World of Warcraft

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World of Warcraft
Part of the Warcraft series
Genre(s) MMORPG
Year of Release 2004
Platform(s) Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows
Developer(s) Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher(s) Blizzard Entertainment
Official Website

World of Warcraft (also commonly abbreviated as WoW) is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) that was first released in North America in 2004 by Blizzard Entertainment.[1] It is the fourth full game released by Blizzard Entertainment in the Warcraft series. WoW has seen paramount success, having over 12 million subscribers at its height,[2] and has been a great credit to MMORPG video games, introducing thousands of people to the genre. The game is available to play in several territories, including North America, Europe, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau, and is available in five languages (English, Spanish, French, German, and Russian).

Blizzard has released four expansion packs to the game, each introducing additional content. The Burning Crusade was released in 2007, The Wrath of the Lich King was released in 2008, Cataclysm was released in 2010, and Mists of Pandaria was released in 2012. Each expansion brings new zones to explore and allows characters to progress further in level and ability. In 2008 The Burning Crusade sold over 2.8 million copies in the first 24 hours after release, making it the fastest selling PC game of all time. This record remained unbroken until 2010 when Cataclysm sold over 3.3 million copies in the first 24 hours after release, taking the record.[3] Mists of Pandaria, released in 2012, failed to break this record and only sold 2.7 million within the first week[4].

While World of Warcraft was not the first game of its kind, it quickly became the most successful. Within twenty-four hours of launch World of Warcraft had sold over 240,000 copies in North America, setting a new record for launch day sales of a PC game. It was the best-selling PC game of 2005 and 2006, and within the first two years the game had over one million subscribers in both North America and Europe. DFC Intelligence said that "[t]his, in and of itself, is an astounding feat. No game had been able to top 750,000 subscribers in those territories, let alone one million or two million."[5] As well as this, World of Warcraft had over five million subscribers in China. By 2008 World of Warcraft had over 11.5 million subscribers worldwide[6]. As of 2010 World of Warcraft holds the Guinness World Record for Most Popular MMORPG.[7]

The reasons for its success are varied, but can in part be attributed to the success of the previous one-player games in the series which provided an initial fan base before the game was even launched. In addition the game is very flexible, allowing players to fully enjoy the game whether they play for only a few hours a month or several hours a day, and whether they are interested in solo or group play. Unlike similar games previously released, World of Warcraft also accommodated direct player confrontations (Player vs. Player) from launch. The game has been criticised by some for not making use of graphical capabilities provided by modern PC hardware, but others claim this is another reason for it's success as it allows players with older systems to play the game. There is also frequent media interest in the game with regards to video game addiction. This kind of addiction is not unique to World of Warcraft, however the popularity of the game and the familiarity of the title with non-video game players makes it a prime media target.


© Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Character Creation Screen showing a Gnome Rogue

After setting up a World of Warcraft account, players must create a character to use in the game world. This avatar represents the player, a standard in most RPGs. Each character has its own set of traits, and in World of Warcraft most character data is stored server-side to avoid hacking attempts on the client side.

The first decision in the character creation process for most players is choosing a faction. Characters in World of Warcraft are split into two factions known as the Alliance and the Horde. Characters from one faction cannot communicate, trade or play co-operatively with characters from the opposing faction, and in many circumstances players from the two factions directly compete, especially in "Player vs. Player" situations.

Once the player has chosen a faction they must then choose a race. Each faction has six races available to it. Some of these used to require a specific expansion in order to play, however that restriction has been recinded. Each race has its own unique racial traits and therefore more advanced players may base their decision on these traits. However, these are usually minor advantages and a player will not be significantly disadvantaged because of the race they choose. More information on the races can be found in this catalog.

The launch of Mists of Pandaria introduced a new race known as the Pandaren. This race is unique in that when a character of this race is first created it does not belong to either the Horde or the Alliance. Players make this decision after playing through the Pandaren's starting quests. This makes the Pandaren the only race available to both factions.

