Video Games

Ten Years After World of Warcraft, We've All Become Gamers

An accessible game led to an accessible culture.


For purposes of decorum, I've decided to leave out the apparent market for orc-based porn the game has created.
"World of Warcraft"

There are people who have never set virtual foot in the imaginary world of Azeroth who know who Leeroy Jenkins is. Jenkins was the character name of a World of Warcraft player who hilariously ruined all the meticulous planning of a dungeon fight by running in headlong, shouting his own name. The recording of the incident, 10 years ago, went viral at a time when even the concept of "going viral" was completely new. YouTube itself just celebrated its 10th anniversary in February.

As World of Warcraft settles into its 11th year of existence it's no longer the top dog of the online gaming industry (arguably that would be League of Legends), but it still boasts millions of players and paying subscribers. Entertainment Weekly has a lengthy culture piece exploring some of the background and pop culture impacts of the game. World of Warcraft turned us all into gamers. Or rather, it helped us all realize that we already were:

When it launched more than 10 years ago in 2004, the online game couldn't have been further from the mainstream. Though other role-playing fantasies set in immersive online worlds populated by real people certainly existed, they were niche pastimes, technical achievements enjoyed by players who numbered in the tens of thousands.

World of Warcraft would be different, a freak of nature that at its eventual peak drew 12 million players into the vast online world of Azeroth—and one that, 10 years later, still regularly welcomes more than 10 million people to its digital shores. Over the course of its life span, World of Warcraft has woven its way into the fabric of pop culture in a manner few videogames have outside of Super Mario Bros. It has been referenced on sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother, spoofed by South Park, and employed to pay tribute to the late Robin Williams. The game has introduced people who became lifelong friends, married couples, and proud parents. A culture sprang up around it, complete with memes and in-jokes all its own.

Okay, maybe 12 million players worldwide seems actually kind of small in the context of the world's 7.135 billion population. More than 110 million people watched the most recent Super Bowl. But you also have to take into account people coming and going into the game's monthly subscription-based participation program (I joined up when the game first launched in 2004 and quit for good some time after its third expansion a few years ago). Churn makes the total number of people who have ever played the game much higher.

Click to read issue.

The bigger issue is that everybody knows what World of Warcraft is. What the game helped accomplish is stripping off the idea that these genre-based role-playing games were esoteric hobbies for a particular demographic group that required intense commitments. World of Warcraft made it easy to play and easy to set aside (but also easy to lose oneself in, thus leading to more fretting about video game addiction). It came hot on the heels of the successful film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which turned a series of novels beloved by genre enthusiasts into a massive spectacle everybody could enjoy.

Despite being an extremely expensive, high-profile, big studio game, World of Warcraft's insistence on accessibility is what has fundamentally altered the nature of the industry, and its success has arguably helped lead to a game environment that has become extremely open to all comers. Of course, massive advances in communications technology—both smart phones and cheap high-speed Internet—played just as big a role.

While no game has beaten World of Warcraft on its own terms and probably never will, instead we now have a game industry that no longer has to treat itself as an entertainment subculture obligated to forever target one particular demographic.  As I've noted previously when writing about video games, they were never, ever truly some little subculture in America (or in Japan). Ever since they were first introduced to the consuming public they were widely embraced. The various media formats in which games have been presented have had their ups and downs (RIP arcades!), but the popularity of video games themselves have not waned.

What World of Warcraft helped do is tear down the weird, imaginary wall that separated games from other elements of pop culture. Sure, we've had colorful characters like Pac-Man and Mario as "ambassadors" of sorts. But the success of World of Warcraft preceded a massive blowing up  of game culture in the best possible way, bringing us everything from casual phone games, select indie projects designed to appeal to particular kinds of gamers, and every game possibility under the stars. There's a game out there for everybody. Probably dozens of them, actually. And If somebody said they'd never heard of games like World of Warcraft or Candy Crush, you'd probably think there was something odd about them, even if you've never played either game. 

NEXT: Chipotle Feeds Anti-Scientific Derangement Syndrome, Says WaPo Columnist

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  1. *kowtows to Shackford for alt-text WIN*

  2. World of Warcraft isn’t casual. Do you have the stamina to farm Hydraxian Waterlord rep for weeks? Or grinding for hours before raidtime collecting your nature resist gear to survive Hydroxis on progression night? Or spending the ensuing years playing an increasingly unfun game and fighting a war of attrition as your guildmates have kids, graduate school, start their careers, and quit playing? Do you think mere casuals can waste that much time?

    1. There has always been an allure to me about doing a deep dive into a video game like WoW or LoL or even Marvel Heroes and get completely devoted. I admire the commitment, but I just could never do it myself.

      1. It was tremendous fun with a robust server community and a ton of guildies. I had to cash out after most of the regulars moved on. Plus, it really is like putting life on hiatus.

    2. I’m too much of a misanthrope. I like immersive gaming but I prefer 1P games like Elder Scrolls keeping me up until 4 in the morning. Maybe I’ll make the MMO leap if they ever get that properly ported over to XB1.

