Eight million. It was New York City’s estimated population in 2000 an online population projection showed, or the population of Austria, the California governor’s home country. Today, there are also about 8 million people in the world wandering the virtual realm of “Azeroth,” as users of the highly popular video game “World of Warcraft.”
“World of Warcraft” is a massive multiplayer online role-playing game developed by Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment. “World of Warcraft” is the highest selling title of the company. The game debuted in November of 2004 in North America, Australia and New Zealand, followed by European and Chinese releases in February of 2005 and June 2005 respectively. Upon its release, the game broke several sales records, including the most sales of any game in one day.
“World of Warcraft,” which sells for about $20, also requires a monthly subscription fee of $14.99 after a free 30-day trial.
“World of Warcraft” lets players traverse the game’s complex environments with their own customized character and play for hours. Players take on quests in the game to gain experience and level up their game character. They can also form groups with other players or friends to take on epic dungeons, requiring cooperation from a group of five up to as many as 40 players.
Quests are also a way to acquire various rare items such as weapons and equipment that further enhances a player’s character. Players can also battle each other under certain circumstances. With thousands of items to “loot,” hundreds of enemies to conquer and uncharted areas to explore, “World of Warcraft” will always offer players reasons to become immersed in the game.
“World of Warcraft” operates through a number of servers. Each server can have hundreds of characters playing simultaneously. Players can also create several characters on any server.
Freelance production artist Henry Pan said that one of the reasons that people play the game is the satisfaction players have with fictitious fantasies.
“The game has the ability to let players be someone they aren’t,” said Pan, a former employee of the game’s publisher Vivendi Universal.
“World of Warcraft” offers an excellent learning curve for beginners and yet still delivers tons of content to advanced players, which is what makes the game so successful, Pan said.
“It’s simple to play at lower levels and you can follow along the deep content it brings,” he said.
As players become more involved in the game, they give more value to their virtual character, said Pan.
“It’s the feeling of ownership of something with value to you,” said Pan.
Part of the reason players immerse themselves into the game is the community factor.
“Taking on various objectives or tasks with friends in the game is something exciting for everybody,” said Dario Barrera, a Gamestop videogame store manager.
Most customers purchase the game because of their peers, and that helped build a diverse online community, according to Barrera.
“I see businessmen and families purchasing the game the same moment as local customers,” Barrera said.
The release of “World of Warcraft” massively popularized multiplayer online role-playing games
“Multiplayer online role-playing games have been a genre that have been building ever since the days of PC to PC communications,” said Pan.
There were many games in this genre, but none of them obtained the same amount of success as “World of Warcraft.” The game “Everquest,” published by Sony Online Entertainment, was a pioneer of the genre but it did not make a significant enough impact to elevate the game to a mainstream level.
“The difference was that Blizzard looked into and did so much research to improve their product,” said Pan, adding that game developers considered many of the faults and successes of previous games.
With the recent release of “Burning Crusade,” an expansion package supplementing “World of Warcraft,” Barrera said that the game’s success could surpass anyone’s expectations.
“Company wise, it’s the biggest selling item so far,” said Barrera, whose employer Gamestop/EB games Inc., is the largest video game retail chain worldwide. “World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade” sold over 2 million copies when it was released.
“I’m sure when the next World of Warcraft game comes out, it will be the only game that can compare to what it has done so far,” said Barrera.