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World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that takes place in the fantasy world of Azeroth, and follows the tale of the eternal battle between the Alliance and Horde factions. Since its release in 2004, it has gathered more than 10 million subscribers world wide, making it the most-subscribed MMO of all time.
World of Warcraft was released by American video game developer Blizzard Entertainment on November 23rd, 2004. It was preceded by 3 Warcraft real-time strategy games starting with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans released in 1994 and ending Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne which was released in 2003. The World of Warcraft storyline picks up 4 years after Warcraft III.
As of October 2012, there have been four expansions for World of Warcraft since its initial release.
The first expansion, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (above left), brought new areas to explore in the demonic region known as Outland, and included new professions, quests, raids, and dungeons. This expansion focuses on the the struggle to protect Azeroth from the Burning Legion, a militant organization of demonic races whose sole purpose is to corrupt and enslave entire worlds. It introduced two new playable races: the Blood Elves for the Horde, and Draenei for the Alliance. This expansion also made it possible for Alliance players to play the Shaman class as Alliance and the Paladin class as Horde, which were both faction-specific prior to this expansion.
The second expansion, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (above center) introduced the frozen continent of Northrend, an arctic wasteland in the northernmost reaches of Azeroth. In this expansion, the Scourge, an undead army under the control of the Lich King, have increased their aggression and are launching an effort to take over Azeroth. In an effort to stop the Lich King, both the Alliance and the Horde send heroes to Northrend to stop him once and for all. As with the previous expansion, new professions, quests, raids, dungeons, and game mechanics were added with this release. Of note is the inclusion of a new “hero class,” the Death Knight, which requires that a player already have a character at level 55 and is limited to one per server. The Death Knight starts at level 55 and could be any race at the time of the expansion’s release. They had their own starting area in a story-driven quest chain showing how the player breaks free from the Lich King’s control and joins either the Horde or the Alliance.
The third expansion, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm (above right) added new areas to Azeroth itself, and revamped many of the existing areas with new terrain and quests to reflect the emergence of Deathwing, a great dragon aspect who rested underneath Azeroth’s surface until the start of this expansion. After awakening, he laid waste to much of the world, triggering the Cataclysm that is the expansion’s namesake. The entire expansion revolves around the Horde and the Alliance in their struggle to stop Deathwing and his cult, the Twilight’s Hammer, from bringing about the end of the world. In addition to the complete revamp of already existing regions, notable features include new raids, dungeons, quests, zones, and the addition of two new races, the Worgen for the Alliance and the Goblins for the Horde.
Mists of Pandaria
On October 21st, 2011, Blizzard announced the expansion Mists of Pandaria during their annual BlizzCon gaming convention. The expansion takes place on the continent Pandaria, and includes the “monk” playable class and the Pandaren humanoid panda playable race. The expansion was released on September 25th, 2012, selling 2.7 million copies in the first week. While the game’s subscriptions dropped to 9.1 million in early August 2012, the release of the expansion brought that count back up to 10 million.
To join the game, the player first selects a server that will determine the player base the user will be interacting with. It is often selected based on server population size, and geographic location (which can greatly effect latency). After a server is selected, a faction (Horde or Alliance), race, sex, and class must be chosen in the character creation screen.
After creating a character, the player begins in the starting zone for the chosen race at level one, spawning directly next to a quest giver that will introduce the character to the game. To progress in the game, experience must be gained through completing quests and killing enemies (known as “mobs”) in order to reach the next level and gain attribute points. Armor and weapons must be continuously upgraded in order to survive. As of May 2013, World of Warcraft accounts are free up to level 20, but the player must pay monthly subscription fee of $15 in order to continue on in the game with additional features such as free chat, private messaging, auction house use, and the ability to join guilds and parties. The maximum level a player can reach is 90.
