as an integral part, often being used to continue a storyline or lead the player through the game. The high number of quests in each location was popular, as well as the rewards for completing them. It was felt that the range of quests removed the need for a player to "grind" or carry out repetitive tasks in order to advance their character. Quests also seemed to require players to explore every section of the game world, potentially causing problems for social gamers or roleplayers seeking somewhere quiet. Quests that required the player to collect items from the corpses of creatures they had killed were also unpopular, with a low "drop rate" or chance of finding the items required making them feel repetitive as a high number of creatures would need to be killed in order to complete the quest. Some critics mentioned a lack of quests that required players to group up made the game feel as if it was designed for solo play, while others complained that some dungeon or instance-based group quests were not friendly to new players and could take several hours to complete. Upon release, a small number of quests had errors or bugs that would make them impossible to complete, while the large number of new players in a particular area meant that there were often no creatures to kill, or that players would have to wait and take turns to kill a particular creature in order to complete a quest.
Characters were felt to be implemented well, with each class option appearing \"viable and interesting\" while still having unique and different mechanisms, and each of the races having a distinct look and feel. Character development was also liked, with the talent mechanism offering choice to players and profession options being praised. Character customisation options were felt to be low, but the detail of character models was praised.
The appearance of the game world was praised by critics. Most popular was the feature that a player could run from one end of the continent to the other without having to pause at a \"loading screen\" while part of the game is retrieved from storage. The environment was described as \"breathtaking\", with players finding it difficult to become lost and each area in the game world having a distinct look that blends from one to the next. Critics described the environment as \"a careful blend of cartoon, fantasy art, and realism\". The game was found to run smoothly on a range of systems, although some described it as basic and mentioned that the bloom graphics effect can blur things. Having said that, one reviewer described being able to fly over long stretches of scenery as \\"very atmospheric\\". The user interface was liked, being described as \\"simple\\", with tooltips helping to get the player started.
The audio was well received, particularly the background music. By assigning music to different areas of the game world, reviewers felt that the fantasy style added to immersion and that the replay value was increased. The sounds and voices used by characters and NPCs, as well as the overall sound effects were felt to add a \\"personality\\" to the game.
World of Warcraft won several awards from critics upon release, including Editor's Choice awards. In addition, it won several annual awards from the media, being described as the best game in the RPG and MMORPG class. The graphics and audio were also praised in the annual awards, with the cartoonish style and overall sound makeup being noted. The game was also awarded Best Mac OS X Entertainment Product at the 2005 Apple Design Awards. Finally, World of Warcraft was recognised at the 2005 Spike TV Video Game Awards, where it won Best PC Game, Best Multiplayer Game, Best RPG and Most Addictive Game. In 2008, World of Warcraft was honoured (along with Neverwinter Nights and EverQuest) at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of MMORPG games.
World of Warcraft was the best-selling PC game of 2005 and 2006. As of January 22, 2008, World of Warcraft has surpassed 10 million subscribers worldwide, with more than 2 million subscribers in Europe, more than 2.5 million in North America, and about 5.5 million in Asia.
Since launch, World of Warcraft has faced a number of technical problems. In September 2005, Blizzard gave all European players two free days of play as compensation for repeated network failures. During the early days of World of Warcraft's U.S. release Blizzard also gave out free days to compensate players for days lost due to problems on their end. The issues were suspected to be Blizzard's upstream Internet service provider. Weaknesses of the client-server model used by World of Warcraft have also been exploited in order to crash the cluster of servers that make up a realm. Exploits also include characters being able to instantly change location or teleport.
As World of Warcraft grew in popularity, players began to experience problems with connecting to and logging in to the game. Cases include long delays waiting for usernames and passwords to be authenticated or large queues on certain realms. Sudden server crashes that would force realms offline also occurred. The situation became worse when trying to coordinate activities across a number of players or guilds on the same realm. On May 3, 2006 Shane Dabiri, World of Warcraft Lead Producer, stated that new realms would be introduced to relieve the burden on existing ones. Existing realms would be upgraded. The paid migration service was also unveiled at this time.
When a player creates a World of Warcraft account, they are asked to choose a username and password. Whenever the user then plays World of Warcraft, he is asked to supply the same username and password in full. This is also the case when using account management facilities online. This type of authentication is vulnerable to Keystroke logging. While this is not unique to World of Warcraft and is common to many MMORPGs, the game has been directly targeted with trojans being specifically crafted to capture account login details. Attacks have been reported as early as May 2006, although they may extend as far back as July 30, 2005.
In September 2006, reports emerged of spoof World of Warcraft gaming advice websites that contained malware. Vulnerable computers would be infected through their web browser, downloading a program that would then relay back account information. Blizzard's account support teams experienced high demand during this episode, stating that many users had been affected. Claims were also made that telephone support was closed for isolated periods due to the volume of calls and resulting queues. In April 2007, attacks evolved to take advantage of further exploits involving animated cursors, with multiple websites being used. Security researcher group Symantec released a report stating that a compromised World of Warcraft account was worth US$10 on the black market, compared to US$6 to US$12 for a compromised computer (correct as of March 2007). In February 2008, phishing emails were distributed requesting that users validate their account information using a fake version of the World of Warcraft account management pages. In June 2008, Blizzard announced the Blizzard Authenticator, a hardware security token that provides two factor security. The token generates an one-time password based code that the player supplies when logging on. The password is only valid for a limited time, thus providing extra security against keylogging malware.
