Funeral crashing and elf orgies: the definitive guide to two decades of WoW drama A chronological journey through the controversies, feuds, trolling, and epic drama connected to the popular MMORPG.

[Ed.: The following article first appeared as a series of Reddit posts by Rumbleskim and lifelongfreshman.]

WoW was an immediate hit when it first came out in November 2004. It followed on the heels of games like Everquest and Ultima Online, but completely reinvented the MMORPG formula, with more player conveniences, far greater variety, graphical fidelity, and storytelling. It was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnating genre, and went on to dominate the MMORPG genre for two decades.

Tens of millions of people have now inhabited WoW’s fantasy world of Azeroth through nine expansions and several spin offs, which you know makes for plenty of notable drama. In this article I’ll be covering exactly that. WoW’s biggest controversies, dramas and scandals will be catalogued more or less chronologically — along with plenty of smaller, weird little tales.

Part One – Beta and Vanilla

‘Vanilla’ is the term players use to refer to the game upon its release. The game was unpolished, its community a wild west where anything went. The rules and expectations of MMORPGs hadn’t really been figured out yet, and so this is when a lot of WoW’s strangest dramas took place. We won’t be touching crazes like the hilarious Onyxia Wipe or Leeroy Jenkins or The Talisman of Binding Shard, because there isn’t really enough meat on the bones there. But they’re fun to go back to anyway.

The Goldshire Inn

Let’s jump right in at the deep end. From the start, one of WoW’s most niche (and enduring) attractions has been roleplay. The dominant RP (Roleplay) servers are Moonguard (US) and Argent Dawn (EU), and it is in these communities that we lay our scene. Over the years, many areas and races would be added to the game, giving players loads of different options for where, how and who they could roleplay. But in WoW’s early days, one building would develop a reputation for which it still lives in infamy today. A picturesque little tavern in a snow-white esque woodland. The Goldshire Inn.

One large aspect of RP is ERP (Erotic Role Play). After all, Roleplayers need love too. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is the process of meeting up with other players and roleplaying out sexual encounters.

Dwarves and Gnomes don’t do it for most players (not everyone can appreciate the taste of fine wine), so many ERPers would create a human character (or recreate one with a different appearance/sex) to get their digital rocks off. New humans started in Elwynn Forest at Northshire, and as you can see from the map, the nearest settlement is Goldshire. And Goldshire has an inn. With a bar, bedrooms, and a dark basement full of cobwebs.

You can see where this is going.

Goldshire Inn quickly became the hub of roleplay debauchery on WoW. A hive of the blackest scum and villainy. On a good evening, the inn heaved with the pixelated bosoms of naked women dancing on railings, the ‘thip thap thip thap’ of steps as players awkwardly move back and forth, clipping through each other’s bodies.

Of course, not all of the roleplay falls into what we would consider ‘legal’. There are plenty of adults roleplaying as children, children roleplaying as adults, abuse, bondage, rape, vore, furry, scat – no matter what you’re into, there’s always someone at Goldshire who shares your degenerate sexual proclivities.

The dwarf chases after an orc who runs through the inn with his snow cannon. Seconds later, a chat window pops up: “You horny? What’s your number?” Those who spend time in the tavern quickly run into various characters, such as the night elves, who scurry across the screen in their lingerie, intensely eyeing them before announcing in all caps: “I’m going to fuck you unconscious!”

Various Addons have been created which allow players to create RP profiles, detailing everything about them from age to gender to height to their no-doubt tragic backstories. But these profiles are only visible to other people with the Addon. So there’s often an entire subtextual layer beneath the obvious roleplay, only visible to those in the know.

There’s a slight problem here, however. Humans are the most popular race for first-time players, and for many of them, their first interaction with the greater WoW community is at Goldshire. There are even important quests which force them into the inn, where they are bombarded with booties and breasts, whispered offers of sexual bliss, and confronted with sights that will stay with them forever. This has resulted in a lot of scarred psyches and a lot of awakened fetishes over the years.

Related: Actual news outlet reports girl was virtually raped in GTA V

Aside from the obvious memes and jokes, Goldshire Inn has provoked discussions of digital consent, and child safety online. WoW has a minimum age rating of 12 and is available for free until level 20. For some ERPers, chasing and hunting down non-consenting players across the game-world is part of the fun. For others, they try to move the situation out of the game ASAP, offering to exchange pictures, meet up, or do video calls. In 2010, Blizzard announced it would ‘patrol’ Goldshire Inn and sanction players who infringed upon community guidelines, but that never seemed to do much.

“It was supposed to be a nice evening. I created a mage and went straight to Goldshire. The tavern was packed. All the guests were wearing either fancy costumes or nothing at all. I’ve never seen so many purple breasts. I thought I’d landed in a real sex club,” Klara said.

“A female human really wanted to 69 with me as a few paladins watch and simulate ejaculation through spells that emit white light.”

As the old saying goes, what happens in Goldshire stays in Goldshire.

The Warrior Indalamar

This is actually a story from WoW’s beta, but I’m including it here.