Once the player has chosen their race they must then choose a class. There are ten normal classes and one hero class available in World of Warcraft. All of the normal classes are available from the start without any expansions, although not all classes are available to all races. The hero class, known as the Death Knight, is only available to players who have a normal class character of level 55 or above. This is because the hero class begins as a level 55 character with a unique starting area in which they progress to level 58. Whilst completing this starting area they are given high quality equipment and a mount. The hero class is available to all races except Pandaren.

Although each class is unique and has many different abilities and advantages, each class can fulfill at least one of the three main character roles:

  • Damage dealing - Often referred to as "DPS", which stands for Damage Per Second. These are characters who dish out massive amounts of damage on enemy forces. Every class is able to fulfill this role.
  • Healing - These are characters who heal damage their allies have taken in battle. Five of the eleven classes are able to fulfill this role.
  • Tanking - These are characters who are able to survive massive amounts of damage during enemy attacks. "Tanks" are great at drawing attention of monsters in the game, getting them to focus their attacks on the tank, thereby reducing damage done to other players and keeping the group alive. Five of the eleven classes are able to fulfill this role.

More information on the classes can be found in this catalog.

Finally the player must choose the character's appearance. After choosing if they wish to play a male or female character players can choose from a variety of appearance settings depending on their race. All races have a range of 'faces' to choose from, most can choose hair color and style, and many can choose accessories such as earrings. Some races have unique attributes that they can alter, such as Night Elf tattoos and Tauren tusks. Finally, the player must choose a character name, which must be unique on the server that they are going to play on. All of these decisions, including the avatar's gender, only have cosmetic effects, and have no effect on their abilities.

Once created, most of these traits are fixed and cannot be changed. With the introduction of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, a barbershop system[8] was introduced to the game allowing players to change their characters hair color and style, facial hair, and other facial features such as piercings, Night Elf tattoos, tusks, horns and tendrils. These changes cost the player a small amount of the in-game currency known as gold. Changes to name, gender, race and faction are not available without an extra charge. It is currently not possible to change a character's class.


More information on professions may be found here.

Upon reaching Level 5 a character may learn professions. These professions, which represent non-combat skills that the character has, must be levelled up in order to acquire more advanced abilities within the profession. This is accomplished simply by using the profession itself, although in many cases this can be expensive. There are two types of profession in the game, known as primary and secondary professions.

Each character may only learn two out of the total of eleven primary professions, although they can choose to drop one in order to learn another at any point. Primary professions can be divided loosely into three types — gathering, crafting, and service — although there is some overlap. Gathering professions allow a character to acquire raw materials such as herbs with the herbalism skill, leather with the skinning skill or ore with the mining skill. These materials are then used by characters with a crafting profession in order to make items such as armor from the leather or potions from the herbs. In order to keep costs down, characters often learn a gathering and a crafting profession that compliment each other. Service professions modify existing items, such as enhancing statistics on a weapon with enchanting.

In addition to the primary professions there are also four secondary professions in the game — archaeology, fishing, cooking and first aid. A character may learn all of the secondary professions, but is limited to a maximum of two primary professions.

© Screenshot: Blizzard Entertainment
An example of a character's stats, and the bonus provided by a piece of equipment.

Combat mechanics

Each character has a wide variety of statistics (known as 'stats') which control most aspects of combat including speed and strength of attack, chance that an attack will miss, amount of health the character has, and chance to block or dodge incoming attacks. When a character is created these stats are at a predetermined level depending upon the class of the character, and these increase at a set rate each time they level up. All characters are able to simply hit a creature with the weapon they are holding, but characters are also given a number of abilities, each being specific to their class, which provide new ways of participating in combat. For example a mage is provided with an ability called 'Fireball' at an early level allowing them to shoot fireballs at enemies instead of hitting with a weapon, while a warrior is provided with 'Heroic Strike' allowing them to perform a stronger than usual melee attack with their weapon. As well as abilities that cause damage, some classes are provided with other abilities that do things like heal players, absorb damage they take, and temporarily alter the stats of themselves or others.