From 2005 to 2006, World of Warcraft was the best-selling PC game. It has received Editor’s Choice awards, Best Mac OS X Entertainment Product from Apple Design Awards, and Best PC Game, Best Multiplayer Game, Best RPG, and Most Addictive Game from Spike TV.
On May 8th, 2013, Activision reported a loss of 1.3 million subscribers, or equivalent to 14% of the userbase, between January and March of 2013, putting the total number of worldwide subscribers just above the 8 million mark. Since reaching its peak of 12 million subscribers in October 2010, World of Warcraft has seen a steady decline, dropping to just over 11 million players in August 2011, falling again to 10 million players in November 2011. In commenting on the report, Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick (shown below) explained that many of the unsubscribers were from Asian countries, citing a more competitive MMO market with many free-to-play games. To combat this, Kotick asserted that the company would be releasing new content more consistently to keep players coming back.
Maine Senatorial Race
In early October 2012, the Maine Republican party launched a smear campaign against the Democratic candidate for State Senator Colleen Lachowicz by attacking her through the comments she posted on liberal blog Daily Kos, specifically those in regard to her World of Warcraft account. Five of these comments were chosen for a physical mailer sent to Maine residents, which argued that the candidate lives in a “fantasy world” where she makes “crude, vicious and violent statements.”
The mailer also provided a link to the website Colleen’s World, which revealed further information on Lachowicz’s character, a level 85 Orc Assassination Rogue named Santiaga, paired with comments from 2005-2012. On October 4th, several internet culture and video game news sites picked up the story including the Daily Dot, Kotaku, The Mary Sue and the Huffington Post. A Reddit thread was also submitted to /r/Games, receiving 673 upvotes and 527 points overall. In response to the personal attacks, Lachowicz posted a statement on her website, providing statistics on the population of Americans who play video games.
Over the next several days, the smear campaign was discussed on several news outlets and blogs including CNN (shown above), BBC News, Joystiq, Slate, Salon, Gawker and the New York Daily News, among other sites. Meanwhile, an outside group of gamers began raising money through the political action committee ActBlue for organizations that support Lachowicz, as her campaign cannot solicit or receive donations, accruing nearly $6000 within five days. Despite the controversy, Lachowicz ended up winning the election.
Stormwind and Orgrimmar Death Hack
On October 7th, European users on the Ragnaros server reported every player, as well as several non-playable characters, in Orgrimmar had been killed. The same day, YouTuber JaddMMOwned uploaded a video (shown below) explaining a prior instance of the instant kill hack, claiming the exploit was only known by three users until just before the hacker used it on the 7th. In addition to Ragnaros, players were killed en masse in several other servers including Terren Mill, Draenor and Twisted Nether. The exploit was quickly fixed by Blizzard, who claimed that it would not be repeatable. The Week, BBC News and Forbes all reported on the hack.
References to Internet Culture
- Portal: In World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, there is a quest titled “A Bone to Pick,” in which the player is asked to kill King Gurboggle, and in an oyster next to his throne, you can see the Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube.
- All Your Base are Belong to Us: In Cataclysm, one of the new released Guild Perks in 4.0.1 is called “For Great Justice,” which is a reference to the ‘All your base are belong to us’ opening sequence from Zero Wing. In Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne, “allyourbasearebelongtous” and “somebodysetupusthebomb” are both cheat codes for the game.
- 300: In Cataclysm, the quest Madnessω δ is a reference to the scene from the film when the negotiator is thrown into a bonfire.
- Pokemon: In World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, the achievements I Choose You, Runemaster Molgeim (10/25), I Choose You, Steelbreaker (10/25) and I Choose You, Stormcaller Brundir (10/25) may be a reference to the catchphrase “I choose X!” used in the Pokémon franchise.
- Need More Cowbell: In Wrath of the Lich King, the Ebon Hold (the Lich King’s floating necropolis and starting area for Death Knight characters) lists various Death Knight trainees and their fates. The player’s character is named on the last significant page with a note saying “Need more cowbell”, a reference to a Christopher Walken sketch that the development team must have really, really liked.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: In Wrath of the Lich King, the achievement I Could Say That This Cache Was Rare (10/25) is a reference to the TV series’ theme song.