For WoW’s entire lifespan, it would see disputes, jokes, and complaints over which class is overpowered and which is underpowered. Before the game, one thing was certain – Warriors were the worst. A lot of players avoided them entirely, and refused to group up with them because they were so ineffective in battle. There were widespread demands for them to be buffed (made more powerful).

But there was one man who sought to prove that Warriors weren’t so bad after all. This was Indalamar.

He went against the consensus, insisting that Warriors were, if anything, overpowered. No one believed him. So he posted a video which tore through the community like wildfire.

In the video, Andalamar ran around, downing enemies one after another in two hits or less. It turned out, the Warrior’s abilities held a power that no one had worked out yet. It all had to do with an ability called Bloodthirst – it became active after killing an enemy, and dramatically raised the damage of the next strike. As soon as you hit the next enemy, you would deal massive damage and raise your haste (attack speed) by 35%. The enemy would die almost immediately, activating Bloodthirst for the next enemy, and the next.

Indalamar had been right. Warriors hadn’t been weak, they’d been the strongest class in the game all this time! But before the video had even finished making the rounds, Blizzard nerfed them.

The fact that a player had singlehandedly forced Blizzard to change the game made Indalamar a household name in the community, beloved by some and hated by others (mostly other Warriors). In fact, he received huge amounts of abuse online from players who felt he had made an already weak class even weaker.

But this story has a happy ending. Indalamar was hired by Blizzard, and they have paid homage to him a number of times. He had his own card in the WoW Trading Card Game, and his own item in a raid named ‘Ramaladni’s Blade of Culling’ (Ramaladni is, of course, Indalamar backwards).

To this day, Indalamar is a legend among WoW players. He was one of the first to reach the heights of stardom – but he would not be the last.

The Suicide Scandal

We’ll continue our morbid theme with a particularly upsetting story from China. The Chinese relationship with World of Warcraft is long and complicated, and I’ll be returning to it again later in this article. Perhaps this event is an omen of things to come.

On 27 December 2004, a thirteen year high school student named Zhang Xiaoyi logged onto his night elf and said his goodbyes to his fellow players. Then he leapt from a 24-storey window in Tianjin. He had just played World of Warcraft for a 36 consecutive hours.

Players were quick to link his suicide to the trend of WoW Basejumping, in which characters jump off tall buildings or natural features and compete to see how far they can fall without dying. His suicide note said he wanted to join the heroes of the game, and he left behind a diary in which he obsessed over it day and night. The hospital in Beijing where Zhang was declared dead had this to say:

“Zhang had excessively indulged in unhealthy games and was addicted to the Internet.”

Zhang’s parents sued Blizzard at Chaoyang District People’s Court in Beijing, requesting 100,000 yuan ($12,500) in compensation, which seems a paltry amount. They claimed the game was inappropriate for young people, due to the way it trapped them in a cycle of addiction, and they called for a warning label to be added to WoW’s marketing and packaging which said ‘Playing games excessively can harm health’. At the time, a report issued by the China Youth Association for Internet Development stated that up to 13.2% of young people were addicted to computers.

The incident led to a massive outcry, both in the West and China, about the potentially harmful effects of video games. At the time, China had no age ratings like the US, where WoW was rated ‘T for Teen’. Zhang Chunliang, a Chinese expert on game addiction, called for ratings to be established.

Many foreign countries have established strict game classification systems to help parents determine which games are suitable for their children. China should also establish such a system.”

The Chinese government refused. Several attempts have been made to push a ratings system, first in 2004 by the Chinese Consumer Association, then again by the Communist Youth League in China, then again in 2010 by the Institute for Cultural Industries, then again in 2011, then again in 2019. Critics accuse China of being too covetous over control.

“The government is not willing to let go of the [market] control,” Zhang Chundi, gaming analyst at London-based research firm Ampere Analysis, told Protocol. He explained that most rating systems involve an industry association that designated age-based labels for games, but Chinese regulators are wary of transferring such power to a private organization.

This was WoW’s first taste of the dangers of video game addiction – and it was one of China’s too. But it was really just the start. World of Warcraft would go on to shape the conversation on video game addiction for years to come. It was compared to crack cocaine and overplaying has been associated with numerous health issues. In June 2018, the World Health Organisation listed “gaming disorder” as a disease which impairs control and causes victims to lose interest in other daily activities or hobbies.

China would go on to create multiple laws combatting video game addiction, from limiting how long minors can play games, to banning all games on school days. They would even instate military-style boot camps to break video game addictions.

Critics of these laws have called them authoriarian, and insisted that it is a parent’s responsibility to control their childrens’ access to online games. Many have pointed out that video game addiction is often not a disease, but is rather a symptom of other issues, and tackling these issues should be the main priority.

To most, this seemed like a non-issue. What kind of idiot would get addicted to an online game?

They would change their tune soon enough.

The Million Gnome March

Time to lighten things up a bit.