Variation between characters is primarily provided by two means. The character's equipment, including armor and weapons, provide boosts to certain stats, and most items can also have stats modified through professions such as enchanting. More difficult encounters provide better equipment, and there is also a degree of randomness involved with some items having less than a one-percent chance of 'dropping' when a certain creature is killed. The second way to vary a character is through the use of talents. Talents provide a wide variety of effects, and can either modify stats, alter existing abilities or provide new abilities. Each class of character has three talent trees available providing three very different styles of play, and as players level up they gain talent points to spend. Players can choose to spend this point in any tree and can mix and match between them, but a certain number of points must be spent on one level of a single tree in order to spend points in the next level. Therefore most points are usually spent in a single tree in order to reach the best talents.

The mechanics of combat itself is based on a very complex system of rules built into the game engine, however it is not necessary for the player to understand them in order to participate. The stats of the players and creatures involved, the choices made by the players, the artificial intelligence (AI) of the creatures and some element of luck are combined in order to determine the outcome of an encounter. Most encounters last under thirty seconds, but the more difficult encounters such as bosses in instances can last much longer. Ten to fifteen minutes is about normal for these encounters, but when the players stats are higher than the encounter was designed for this can be drastically reduced. Some players who have much higher stats than an encounter was designed for sometimes try to under-man it (one or a handful of players taking on an encounter designed for 5, 10, 25 or even 40 players). In these cases some encounters can last several hours.

Death is to be expected while playing World of Warcraft, especially when learning a difficult encounter. When a character dies the equipment they are wearing loses 'durability', and when this durability reaches a very low level the equipment becomes ineffective until it is repaired which costs an amount of gold. Dead players can be resurrected once combat is over by players from a class that is capable of healing, and some abilities allow limited self-resurrection. When neither of these options are available the player can 'release their spirit' at which point they become a ghost at a nearby graveyard. A 'spirit healer' is at each graveyard who can resurrect the player but this reduces the durability of their equipment by a large amount and drastically reduces the stats of the player for ten minutes, therefore on most occasions players perform a 'corpse run'. This involves running their ghost to the location where they died, at which point they can re-enter their body and resurrect.


© Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Many areas were drastically changed when the Cataclysm expansion was released. The top screenshot is from the Blasted Lands before Cataclysm, and the bottom screenshot is from the same area after Cataclysm.
For more information see Citizendium's article on Warcraft/Setting

Most gameplay takes place in the world of Azeroth, a typical fantasy universe, rife with war and conflict from the races and civilizations that inhabit it. When World of Warcraft was launched, the playable area consisted of two zones known as the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. The Wrath of the Lich King introduced a third zone (to the north of the original two) known as Northrend. These three landmasses are separated by the Great Sea that contains a huge whirlpool known as the Maelstrom. According to in-game lore, the three zones were once one single continent until the First Well of Eternity was destroyed during the War of the Ancients. This created the Maelstrom, destroying 80% of the worlds landmass and creating the three areas that remain today. The Cataclysm expansion introduced a drastic redesign of the original two continents. Some areas that were barren deserts changed into lush jungle, while earthquakes ripped some other areas apart.

Starting areas

New characters will begin in their chosen race's starting area, typically a small village. Once the character has been created, a narrated introductory movie explains some of the background to the game world, as well as your character's Race, and ends with giving you control of your character. New characters will be quite weak and have few skills or resources. By accepting and completing missions (or quests, as they are called in the game), as well as killing enemies, characters will earn experience points, allowing them to go up in level and power, as well as earning them money, equipment, and increased reputation with their respective faction. Originally, characters could advance from level 1 to level 60. Now characters can progress to a maximum level of 70 if they have purchased the Burning Crusade expansion, and to a maximum level of 80 if they have purchased the Wrath of the Lich King expansion as well. Players who also install the Cataclysm expansion are able to progress to a maximum level of 85.