In the United Kingdom in February 2008, the Halifax Bank claimed that stolen credit card details were regularly being used to fraudulently pay for World of Warcraft accounts. A statement from the bank read that a "significant number of fraudulent transactions through Blizzard's gaming sites" had been observed. As a result, the Bank has stated that transactions with Blizzard will be blocked by default, requesting that customers contact them directly to authorise payments.
Blizzard makes use of a system known as Warden on the Windows version of the game in order to detect third-party programs, such as botting software, allowing World of Warcraft to be played unattended. There has been some controversy as to the legality of Warden. Warden uses techniques similar to anti-virus software in order to analyse other running software on the players' PCs, as well as the file system. However, unlike most anti-virus software, it sends a portion of this information back to Blizzard, which caused privacy advocates to accuse it of being spyware. One example of the information Warden collects is the title of every window open on the system while WoW is running. Blizzard has not stated what information is passed by Warden over the Internet, or if that information is encrypted, so it is entirely possible this information is passed over the Internet back to Blizzard. On balance, many gamers responsed positively about the development, stating that they supported the technology if it resulted in fewer cases of cheating. Blizzard's use of Warden was stated in the Terms of Agreement (TOA).
The Warden's existence was acknowledged in March 2008, during the opening legal proceedings against MDY Industries. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Arizona, and also listed Michael Donnelly as a defendant. Donnelly was included in the suit as the creator of MMO Glider, software that can automatically play many tasks in the game. Blizzard claimed the software is an infringement of its copyright and software license agreement, stating that "Glider use severely harms the WoW gaming experience for other players by altering the balance of play, disrupting the social and immersive aspects of the game, and undermining the in-game economy". Donnelly claims to have sold 100,000 copies of the $25 software.
As with many MMORPGs, companies emerged offering to sell virtual gold and other associated services to players. After Blizzard started offering free trial gameplay accounts, players started receiving increasing numbers of spam sent by bots in the virtual mailboxes of their characters, advertising these services. One study shows that this problem is particularly prevalent on the European realms, with gold being over 14 times more expensive to buy on US realms than their European counterparts. In patch 2.1, Blizzard responded to this by adding additional anti-spam mechanics including whisper throttling and the report spam function. Additionally, trial accounts are prevented from speaking in the public chat channels (although they may speak to players within range or whisper to other players that have first whispered them), participating in-game trades, using the Auction House and the mail feature and several other limitations. In May 2007 Blizzard filed a complaint against In Game Dollar LLC (trading as peons4hire) in federal court. In February 2008, the parties filed a consent decree in which In Game Dollar agreed to refrain from using any World of Warcraft chat or communication to advertise any business or sell any services relating to World of Warcraft.
The practice of buying or selling gold in World of Warcraft is seen as highly controversial. On February 21, 2008, Blizzard released an article describing the effects and consequences of buying gold. In it, it describes that an "alarmingly high" proportion of all gold bought originates from hacked accounts (see Account security, earlier). The article also states that customers who have paid for character levelling services find their accounts hacked into months later, with all items stripped and sold off for virtual gold. The article concludes by mentioning that these companies often use "disruptive hacks ... which can cause realm performance and stability issues". As characters progress in World of Warcraft and take on some of the toughest challenges, many of the rewards received are bound to that character and cannot be traded, generating a market for the trading of accounts with well-equipped characters. The highest noted World of Warcraft account trade was for £5000 (7000 euros, $9,937.49USD) in early September 2007.
Blizzard garnered criticism for its decision in January 2006 to ban guilds from advertising sexual orientation preferences. The incident occurred after several players were cited for "harassment" after advocating a group for gay-straight alliance. Blizzard initially responded by saying its objective was to, ".. promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast". Blizzard later reversed the decision to issue warnings to players promoting LGBT-friendly guilds. Included in this decision was the announcement that it intends to set up in-game channels intended specifically for guild advertisements, as well as provide sensitivity training for its staff after players complained of anti-homosexual language being used openly and without punishment.
Dr. Maressa Orzack, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, was interviewed August 8, 2006 stating that many of the then 9 million subscribers are addicted. She is quoted as saying "... 40 percent of the players are addicted. Note that the 40 percent figure was not derived from a scientific study overseen by Dr. Orzack, but rather came from "a forum that Nick Yee runs". She added in an August 2006 interview that "even if the percentage is 5 to 10 percent which is standard for most addictive behaviors, it is a huge number of people who are out of control. Also, according to Dr. John Grohol, a colleague of Orzack's, "Dr. Orzack is not claiming that up to 40% of World of Warcraft gamers are addicted based upon any actual evidence or surveys of players. This is just her opinion, based upon her own experience and observation of the problem.
WoW has inspired artists to satirize and/or acknowledge its mark in popular culture. One example is the Emmy Award winning South Park episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft.". The Simpsons episode "Marge Gamer" also satirized MMORPG games like World of Warcraft.
The game has also been used to advertise unrelated products, such as Toyota trucks.
In late 2007, a series of television commercials for the game began airing featuring pop culture celebrities such as Mr. T, William Shatner, and Verne Troyer discussing the virtues of the character classes they play in the game. A Spanish commercial featuring Willy Toledo followed, and a French commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
World of Warcraft has inspired two board games, World of Warcraft: The Board Game (including Shadow of War and The Burning Crusade expansions) and World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game, produced by Fantasy Flight Games. There is also a trading card game on the market and a collectible miniatures game scheduled to be released November 18, 2008, both produced by Upper Deck Entertainment.