Games that made a difference is a weekly series on GameBuz about games that, well, made a difference. These games made an impact in one way or another, storytelling, mechanics or real life influences. Stay tuned to your favorite games news site for more.
World of Warcraft is a bit younger than the previous entries in the series, but it’s still going strong and has a lot of influence in the real world. Released in November of 2004 it will be celebrating its 15th birthday this year, so get comfortable because this is going to be a long one.
Without further ado let’s take a look at how WoW impacted gaming and real life.
A game for everyone
Let’s be real, Blizzard isn’t really known for innovating, but they are for refining what already exists. World of Warcraft shows that really well, it isn’t the first MMORPG and most of the in-game mechanics aren’t anything new, they’re just better.
Back when it came out it wasn’t easy to get into MMORPGs, it was one of the most hardcore genres, they took a lot of dedication, the learning curve was steep and they weren’t forgiving. In comes WoW and changes it all up.
From the start it was more welcoming because, for many, Azeroth wasn’t a completely new world. Warcraft had a large following that was glad to see an expansion of the world they already enjoyed.
The world design wasn’t as realistic as most others were. The base for the design was Warcraft 3 and they shared concept art, but quickly they decided to tone it down a bit. Textures were hand painted, model proportions were played with and many diverse color palettes were used. Besides the graphics, most of the game has a serious tone, but there is room for humor in smaller quests and when things aren't related to lore. This made the game more inviting for new players while keeping as much of the design from Warcraft to also please that part of the player-base.
From the start, you were given a lot of choices and even more freedom to do whatever you like and still feel rewarded. The game felt rich in content no matter if you were still trying to get to the level cap or you were at an end-game level. You could choose what you enjoy more, PvP or PvE, you could play it solo, with friends or just a random group of people you met. You chose what talents you would like to have and then an option to respec if you want to try something new or change your mind.
It also made raids and dungeons simpler to get started. You didn’t have to plan days ahead and organize all of your real-life and virtual friends to try a dungeon. You could just queue up with your desired role and let the game put you in a group.
Another great addition was instances, no longer did you have to camp in front of dungeons waiting for respawns or to rush through them with way more people than needed and hope to get the loot you want. Dungeons were made into a fun, planned out co-op experience for an exact number of people and every group had its own fresh dungeon to fight through.
The developers never stopped working on it, even though today’s team is different from the one that originally made the game, they stay in touch with them and communicate with the players to make sure that the game continues to be a great experience for them.
All of these things are defining characteristics of MMORPGs today, but someone had to introduce them.
Corrupted Blood incident
This is probably the biggest impact a game had on the real world and it was completely by accident.
For those who don’t know about it, the Corrupted Blood incident was a pandemic created by an oversight in the mechanics of a new boss in the game. The new boss, Hakkar, had a debuff spell that drained HP and was highly contagious. This was supposed to only work in the area where the battle is happening, but it started spreading throughout the world through pets and minions.
It was possible for your pet or minion to receive the debuff and for you to dismiss them. When you do this the debuff timer pauses and your pet will still have the highly infectious debuff when you call it out again. Those pets were most often called out again in cities, surrounded by many other players. This would cause the debuff to bounce between players and NPCs, instantly killing low-level players and reinfecting those that survive the first round.
Some players avoided cities and other heavily populated areas, they started making quarantine zones and trying to outheal the debuff and help other infected. Even though many players were trying their hardest to save the (virtual) world, others wanted to watch it burn and tried to infect as many people as they could.
All of this caught the eyes of researches that used it as a base for anti-terrorism and epidemic research. They already had complex mathematical models, but math can’t predict, the sometimes, irrational human behavior. Another thing that can’t be done is actually infecting someone to test those models, well, at least not in the real world.
Parallels were drawn between the in-game behavior of players and real-life epidemics and there was a lot of correlations. The epidemic began in a remote area and the virus was carried over by groups of travelers going between large cities and this isolated location. Some players would make short visits to impacted areas to see the effects of the plague in a way that reporters would travel to cover the story. Others were just curious or weren’t careful enough and got themselves infected.
Actions of players trying to spread the plague were also closely followed as examples of how quickly terrorist cells could form around such an event and how they would function.
Researchers and Blizzard started working together to share data and make more accurate models and ways to test them. There are entire articles and research papers on this topic you can check out if you’re really interested.
The towns were white from the skeletons covering them and a lot of fixes and a hard-reset were needed to bring things back to normal. Blizzard also thought the idea of infecting the player base was cool so later a Zombie plague was created which was more realistically transferred among players. Obviously, this was also closely followed by researchers, because it's not every day that you get an opportunity to watch a world get infected.
Today it’s just a memory for the veterans and a fun-fact mentioned periodically for the rest.
Make love, not warcraft
Ah yes, the old times of “All your base are our belong to us”, ROFLcopter and the ever-relevant Godwin’s Law. How could we not talk about the man, the myth, the legend: Leeroy Jenkins.
Everyone knows the stereotype that WoW players are fat basement dwellers and nerds, well the player base also likes to make fun of such people. So a group of friends made a satirical video poking at people who take raids and dungeons too seriously. Since you have an internet connection I’ll guess you don’t live under a rock and that I don’t have to explain the video, but you might not know how far the meme went.
It was referenced in shows like Psych, Barry, How I Met Your Mother, My Name is Earl and many more. Leeroy Jenkins is featured in the WoW trading card game, Hearthstone and made into a WoW miniature. One of the most hardcore military units in the world, the USAF Pararescue, uses it as an alarm to notify them they’re needed. (As a small note, you might think that it’s a bit ironic they use that since the group wipes at the end of the video, but the motto of the Pararescue is “That others may live”.)
Continuing the talk about the stereotype, South Park dedicated an entire episode to it. The episode was a collaboration between Blizzard and creators of South Park and both were surprised that the other wanted to work on that. So they worked together and parts of the episode were machinima on an alpha server and original 3D models from Maya. They ended up making an episode that weont on to win an Emmy.
Another thing that’s deeply rooted today is “kek”. Players from different factions couldn’t communicate with each other, anything they said would be in a different “language”. So when someone from the Horde would type “lol” it would get translated into “kek” for an Alliance player.
Side note, “kek” was used by Korean gamers before that, it had the same meaning, WoW just kinda cemented it.
World of Warcraft is so big that references to it become big enough to get their own references.
World of Warcraft isn’t the first successful MMORPG, but it might be the last. It’s too big to fail and it’s been around for so long that it’s a completely polished experience that no other developer could hope to match with a new title. Unlike many others that went free-to-play to survive, WoW still has its subscription. It’s alive and well and shows no signs of being forgotten any time soon.
With requirements so low that you could port it to a potato with an internet connection, a total play-time greater than how long it took us to evolve from our first bipedal predecessor and 15 years of age how could it not make a difference. It defined an entire genre and is it’s permanent king, shaped an era in gaming, had huge pop-culture influence and helped in epidemic research.