There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 8.2 I will be exploring World of Warcraft’s success from launch through to the end of 2006.

Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online
Part 2 – EverQuest
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call
Part 4 – Anarchy Online
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies
Part 7 – EverQuest II
Part 8.1 – World of Warcraft
Part 9 – Wildstar

In the first World of Warcraft article I focused a fair amount on the PvP aspects of the base game, given my history of MMORPG’s up to that point being PvP focused. This article will delve more into the PvE side of vanilla WoW and the incredible free content that was provided to us through 2005 and 2006 and the impact on initial subscription numbers.

World of Warcraft changed the landscape of MMORPG’s forever, and to this day in my opinion, is still unmatched in its impact on the genre and gaming in general. The popularity of the game skyrocketed after its first year and just kept climbing at insane rates. WoW cost players US$49.99 for the standard edition of the game in 2004, and the collector’s edition set you back US$79.99. You got 30 days of free play time before you had to pay a monthly subscription fee of US$14/month. After the first quarter of 2005, WoW’s subscription numbers were around 1.5 million which was on par with UO/EQ after their first 6-12 months, and it was fast becoming the most popular MMORPG of its time.

WoW released with a level cap of 60 (previous MMO’s capped at level 50), two continents of content to explore, 16 dungeons and 2 end-game raids. Levelling your character took a long time, though thankfully the quests system rewarded you with experience on completion of each quest. Coming from grind-heavy SWG and DAoC, I was still in the mindset of wanting to kill everything in my path as I travelled on foot from point A to B. I also got quest OCD where I would grab a heap of quests for an area and I would make it my mission to complete all of them before progressing to the next area, which involved a lot of running around on foot. Whilst this netted me extra loot items and gold, it was a long and laborious method of levelling up. I still remember my elation when I looted my first ever magic blue item from an area called One Thousand Needles, south of the Barrens. When I finally got my first character to level 60, it was anticlimactic really because I earned that final 10XP by discovering new lands. Still, a ding is a ding!

You had to run everywhere on foot back then as you couldn’t get a mount until level 20 (60% speed increase) and level 40 (100% speed increase), so it was a long running-man slog in those early levels and mounts cost a lot of gold. Druids could gain a travel form at level 18 which increased their speed by 40% and was unique to that class. If you were a Paladin or a Warlock, you were in luck because you could earn yourself a class mount relatively free through a series of quests at levels 20 and 40. All other classes had to fork out 100g for the riding skill. Major towns had a taxi service in the form of flying gryphons. Like in previous MMO’s, you could use these gryphons for a fee to fly to the next town. The only caveat was you had to initially run to the next town first to unlock the flight path. Flight paths weren’t connected either, so you could fly from town A to B, but then had to run to C initially to unlock it. This system evolved over the years, but those first years certainly tested your patience and knowledge of the maps.

Once you reached level 10 you would unlock access to the game’s first dungeons, Ragefire Chasm (Horde) and the Dead Mines (Alliance). As there was no dungeon finder back then, you had to utilise the ‘looking for group’ chat channel, guild chat or direct whispers to try find other players. For a small guild like mine, there was often not enough players on at the same time or our level difference was too great to be able to just do countless dungeon runs. We had to rely on finding randoms to form a public group (PUG). The looking for group chat channel was initially limited to everyone in the zone you were in at the time which made it hard to find people. Often you would have to run to Stormwind or Ogrimmar, form the group and then all meet at the dungeon. Blizzard tried helping this by adding a waiting queue system using Meeting Stones at entrances to dungeons, but these were hardly used as you had to run to the entrance anyway, so people would just form groups there.

On a PvP server, this entrances to dungeons became hubs of griefing as stealthed rogues caused many a heartache. Warlocks quickly became the popular class in groups as they could summon a portal for your group mates, providing two other group mates were already with the Warlock to activate the portal. Dungeon bosses dropped great loot for the corresponding levels, but often it was a random chance the item you were after would drop for your class. This meant you would have to do repeat runs of these dungeons to gain the specific items you were after. This was ok because you were earning XP at the same time, but sometimes this meant you would gain several levels and suddenly all the quests in your current area were worth very little XP and hardly worth the effort to tick them off your list.

The dungeons steadily increased in difficulty as you charged towards level 60 with some dungeons becoming end-game goals for players to achieve after reaching level 50. Dungeons such as Stratholme, Blackrock Depths, Lower and Upper Blackrock Spire became feats worthy of completion and ones to brag about with your mates. However, it was often difficult to put together the required 10 players to complete them. You often had to sit in major cities using trade or guild chat to try recruit players to your group. Once you had formed the group, you then had to get everyone to the dungeon entrance which was a challenge. Runnin dungeons with PUGs was rife with danger and uncertainty. Any member could leave at any time if they got the loot item they wanted or were annoyed with the pace of the group. Others would roll need on every single loot item, effectively stealing that one piece you had been craving for. It was in May 2005 that we first heard of the name, Leeroy Jenkins, as he and his group were about to take on Upper Blackrock Spire.

In addition to the end-game dungeons, there were two raids added at release – Onyxia’s Lair and Molten Core. These were both 40-man raids back then. If we thought trying to get 10 players together for a dungeon was hard, you should hear some of the war stories trying to rally 40 players together. It was often a task that took meticulous planning, days in advance at an agreed time. There would always be a couple of people that were no shows or were having lag issues so the night would turn into frustration. However when you finally did get to join a raid and complete it, it was a real sense of achievement, especially if you were lucky enough to score an epic upgraded weapon or armour piece.

