You would probably have to live in a cave to own a PC and not know what the letters “WoW” stand for. World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG for short) that has been in development for years. The game implements characters and elements from the very popular Warcraft universe of products that have been best-sellers on the PC in the past. Previously, Blizzard Entertainment has focused primarily on real-time strategy and action-based RPGs with its best-selling Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo lines of products. World of Warcraft is Blizzard’s first attempt at a MMORPG, and the world noticed. So much so, that during an extended period of beta-testing for the game, accounts giving access to the testing sold for hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars on popular auction sites like eBay.
Over the course of its United States release, World of Warcraft broke all previous PC game records by selling millions of copies within days. Stores quickly sold out of the collectors edition and then slowly, but surely, the shelves emptied of the regular version as well. World of Warcraft was a huge event in the history of PC gaming, blowing out its previously successful competitor EverQuest, as it presented its sequel at the same time Blizzard presented World of Warcraft to the public.
Why did World of Warcraft sell as much as it did? The answer is a combination of an ingenious ad campaign over the net hyping the release of the game, the incorporation of an already immensely popular game universe, and the including of elements that make the game newbie-friendly. These new elements allow the game to appeal to not only the most die-hard of MMORPG players, but to the casual gamers who don’t have hours to play on a daily basis. By adding features that cater to the more casual style of gaming, World of Warcraft appealed to the masses. And the masses responded by rushing to stores and giving Blizzard their hard-earned money.
What exactly are these elements that give WoW its mass-market appeal? First, the layout and control of the game is simple. You won’t have to memorize 24 hotkeys for different actions, or go through complicated processes to do a relatively easy action, like equip armor to your character. The gameplay is simple: hack away at monsters, complete quests for the non-human characters that are in the world, receive items and experience for your deeds, level up to become more powerful, and then move on to bigger and better things. Nothing complicated here. The graphical design of the game is brilliant: WoW can run on pretty much any computer made in the past 2-3 years, regardless of what graphics card you have. Just adjust the graphical settings accordingly and off you go. Even at the lowest settings, the game is playable, with few graphical bugs or issues. Which brings me to the third point: the game has relatively few game-breaking bugs or glitches like past MMORPGs have had. At the time of release, WoW was called “the most prepared MMORPG ever at time of launch.” The overall gameplay is very polished and solid, so you won’t find yourself wasting two hours of work when you magically get stuck somewhere and have to reboot to get out. Game bugs just simply don’t happen that often. Also, communication between players is extremely easy, with the incorporation of a chat system very similar to the popular program MIRC. You can easily create any channel if it has not already been created, and join it for private conversations between your group of friends. Or, you can yell away in the public channels, try to sell your rare finds in the auction channel, or discuss attack plans with your guild.
The two largest factors that make World of Warcraft the most casual-gaming friendly MMORPG to date are also two of the most controversial things to be found in the game. First, when your character “dies,” or essentially loses all of its life points fighting something, there is no penalty. You have two choices when you die. You can revive instantly at an outpost that is usually closer to a town than where you died; in this case, all of your equipment degenerates by 25% (when it hits 0% the equipment is unusable and you either have to pay lots of money to repair it or else risk being very weak and trying to fight things) and you also receive what’s called Resurrection sickness. Res sickness is a temporary condition lasting 10 minutes where you are dramatically weaker than normal, and so it’s in your best interest to run back to a town and hide until it wears off. The second option is to simply allow yourself to become a transparent ghost, and then run from the outpost you resurrect at back to where your dead body lies on the battlefield. You are invincible during this process, and all it requires is a lot of legwork. In most cases, however, running back to your corpse is a much better option than getting 25% equipment degeneration and resurrection sickness. So, you can basically die over and over and just keep running back to your corpse. There is no other penalty for dying in World of Warcraft.
The other factor that gives World of Warcraft its casual-gamer appeal is a new “rested bonus” system. Basically, if you log out of WoW inside of a town, you will received what’s called a “rested bonus” for the time you are logged off. What this means, is that for a limited amount of fights, you will receive double experience points, and essentially level up twice as fast as normal. The longer you remain logged out, the more “rested bonus you receive.” And so, basically this allows players who cannot play hours on end every day, a method to possible catch up with their friends who have more time to play. It’s an “equalizer” that lets the casual gamer to stay at the same pace as someone who has a lot more time to dedicate to the game. You can actually not play the game for a week and receive a massive rested bonus of a level or two, play for a few hours, and “turbo” your way back up to speed with everyone else.