Questgiver characters are "non-player characters" (or NPCs) controlled by the game server. Eventually, the questgivers in the starting area will direct players to bring their characters to other more challenging areas, with greater risk and greater reward.


(FU) Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Players must join together into groups of 5, 10, 25 or even 40 to defeat some of the more difficult encounters found in raids, such as Sapphiron from Naxxramas.
More information on instances may be found here.

While gameplay generally takes place in an environment that is shared between the thousands of players that are on each server, World of Warcraft also features many dungeons, temples, castles, ruins and other areas that can only be played as an 'instance'. This means that when a character enters such an area, the server creates a unique version of that particular instance for the player and his companions.

Such areas are harder than corresponding outside areas, featuring much stronger monsters and accompanying bosses. Of course, the rewards are also better. Such is the difficulty of instances that a character venturing into one of the appropriate levels will only succeed if grouped into a 'party' with some other players.

Most instances require a party of five people appropriate to the level of the instance to stand a good chance of success. Usually, these would represent a balance of classes, including a tank, a healer, and three others either "DPSing" or performing a hybrid role of dealing and healing damage. Some instances are "raid" instances. A raid instance will be more difficult than a normal instance of the same level, and will require more people to complete it. Raids allowing a maximum of ten, twenty-five or even forty characters are possible. Some of the best rewards in the game are found by completing raids.

Player vs. Player

For the most part the Horde and the Alliance factions are at war, and therefore World of Warcraft provides several opportunities for players to fight members of the opposing faction. These are known as "Player vs. Player" (PvP) fights.

The first of these is battlegrounds. Players may join a queue for a battleground from anywhere in the world, and once the teams are assembled they are teleported to the battleground to fight. There are seven battlegrounds that are available. These are: Arathi Basin, Warsong Gulch, Alterac Valley, Eye of the Storm, Isle of Conquest, Strand of the Ancients, and Battle for Gilneas. Each of these battlegrounds has its own back story and motivation for the opposing factions to fight, as well as different gameplay. For example, Arathi Basin is located in the Arathi Highlands, and is rich in resources, so both factions want to occupy it. The gameplay for Arathi Basin is to capture the 5 nodes, and while holding these nodes, points are accumulated, and when either faction reaches 2000 points, the battleground is over. Other battlegrounds have different objectives and mechanics, such as capturing of a flag or the use of vehicles.

In addition to these battlegrounds the Wrath of the Lich King expansion introduced the first non-battleground zone fully dedicated to PvP. This area, known as Wintergrasp, revolves around the keep at the north end of the zone, largely through the use of siege vehicles. At any point, the keep is controlled by either the Alliance or the Horde. After being controlled for two and a half hours, a battle begins for control of the keep. If the controlling faction manages to defend the keep for thirty minutes then they have successfully defended it and control is retained by them. However, if the opposing faction manages to breach the keep, they take control of the fortress for the next period. Controlling Wintergrasp brings various benefits, including access to a raid and to easier farming for crafting materials. A new zone known as Tol Barad was introduced in the Cataclysm expansion. This is another outdoor PvP zone similar to Wintergrasp.

Another way for players to take part in PvP activity is through the arena system. Players create teams of two, three or five players and then compete against matching teams of the opposing faction. The arenas that the players fight in are instanced off from the rest of the game, meaning that there is no outside interference. By winning arena matches teams advance in rank, and are matched against teams of increasing skill. Every year, Blizzard also runs an Arena Tournament allowing teams to compete for a variety of prizes, including cash prizes totalling more than $200,000[9]

Finally, the player may also take part in random world PvP. This involves fighting players of the opposing faction that you encounter in any part of the world. However, only players who have their PvP setting turned on may take part in this kind of combat. The way their PvP setting is controlled is mainly decided by the players' realm type.