      1. My problem with the MMO model, aside from the other players is the fact that they have to draw everything out to keep people playing. This is why there is so much grinding and repeditive quests. The gameplay model in-game does not resemble an immersive Single Player game in any way shape or form.

        1. If I don’t hear an announcement regarding the new Fallout soon I’m going to start breaking things. Not sure what is more infuriating: Bethesda Games or George R.R. Martin.

        1. That didn’t work. Someone stole my (greater than) symbols…

          Elder Scrolls is way better than Elder Scrolls Online.

          1. Played the beta for 3 or 4 weekends and decided I’d rather play Skyrim or FO while talking with my gamer friends on Vent and TS.

    3. It was accessible. The things you state (all 100% accurate) are why people quit.

      1. I loved the farming.

        increasingly unfun game

        That’s why I quit. When Blizz decided to drop Cataclysm and make every spec play like a WOTLK Arms warrior I just gave up.

  3. Ever since they were first [???] to the consuming public they were widely embraced.

    A deleted orc porn reference?

  4. I gave up on it once they turned into a kids game.

    1. I gave up when I realized I wasn’t having fun.

      1. This. I gave it up when it became a job.

  5. Never played. I got into Battlefield 1942 and Medal of Honor Allied Assault for a while, but games like World of Warcraft never appealed to me.

    1. The new BF looks great. I’m tempted to finally buy the rig I’ve been threatening for years.

      1. I just got BF4 for Christmas. A lot of the chat going on in games was about how horrible Hardline was. That may have just been the beta though.

        1. I’ve heard it’s awful. I went back to bf3. The online battles still seem tighter and more intense.

  6. World of Nerdcraft? No thanks.

    1. I’ll bet you have Ruby, Sapphire, Pearl, White, Black, X and Y, don’t you?

  7. Gal Civ III is out. Now if I only had a machine that could handle it.

      1. 64-bit only? I might actually have to build something for this; GCII is one of the all-time bests.

        1. So now I’m going to have to find a 128-bit CPU to be incompatable with everything since 64-bit has become too standard?

        2. Yeah, I loved it. I spent way too many hours in sandbox mode.

  8. Whatever man, Zork is where it’s at.

    1. You guys and your new-fangled ‘text’ games.

      I still play Hack the way it was intended – ASCII and a terminal

    2. I loved Zork. I also love strategy games. RPG, like WoW not so much.

  9. World of Warcraft turned us all into gamers.

    Not me. Fucking nerds. I have plenty to do in the real world and I like to sleep.

  10. I never understood the appeal of online games & I get a little miffed when the online crowd pile on every game that isn’t multiplayer. I would rather play a well-constructed single-person game that doesn’t waste money on online fluff.

    1. I’ve come to the same conclusion over the past decade.

    2. Agreed. also, if you like strategy, look at my link above.

      1. I like the idea of strategy games, but somehow I find that I lack the time to play them.

    3. Agreed. I like to play a game on my schedule as a way of just checking out and having fun. I don’t want to coordinate with other people and assemble a party and have to share my loot. I just want to play a fucking game for a while and kill things and get loot.

    4. That’s why I prefer informal multilayer now. Like battlefield. Jump in for an hour, get your twitch on, get out.

      For the immersive stuff, I’ve become a Skyrim man.

      1. I clocked some 500 hours in Skyrim, I’m out of motivation to go back again.

        1. I’ve yet to finish it let alone download the dlc. I savor my immersive video games, much to the frustration of my young nephew who blows through the main story line and dlc in three weeks.

        2. I shudder to think at the hours of my life consumed by Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim.

      2. Borderlands all the way, Paul.

        1. I finished borderlands ii a few months ago. One of the best.

          1. I couldn’t finish the original, but II and the pre-sequel were fun enough.

            1. I still haven’t beaten the final boss in the pre-sequel but I swear to Science I’ve replayed 1 and 2 three or four times apiece. Those games are just incredible.

              1. The Sentinel is actually pretty hard. If you go up against it at about level 30 you are going to have a very hard time of it. What I did was try, get my ass kicked, and then I went and did all the remaining side quests (and the Holodome Onslaught) and went up a few levels, got some absurd pistols (I am playing Nisha and I have her set up with One For Each Of Ya), and then went back and killed it. It was still tough; I Second Winded a shitload of times.

                1. You’ve inspired me, Epi. Going to go see Mad Max, pick up a bottle of Woodford and fire Pre-Sequel back up again (maybe from the beginning).

                2. I can’t use Nisha, that’s the name of my boss.

                  Wilhelm suited my play style, and yes, that fight involved an ungodly number of second winds… But I think I did beat it in the low 30s. I was just too stubborn to withdraw.

                  1. *I particularly like to be able to deploy the bots and go “You guys handle this for a while as I go heal up.”

    5. Completely agree. And paying 60 bucks for 8 hours of single player story when they focus so much attention on multiplayer is annoying as hell.

    6. RuneScape is a pretty good game, especially if you’re into the lore of games like I am. In fact, it’s gotten really great with the lore in the last several years.

