World of Warcraft is 10 years old this weekend, and I figured I’d write a few things down on the matter.
Before WoW existed, I played Dark Age of Camelot, and I loved it. It was such a rough game, full of boring waiting, enemies that would kill you without a second thought, and awkward interfaces that never told you exactly what to do, but it was so great to explore the fields of Albion, command an army in PvP (called RvR, realm vs. realm) combat, and delve into a dark dungeon deadly mob by deadly mob. There is nothing more frightening than a “train,” which was what we called it when someone further ahead in the dungeon decided to leave, and ran out, bringing every mob (short for “mobile,” basically a creature/character) in the place with them.
The first time I saw World of Warcaft in action, I remember watching a live stream online. It was of the closed beta, and I watched a little gnome run around in the early starting area (just outside Ironforge). It was a revelation — the world looked so colorful and welcoming, in stark contrast to the MMOs that had existed previously. It was like a theme park, full of fun sights and one-of-a-kind areas, instead of generic forests and fields. The little gnome was super cute, and bounced and jumped around the screen as he fought, unlike the characters in Dark Age of Camelot, who basically just stood there as they hacked and slashed through the title. Instead of fighting blobs and bandits, you fought actual creatures that animated and growled at you and were almost real.
There were smart gameplay elements too. Before World of Warcraft, if you finished a fight low on health, you had to sit down and simply wait for your health to regenerate. You could take a potion, but why waste the money? Sitting there was the best solution. World of Warcraft introduced eating and drinking, which meant that after a fight, you could click on a very cheap piece of food or drink, and almost instantly (over about 10 seconds) refill your health and mana. This was incredible — MMOs were known for taking hours and hours to play, and most of that time was just spend waiting around. But not in WoW!
The other big timesink in MMOs was when you died. In Dark Age, when you died you lost experience — unless you could get a “rez”. If another player could come over and cast a resurrect spell on you, you would come back to life without any major penalties. If you didn’t get a rez in time, however, you lost big. In World of Warcraft, however, when a player died they got sent to a death world (similar to the “other” world in Lord of the Rings), where there were no enemies. All you had to do was make it back to your corpse, and you instantly respawned. You still lost some money, and you had to regen back up, but you never, ever lost experience. That was yours, no matter what.
As I said — it was a revelation.
I didn’t get the game right away as it came out — I was working at Gamestop on release day, and I remember seeing people pile in to pick it up. It cost a subscription fee, and at the time I still wasn’t ready to pay that much for just one game. I kept reading about it, though, and hearing about it, and listening to people talk about what a great time it was, and then in May of 1995, right around my birthday, I decided I would finally pick it up as a birthday present. I worked at Borders by then, and I remember pulling the strategy guide down off the wall during breaks, reading about all of the races and classes, and figuring out which one I should choose to be.
I bought the game, took it up, and was lost forever. I started as a Night Elf Hunter, and that’s still my main character (currently level 94 — I’m working through Warlords as best I can). I remember on the first day, wandering around the Night Elf starting area, just overcome by the colors, and typing hello in chat to everyone I met. The very first cave I encountered, I invited a few other folks on screen to a group, we took down a high level creature that had been wandering around nearby, and that was it. World of Warcraft was my thing.
A year or two later, I decided I wanted to be a professional writer, and I started working at a newspaper in Chicago. A little while after that, I heard WoW Insider was hiring, and I applied to be a writer there. That’s where things really picked up — I played all of the classes, I knew all of the patch notes by heart. I wrote about the game daily, I oversee a bunch of super talented writers all talking about World of Warcraft, and we ran one of the best communities I’ve ever been a part of. We started a podcast, and it got popular, and the community grew. We went to BlizzCon, I met World of Warcraft fans from all over. Eventually, Blizzard realized who we were, and after that, I visited the campus regularly, I met the designers personally, and I got to see and write about the games before they launched. Arguably, World of Warcraft is responsible for who I am and what I do today. I mean, I will admit I put in a lot of work myself. But WoW’s always been there. WoW’s always been mine, since that first livestream, since that first night as a Night Elf.
When 90 was the max level, I had four characters at 90, though I’ve got about 30 or so characters at different levels across quite a few realms for different reasons (some of them were started by me, some were started by friends of mine who wanted to try the game — before it was free to do that). I can’t say that I’ve had a subscription ever since — when I went to work on Massively, I had to try quite a few MMOs, and when World of Warcraft got slow, I let the subscription lapse for a month or two. But not long — World of Warcraft isn’t so much a game as it is a comfort, a home I just have to return to every once in a while. I tend to be very ADD with the games I play personally, picking them up and obsessing for a week or two and then moving on to the next hot thing. I always find my way back to Azeroth, though, and every time I do I’m glad it’s still there.
I have no idea what the future holds — Blizzard is certainly a changing company, and while World of Warcraft taught them a lot, I think they’re also learning now from Diablo 3 and Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm and eventually Overwatch. The developers claim they want to keep it running for another 10 years, and I’d love that, but even in Warlords, despite all of the new shine and circumstance, you can tell the game is creaking along in places. Ten years with anything is a long time, and in the realm of video games it’s truly an eternity.
Part of me, however, hopes that the game is there forever. I’ve always had this thought in my head that whenever it does all end, before they turn the servers off, I’ll have to commission a portrait made, with all of my characters standing in Azeroth, wearing all of their best gear and giving me a good old /salute. If I ever do lose them for good, even that doesn’t seem like the most fitting way to make sure they’re remembered. It’ll have to do, I guess, until hologram technology comes along.
At any rate, World of Warcraft’s been very good to me, and despite the countless dollars and hours that I’ve given it back already, I still appreciate it very, very much. Thanks, Blizzard, for all your hard work, and congratulations on ten years of WoW. Here’s to many more!
Posted on Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 at 2:23 am. Filed under general.