Playing styles

As is common in MMOs, there is no particular goal or aim for the game. Players are provided with a large variety of areas that they can participate in. Some players choose to focus on reaching the maximum level in the game as quickly as possible, gaining the best possible equipment and completing the hardest AI controlled creatures and encounters, which are usually found in areas known as instances. As content is added to the game several times a year, there is no end to this route. Other players choose to freeze the level of their character at a certain level so they can enjoy defeating encounters designed for those levels. Popular choices for this are to freeze at level 60 in order to enjoy the original end-game instances that were released with the launch of World of Warcraft, or to freeze at level 70 for the end-game instances released in The Burning Crusades.

Other players do not enjoy participating in instances, and instead prefer the experience of levelling characters by completing quests. These players often have many characters as there are ten different playable classes which each provide a unique playing experience, and each of these ten classes has three different skill paths which also alter their playstyle. Also the Alliance and Horde factions have many quests that are unique to their faction, so players often have characters from both factions.

For some players the fun part of the game is not in the AI controlled encounters, but in facing other players in combat. These players participate in the PvP portions of the game. Even within this area there are a variety of options. A number of battlegrounds are provided for those who enjoy large-scale combat, and each of these has it's own rules and winning conditions. Other players prefer smaller fights, and some say these require more skill. For these players the arena is provided, allowing teams of two, three or five players to face each other. There is also world PvP which can take the form of small random fights throughout the game world, annihilating small towns, or even invading the opposing faction's cities and defeating their leaders. Many players advance to maximum level in order to compete in PvP, however some choose to freeze their level at a lower point.

Options remain even for players who do not find enjoyment in any of those areas. Some players use professions and the auction house in order to make as much gold as possible. Other players set themselves goals such as reaching top level without dying[10] or without killing anything[11]. An achievement system also exists, giving players a number of tasks to complete for little or no reward. These achievements vary greatly and include defeating all instances in the game, exploring the entire world, participating in holiday events, and hugging all of the critters (rabbits, snakes, deer and other harmless creatures) in the game.

Realms types

© Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Many items such as the dress, flowers and picnic basket have no gameplay purpose but are used extensively by role-players.

One of the first decisions a player must make is the server that they are going to play on. In World of Warcraft these servers are known as realms. There are two main types of realms on World of Warcraft, known as 'normal' and 'PvP'. The game is exactly the same on both types of realm, and all of basic gameplay elements remain the same. The major difference between the realms is how PvP combat may be initiated.

When a character is first created it is marked as having their PvP setting turned off. This means that players of the opposing faction cannot attack them. If the player turns their PvP setting on, whether voluntarily or by a game mechanic, then players of the opposing faction can attack them freely, although this action will also turn their PvP setting on. The realm type controls one of the main mechanisms for turning on the PvP setting.

Each zone in the game is marked as either Alliance, Horde, contested, PvP or sanctuary. On a normal realm (sometimes called a "Player vs. Environment", or PvE, realm) the first three make no gameplay difference and can be entered by any player without consequence. However, on a PvP realm if a Horde player enters an Alliance zone, an Alliance player enters a Horde zone or any player enters a contested zone then their PvP setting is immediately turned on. Players will not usually encounter this situation during the first ten levels of play. On both normal and PvP realms the player PvP setting is automatically turned on when entering a PvP zone, a capital city of the opposing faction or a battleground. It is also automatically turned off when entering a Sanctuary zone.

In addition to the main choice of normal or PvP realm, the player must also choose whether or not to join a role-play realm. There are both normal role-play realms (known as RP realms), and PvP role-play realms (known as RP-PvP realms). On these realms the player is expected to remain 'in-character', as is usual in a traditional role-playing game. These realms therefore have a variety of extra rules, including that "absolutely no out of character (OOC) or non-fantasy related dialogue should take place in the /Say, /Yell, or /Party chat channels" and that "Non-Medieval or Non-Fantasy names (i.e. Slipnslide, Robotman, Technotron)" are banned[12]. Other than these extra rules, there are no gameplay differences on role-play servers.

