Wednesday, September 13, 2006

World of Warcraft, more than just a game?

Newsweek reports: [edited]

Two years into the history of World of Warcraft — an online game that accommodates 7 million players around the world — no one had successfully ventured into the dungeon to slay a group of computer-generated villains known as the Four Horsemen. But four experienced "guilds" of players — one in Europe, two in America and one in China — were coming close, posting updates on separate Web sites they maintained. Finally, a 40-person contingent from a U.S. guild conquered the last beast — and its members became instant international celebrities in a massive community where dragons and Druids are as real as dirt.

In the physical world we vainly scrounge for glory. Bin Laden still taunts us, the bus doors close before we reach them and leave us standing in the rain. But in the fantasy realm of Azeroth, the virtual geography of World of Warcraft, the physical pain comes only from hitting a keyboard too hard, camaraderie is the norm and heroism is never far away. In simple terms, Warcraft is the most advanced and popular entry in a genre called Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMO. "I call it the Technicolor, Americanized version of 'Lord of the Rings'," says Chris Metzen, VP of creative development for the game's maker, Blizzard Software. But for millions it is more than a game—it's an escape, an obsession and a home.

Engaging in this orgy of sword-swiping, spell-casting and monster-slaying generally involves a $50 purchase of the software and a monthly $15 fee thereafter to play online. Players in Asia—a clear majority of the WOW population, despite the fact that the game was created by digital dudes in Irvine, Calif. — buy cards that allow them WOW time for a few cents an hour. Then there's the merchandising: T shirts, jackets, hats, a nondigital (!) board game. In China, 600 million Coke cans were festooned with WOW figures. There are seven novels based on Warcraft lore. And Blizzard recently inked a movie deal with the studio that produced "Superman Returns." Games-industry analyst David Cole estimates that Blizzard (part of Vivendi) has made more than $300 million from the game so far. Blizzard COO Paul Sams says only, "We are an incredibly profitable company."

What distinguishes Warcraft from previous blockbuster games is its immersive nature and compellingocial dynamics. It's a rich, persistent alternative world, a medieval Matrix with lush graphics and even a seductive soundtrack (Blizzard has two full-time in-house composers). Blizzard improved on previous MMOs like Sony's Everquest by cleverly crafting its game so that newbies could build up characters at their own pace, shielded from predators who would casually "gank" them — while experienced players continually face more and more daunting challenges. The company mantra, says lead designer Rob Pardo, is "easy to learn, difficult to master." After months of play, when you reach the ultimate level (60), you join with other players for intricately planned raids on dungeons, or engage in massive rumbles against other guilds.

"Ninety percent of what I do is never finished — parenting, teaching, doing the laundry," says Elizabeth Lawley (Level 60, Troll Priest), a Rochester, N.Y., college professor. "In WOW, I can cross things off a list — I've finished a quest, I've reached a new level."


sky jordan said...

And you managed to explain all that without mentioning your very own 14 year old addict, I'm impressed ;P

brett jordan said...

If I thought Zak ever tore himself away from WoW for long enough to read my blog, I'd have mentioned him :-)

Aaron Butler said...

With my new (and first) baby about to arrive, just 6 weeks away, in mind Brett, do you think now is a good time for me to start playing 'World of Warcraft'?

brett jordan said...

Thanks for the question Aaron. Personally I can think of few better ways of preparing you for sleep deprivation, dealing with demanding and irrational creatures, not to mention the wealth of lengthy, tedious and repetitive tasks.

Aaron Butler said...

You mean clients?

(Aaron sat at work waiting for a print out, missing another evening with Brett, sob, sob Butler)

Teifion said...

Next tell us why Guild Wars isn't as good, for a start there's no subscription fee!

brett jordan said...

I know nothing about Guild Wars Teifion, but a quick Google search revealed that it only works on PCs. I'm guessing that would be one strong argument against my family adopting it :-)