      1. Except that Guthix had to die for his story to come out.

  11. The Leeroy Jenkins video was staged.
    Still hilarious, but staged.

    P.S. The mobs weren’t in on it and they really did wipe. 🙂

    1. Especially given the way they deliberately grabbed more dragonlings, and the fact that the strategy they outlined was BS (along with the % chance of survival bit) That was half of the joke.

      (An actual group would have stayed back and let Leroy die, telling him to run back to the instance because he was a dumbass.)

      Yes, once upon a time I did play World of Warcraft, and I’ve been through that spot too many times.

  12. We’re all gamers, now.
    Sure, whatever.

  13. Don’t have the time to get good at something like this. I would probably end up getting killed by some 9 year old after 5 seconds. Not worth it.

    1. in WoW at least, you have to deliberatley turn PvP on for that to happen. (Or pick the wrong server) There are better reasons not to play.

  14. Well, it spawned a fun casual CCG anyway.

  15. I don’t know if anyone followed it, but a few weeks ago Steam introduced a plan to monetize community apps by allowing creators to charge for content and receive a quarter of the revenue, with a quarter going to Steam and half to the original creator. Neat idea: reward modders and let players finance their favorite mods. Not so fast. The community revolted because, according to the prevailing complaint, 25% was too low a portion to properly compensate modders. Never mind that 25% is a killer deal for creating derivative art. No, it’s *just not fair.* So now modders get to continue toiling for free, players get the smug satisfaction of having killed a great idea, and probably worst of all the unintended consequences, developers have no more reason to add mod functionality to their games. This might have generated terrific incentives to bootstrap potential modders for any new game, but no, we can’t have that. Geniuses.

    1. I hear you – it’s one of those things that I could only shake my head at. I doubt I’d ever pay for mods, and I’d be willing to bet that there would still be plenty of decent mods at Nexus sites even with Steam community paying. That said I’m not going to pretend that I should decide what the fair amount is for Steam pay to mod developers; I would imagine that 25% of revenues for what has been a hobby up to this point would have made the modders happy. The internet is a weird place.

    2. “So now modders get to continue toiling for free, players get the smug satisfaction of having killed a great idea, and probably worst of all the unintended consequences, developers have no more reason to add mod functionality to their games”

      And people don’t believe that western democratic nations won’t torpedo their own economies before giving one iota of control.

      1. A lot of the people refusing to participate were the modders themselves, who swore by not charging for their work.

        1. Understood, and that doesn’t (to me) change the point of my snark. That’s why I was careful to say “democracies”. The voters ultimately have a hand in this torpedo exercise.

  16. I’ve been a gamer since Atari…and this is my first time hearing of Leeeeroy Jenkins. Hilarious.

    1. I started gaming online w PLATO.

  17. Guild Wars 2 World of Warcraft

    1. Guild Wars 2 is-greater-than-symbol World of Warcraft, even.

      1. But isn’t guild wars more like league of legends, a non persistent arena brawler that’s more akin to a sport?

        1. No.

          Both are MMORPG’s, GW2 is more maintstream MMO. . . y

          1. It should be noted that GW1 launched roughly the same time WoW did (April 2005 v. November 2004), so the reason it’s not “mainstream MMOy” is that most of the current MMO tropes hadn’t yet solidified when it was developed.

        2. The player v. player aspects are, but the player v. player aspects of WoW are that way too.

          In terms of player v. environment, Guild Wars 1 was a bit unusual (it was more like a cooperative single player RPG than a true MMORPG), but Guild Wars 2 is much more conventional.

          1. How would you rate it?

  18. Apropos of hijacking the thread, I would like to remind you all that there’s a Steam group for commenters

    Reason Magazine Commenters

    Look it up and I’ll send you an invite.

    1. GTFO…. wow, I’m going to join that group (at my own peril). And don’t mock me for playing Reccettear.

  19. Start making cash right now… Get more time with your family by doing jobs that only require for you to have a computer and an internet access and you can have that at your home. Start bringing up to $8596 a month. I’ve started this job and I’ve never been happier and now I am sharing it with you, so you can try it too. You can check it out here…

  20. Some games are never going to be mainstream. My husband loves World of Tanks. When he brings it up in conversations, even with gamers, 99% of people’s eyes glaze over at record speeds.

  21. I was a City of Heroes fanatic myself. Came out before World of Warcraft, and was a better game, to my eyes. Probably partly that I prefer the superhero genre to most fantasy worlds.

    But, man, the character customization that you could do with the costume creator in City of Heroes was awesome. And it always seemed CoH did a lot more creative stuff, with a lot less resources than WoW.

    And the Badges system in City of Heroes had to have been a major influence on the achievement systems which so many games have now. They were an early innovator there.

    CoH never had the huge player base that WoW did, but I enjoyed the social ecosystem of Paragon City a lot more than that of Azeroth. Could be personal bias, but seemed a lot more welcoming of “noobs” and casuals, even at the highest levels.

    Stupid NCSoft. Closing down City of Heroes over some Korean business culture BS….

  22. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
    go to tech tab for work detail ?????????????

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