Cost of Play

A free Starter Edition of the game is available however it comes with a number of restrictions and players cannot access content beyond level 20. In order to play the game beyond this point the player must purchase a game licence. This game licence includes thirty days of playtime, but beyond this players must also pay for a subscription. As of June 2010 this cost €12.99 or £8.99 per month for European servers, and $14.99 per month for North American servers. This cost is reduced if the player purchases multiple months at a time. Some countries such as Korea and China do not function on this monthly subscription, but instead playtime must be purchased by the hour.

As of September 2012 the licence includes the first two expansions and all of the content up until level 80. Players must also purchase a licence for each expansion past the first two if they wish to utilise the content included with it, however these licences do not require an additional subscription. Licences allow the player to create up to 50 characters, although this is limited to 11 per server. If the player runs out of space to create new characters they must delete an old one in order to free up space, or purchase a second licence and subscription.

© Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Items such as the celestial steed are only available from the Blizzard Store for an additional fee.

In addition to the subscription fee, World of Warcraft supports a number of features that require additional payments. These include:

  • Paid character transfer — Allows the transfer of a character from one server to another, or from one account to another.
  • Paid name change — Allows the name of a character to be changed.
  • Character re-customisation — Allows the appearance of a character to be changed. This includes gender, face, hair, horns, tusks and name. It does not allow for a change in race.
  • Race change — Allows the race of a character to be changed. This service only allows Alliance characters to change into other Alliance races, and Horde characters to change into other Horde races.
  • Faction change — Allows the race of a character to be changed to the opposite faction. This is more expensive than a normal race change as many items, equipment, pets, mounts, spells and quests have to be changed to account for the change in faction.
  • Out-of-game auction house access — For an extra small monthly subscription players can access the auction house through the World of Warcraft website in addition to the usual method of access provided in-game.


A range of in-game pets and a mount is also available to purchase from the Blizzard Store through microtransactions. Once purchased these are registered to a single World of Warcraft account, and all characters on that account will receive the pet or mount. Blizzard have announced that items in the Blizzard Store will only be cosmetic and will not affect gameplay. Therefore weapons and armor will not be released in the Store.


(FU) Image: Blizzard Entertainment
A Authenticator.

In response to player concern about their accounts getting hacked, the Authenticator (originally known as the Blizzard Authenticator) was released in 2008[13]. This physical security token is linked to a World of Warcraft account using the serial number located on the back. From that point on the device must be used to generate a six digit code each time the player wishes to log into the game or the account management part of the website. Without the correct code access to the account is denied, therefore providing two-factor authentication to the account.

A software version known as the Mobile Authenticator was released later for a variety of mobile phones and offered for free. As an added incentive to use an authenticator, Blizzard also gave the Core Hound Pup in-game pet to all accounts who attach an authenticator.


  1. Blizzard Entertainment® Announces World of Warcraft® "Street Date" - November 23, 2004 - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment November 4, 2004
  2. World of Warcraft® subscriber base reaches 12 million worldwide - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment October 7th, 2010
  3. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Shatters PC-game Sales Record - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment December 13, 2010
  4. Alliance and Horde armies grow with launch of Mists of Pandaria - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment October 4, 2012
  5. Is It Possible to Surpass World of Warcraft? - DFC Intelligence report August 29, 2006
  6. World of Warcraft® subscriber base reaches 11.5 million worldwide - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment December 23rd, 2008
  7. Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition - PC Gaming Records, retrieved 22 March 2010
  8. The Barbershop - Information from the official game guide
  9. 2010 World of Warcraft Arena Tournament Information - from the official World of Warcraft website, retrieved 12 May 2010
  10. Achieved: Level 1 to 80 with no deaths -, June 4, 2009
  11. 15 Minutes of Fame: Noor the pacifist -, August 15, 2008
  12. Roleplaying policy - From the Blizzard Support site
  13. Blizzard® authenticator offers enhanced security for World of Warcraft® accounts - Press release from Blizzard Entertainment, June 26, 2008