World of Warcraft turns 5-years-old today. Back on November 23, 2004, a year before the current generation of video game systems even began (with the launch of the Xbox 360), Blizzard released the massively multi-player online game at a time when massively multi-player online games were still largely the haunt of hardcore gamers, people with fast Internet connections who were willing to pay $15 per month for access to a game that they already bought. Who can forget the message board threads: Why do I have to pay for a game that I already paid for at the store? How do you beat the game? What happens if and when I stop playing?
You won’t stop playing. Five years in, Blizzard has 11.5 million (as of December, 2008) subscribers all over the world. (Note: Not every region of the world has a pay-per-month regime. You pay by the hour in China, for example.) In these five years, the game has gone from plucky upstart, going up against other, well-established MMOGs, to the undisputed number one such game. Now, that may not necessarily be a good thing, but it’s hard to see someone knocking World of Warcraft off its perch. Well, someone other than World of Warcraft II.
I’m a veteran of vanilla WoW, but only just. I bought the game in September, 2006; The Burning Crusade came out a few months later. I bought the game because I was roped into some consulting session for a rather big company. “Hey, you’re young. Play WoW and Second Life and tell us how we can better reach young people through them.”
I don’t know if the company got what it wanted (surely it didn’t!), but it certainly set me on my current path of, oh, you know, playing the game for at least three to four hours per night on most nights of the week.
It’s pretty funny. When the game launched in 2004, I was a freshman in college, and one of my two roommates was all about the game. We’re talking stay-up-until-4am-every-night-of-the-week-to-play-it. I had no idea what the game was about, but I distinctly remember the day he walked into the dorm room with a box from Amazon: “Gentlemen, it’s here.” (Actually, knowing the kid, it was probably more along the lines of, “Yes, it’s here! Fucking A~!” Memory fades, I’m afraid.) I’m like, so what? Can’t you see we’re playing Halo 2? (Halo 2 was very big that year. I was a good sniper. It was the last time I played a multi-player game with any conviction.) I’d say we teased my roommate about his “addiction,” but I had no idea what the game was about. I had never played any of the other Warcraft games, nor Diablo. Again, I was not, and still am not, a PC gamer, so the entire Blizzard catalogue played no role in my life.
The point is, the game’s launch came and went, but my only experience with it was waking up at 3:00AM because my roommate yelled, “Yes! I can buy a mount now!”
Then September of 2006 rolls around, and I’m forced to buy the game for that aforementioned consulting session. I still had no interest in the game, and was only creating an account as part of my job. (Well, “job” only in the loosest sense of the word, getting paid to try to help a huge company better tap into the “young people” market.) So walk back to my room from the local Best Buy (I wasn’t boycotting it back then. You can listen to my ordeal as told on the podcast here.), and install it on my iMac. I create an account, and create my first character. It was an Undead Warrior named Rocktober—Undead because I thought they looked (and still look) the best, and Warrior because, well, Warrior is the noob class, right? “Warrior? I bet you get a sword and stuff. Count me in.”
I still have that character to this day.
I then set aside Rocktober, and created a Night Elf Warrior on a different server so I could play with a friend of mine. (I had casually mentioned that I was playing WoW now, and he flipped out. “Oh, dude, join my server and I’ll hook you up.”) I named the Nelf Warrior Zardoz, in honor of that godawful Sean Connery moviethat I had just seen in a movie class I was forced to take. (We all needed an “art” class, so to speak, and watching and critiquing movies was considered “art.” Fair enough.) I was able to get Zardoz all the way up to level 58—it was harder to level in those days—before growing bored of the game. The Burning Crusade was installed somewhere around this time.
A year went by without me really playing the game. Note that I was still paying for the game, just not playing it. I don’t know, I guess I never bothered to cancel my subscription. Maybe it was too much of a hassle, or maybe I didn’t notice such a small amount of money leaving my bank account every month. The point is, I’ve been paying my $15 per month non-stop since September, 2006.
I’m probably never going to stop paying, either.
So here’s to another five years (well, three years in my case) of unpredictable PUGs, guilds joined but not really participated in, Auctioneer-assisted money-making, and lost sleep. So much lost sleep.