According to method.gg, it took players 69 days from release for the first raid to take down Onyxia. For raids attempting Molten Core, it took players a staggering 154 days from release to defeat Ragnaros, the longest time to kill a raid boss to this day. It was impressive to watch guilds worldwide achieve these completions for the first time. I rarely got the opportunity to do these raids at release, mainly as they took too long to complete, and it was so hard to get those 40 people together at once.

These end-game dungeons and raids often bought the best and worst out of people, and guilds had to implement systems and process to try to distribute the loot dropped fairly amongst the group rather than using the standard need/greed system. In every group or raid, there would be a collective effort by the group/raid to take down the bosses, with the bosses only dropping a limited number of loot items. There were always players that would abuse the need/greed system by just needing everything – a lot of players ended up on my shit list for this! Bloody loot whores. To help create forms of fairness, one such system implemented by guilds was the Dragon Kill Points (DKP) system which originally was used in EverQuest but became more popular in WoW.

Players in guilds were given points for participating in the raids or other guild events as deemed eligible by the guild leaders. These points were recorded in spreadsheets by a designated player who was the points keeper. When participating in a raid, players would opt to spend their DKP when they saw an item drop that they wanted for their character or accumulate them over several raids if their items weren’t dropping. With a system like this there’s always negatives, and you could lose DKP if you upset the points keeper or did something wrong in the raid. Shouts of “50 DKP minus!!” were yelled often and became a running joke. Here’s a hilarious example of a group using the DKP system in a raid (heavy language warning!!).

Other systems used by guilds were the appointment of a loot master who would allocate loot how they saw fit (open to favouritism), or other guilds used an auction system where a loot master would auction off the items. There were many dummy spits witnessed no matter what system was used, and many days and years were spent grinding dungeons and raids for loot. Raid grinding wasn’t my cup of tea as I much preferred the levelling experience, so I created many alternate characters and burnt out many times over the years.

Throughout 2005, Blizzard added a tonne of content to the game including more dungeons, more PvP battlegrounds and the introduction of World Bosses, Azuregos and Lord Kazzak. World bosses were designed to provide players with high-end content without having to spend hours clearing the huge dungeons to get to those dungeon bosses. Of course, there were players that abused this privilege. Players were able to kite Kazzak to the newbie area of Goldshire where Kazzak would slay them all, until a Game Master had to intervene and reset the spawn. This was patched to no longer allow kiting, but the damage had been done.

In October 2005, prior to WoW’s first anniversary, the first ever Blizzcon event was held in Anaheim, California. This is a gaming convention focusing on games from Blizzard Entertainment. Attendees would receive news and updates about upcoming developments in the franchises of Starcraft, Diablo and of course, World of Warcraft. At this first convention, the ticket price was US$50 for the 2-day event and attendees could play a demo of the since cancelled Starcraft: Ghosts (still the best game concept – bring it back Blizzard!!) and they could also play one of the two new playable races being released in WoW’s first planned expansion, Burning Crusade, slated for release in 2007. There was no Blizzcon 2006 and I can only assume the Blizzard team were hard at work on Burning Crusade (bloody good reason!).

Through 2006, Blizzard added a heap more content for players as well as some much-needed quality of life improvements. From faction-linked auction houses, weather effects, cross-realm battlegrounds and linked flight paths (thank god). In June 2006, the famed Naxxramas raid was introduced which was a 40-man raid located floating above the Eastern Plaguelands. It consisted of five wings, each extremely challenging even for the best players/guilds in the world, but to just enter the raid was an arduous task as you had to be attuned through Argent Dawn reputation. Exalted Argent Dawn players were able to enter for free, though revered and honored had to collect Arcane Crystals, Nexus Crystals and a Right Orb. I remember my first experiences of Nax were extremely stressful as the raid leaders were hard asses and would go nuts at anyone that made a mistake, and we all made a lot of mistakes early on. The stress of running raids really turned me off doing them at all.

World of Warcraft was becoming extremely popular, not just for gamers but it was starting to get some mainstream commercials and coverage on American TV. South Park co-creator Trey Parker gave WoW a pop-culture endorsement by creating an entire episode dedicated to WoW. The eighth episode of their tenth season titled “Make Love, Not Warcraft”, aired in October 2006 and centered around Cartman recruiting the other boys on a quest to defeat an ultra-powerful player who has been killing players everywhere. It takes a dig at the addictive nature of the game, with Cartman insisting the boys must play 24/7 killing millions of boars in the human starting area of Elwynn Forest, in order to gain enough experience to take down the bad guy. Blizzard endorsed and supported this by allowing them to use in-game graphics to create the amazing episode and later on added an item from the episode into the actual game – the Sword of a Thousand Truths. Dan has been pestering Pete on the Game on AUS Podcast the last couple of years to watch it, so Pete, here’s a sneak preview. It’s worth watching the full episode!

By the end of 2006, WoW was exceeding 7.5 million subscriptions. That’s 7.5 million players paying U$14/month, working out to $105 million income … monthly! Let’s not forget that those 5 million players had to purchase the game initially with 30 days free game time before their monthly subscriptions kicked in. That’s almost $375 million income just from initial game purchases, and then a cool $105 million coming in every month. Far out! Can you see why MMORPG’s became the flavour of game developers during this era? This is also why so many other MMO’s, like SWG and EQ2, underwent massive gameplay changes to mimic some of the gameplay elements that WoW had introduced. I imagine their thinking at the time was, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” I don’t blame them, but ultimately this had a huge impact on those games’ loyal players, myself included. This was just the beginning of WoW’s dominance of the market.

In the third article for World of Warcraft, I’ll start to delve into the content of the outstanding expansion releases by Blizzard, the first being Burning Crusade, and how the content were almost new games in and of themselves. BC and the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, are arguably the best expansions and best times experienced in WoW, so I look forward to telling those stories soon. If you have great memories of playing World of Warcraft, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days.

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