- Cthulhu Mythos: In Wrath of the Lich King, the crazed dwarves in the Howling Fjord’s Whispering Gulch speak of “that which must not be named”. While it could be a reference to Harry Potter, it might also refer to The King in Yellow from the Lovecraftian worlds together with the various tomes of “Things Men was Not Meant to Know” found therein.
- Tunak Tunak Tun: In World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade, the male Draenei’s dance moves are taken from the video for the song “Tunak Tunak Tun” by Daler Mehndi which was a moderate internet phenomenon.
- Leeroy Jenkins: In Burning Crusade, the Classic Dungeons and Raids Achievement “Leeeeeeeeeeeeeroy” is based from the player video of Leroy Jenkins charging into a room full of rookery whelps during a raid, while screaming his name through the microphone. The title received from this quest, killing 50 rookery whelps in 15 seconds, is his last name, Jenkins.
- O RLY?: In Burning Crusade, one of newly added Goblin Auctioneers in Booty Bay was named “O’Reely” in reference to the popular Internet catchphrase. There is also a white owl that flies around a hut near Steamwheedle Port in Tanaris named “O’Reilly”. An Undead auctioneer by the name of “Yarly” has been added in the Undercity Auction House.
- Pirates vs. Ninjas: In Burning Crusade, eating a [Savory Deviate Delight] will cause your character to turn into either a Pirate or a Ninja. The effect is purely cosmetic. The effect will read as “Arrrrr” for pirates or “Flip Out” for ninjas, the latter is a reference to the phrase “The purpose of the ninja is to flip out and kill people.”
- Peanut Butter Jelly Time: In Burning Crusade, one of the Tauren Male’s dance cycles is based on the famous ‘Dancing Banana’ that appears in the popular Internet Flash animation.
A video featuring a paladin named Leeroy Jenkins of the guild Pals for Life from the Laughing Skull Server became one of the first major World of Warcraft memes. In the video, a paladin foolishly runs into a nest of eggs which ends up killing his entire party in the Upper Black Rock Spire Rookery. More information can be found in the Leeroy Jenkins entry.
The Corrupted Blood Incident
A dungeon called “Zul’Gurub” introduced in patch 1.7 featured the end boss Hakkar that casted a hit point draining debuff spell that lasted only a few seconds, but was highly contagious. Eventually players found out that Hunter class pets were able to keep the debuff when dismissed immediately after becoming infected. When summoned in a city it would immediately infect anyone nearby including non-player characters(npcs).
On September 13th, 2005, Corrupted Blood infected the major cities of Orgrimmar and Ironforge due to their large player populations. Lower level players died within seconds, the ground was littered with skeletons in highly populated areas. It took a few patches and server restarts to clear out the Corrupted Blood Plague. Due to largely positive feedback about it however it was used as a model for the Zombie invasion event shortly before the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was released.
Red Shirt Guy
At Blizzcon 2010, a teenage boy wearing a red polo shirt was recorded asking a question that managed to stump lead Blizzard designers. The video was uploaded to YouTube and managed to reach the front page of Reddit. For more information, visit the Red Shirt Guy entry.
In the context of Machinima art, or the practice of using 3D graphics rendering engines found in videogames to create cinematic pictures, World of Warcraft also became used as a popular source material for Machinima production, most notably in the South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” which partially takes place in an alpha server of World of Warcraft. For more World of Warcraft-based Machinima, check out the video gallery.
Search queries for “world of warcraft” peaked in February of 2005, the same month as its European release, and several months after its initial US release.
The Daily Dot – Candidate under fire for her World of Warcraft crimes
fn30 Forbes – Hacker Attack ‘Kills’ Thousands In World Of Warcraft