This was one of WoW’s strangest dramas. Just two months after the release of the game Blizzard was still making drastic changes left and right to the balance of the classes. Players were eager to make their opinions known, because any change, however bad, could be the one Blizzard chose to stick with. But WoW had a huge playerbase, even then, and it took a lot to get Blizzard’s attention. Not everyone was an Indalamar.

Only collective action would do.

The date was 29th January 2005. It was a Friday evening on the server Argent Dawn, and the halls of Ironforge were bustling with players, all of them still new to the game, excitedly trading, looking for groups to tackle dungeons, discussing what new features might be on the way, and roleplaying in what would go on to become the game’s biggest RP server. Perhaps some of them knew about the thunderous anger boiling away on the official forums about nerfs to Warriors, but to the ignorant masses, what happened next came as a total surprise.

A few level one gnomes waddled through the city’s colossal gate. That in itself wasn’t weird. But then a half dozen more followed. And a dozen after that. And then a hundred. And then a thousand. The gnomes kept coming, rushing through the Commons in a fleshy, knee-high torrent of pigtails and low-quality shields. Most of them were naked. In the words of one witness:

”I cannot adequately describe how horrifying a vision that is.” Said one liveblogger

Ironforge was the main hub for Alliance players at the time, so they were welcomed by an audience of hundreds, which swelled uncontrollably as they were joined by other onlookers who wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and possibly join in the gnomery for themselves – first it was members of the Horde on Argent Dawn, then players from other servers. Nothing like this had ever been done before. Some of the locals demanded the protesters go protest somewhere else, and were presumably rewarded for their humbuggery with some nasty headbuts to the shins. But the Million Gnome March could not be stopped.

It began to hit critical mass.

The servers started to lag, players started falling through the world or being knocked out of the game. WoW couldn’t keep up. The Argent Dawn server was great at processing industrial amounts of elaborately emoted porn, but it had never handled crowds like this.

Xanan appeared at the gates. He was a GM – a Game Master. They were WoW’s in-game moderators, reachable only through a reporting tool. To see one in person was an anomaly. It never happened. But the protest had called and Blizzard had answered.

“omg omg, there’s an actual GM character here now in Ironforge near the bridge,” he wrote. “In 50-some levels, I have never seen an actual GM character EVER in this game.”

But Blizzard wasn’t there to parley. Xanan’s first request was polite. “This is severely impacting other players’ gaming experiences. Please be advised failure to disperse can result in disciplinary action.” He said, to much derision. The gnomes refused. They would not be moved. The revolution had come and they would rather die on their adorable little feet than live as slaves.

Meanwhile, Argent Dawn continued collapsing around them, to the point where many protesters couldn’t leave even if they wanted to. Blizzard manually restarted the server, knocking everyone offline, but they were back the moment turned on again. Xanan made one final warning.

Attention: Gathering on a realm with intent to hinder gameplay is considered griefing and will not be tolerated. If you are here for the Warrior protest, please log off and return to playing on your usual realm.

We appreciate your opinion, but protesting in game is not a valid way to give us feedback. Please post your feedback on the forums instead. If you do not comply, we will begin taking action against accounts.

Please leave this area if you are here to disrupt game play (sic) as we are suspending all accounts.

Shit had gotten real. A large swathe of protesters took this as acknowledgement of their goals, and logged off before the ban hammer started falling. Argent Dawn locals fled Ironforge in droves. And in a moment of uncompromising brutality that would foreshadow Blizzard’s treatment of protesters and unions for years to come, the suspensions began. The length of the bans varied from a few hours to multiple days, but the end result was the same. A desolated Ironforge.

The Gnomes had fallen.

They vented their anger on the forums once again, but the Million Gnome March had ironically pushed the plight of Warriors to the side. There was a far bigger debate going on now – the rights of players to assemble online, virtual protests, synthetic statehood and the ethics of Blizzard’s response. For its part, Blizzard claimed it had taken necessary action to protect its servers and to keep Argent Dawn running, and that repeating the protest would result in permanent bans. Did that make it acceptable? The protesters pointed out that disrupting society was the entire point of collective action. It was designed to force higher powers to pay attention.

Much like the issue of Goldshire Inn, [people were beginning to realise that online worlds often the same political dilemmas as the real world, but unlike the real world, there were no protections or guidelines in place. These were lawless lands. Years would pass before governments truly began to create and enforce policy on how people and companies can act online.

In the end, Warriors remained weak. Game Designer Tom Chilton wrote a totally separate post about the virtues of Warriors and their unique abilities, but outlined no plans to change them. Players had wide-ranging opinions on the protest.

MMOGs are suppose to be virtual playgrounds, or at least that was the original ideal. However Blizzard doesn’t seem to be able to handle that kind of abstract thinking.

Others condemned the protest

Blizzard does the right thing by breaking up the congregation and sending people away to reduce lag. It’s not like the CEO and his cronies are sitting around Dun Murogh waiting to be impressed by your ‘show of solidarity’, the only people who are noticing what’s going on are the people who suddenly can’t loot their kills, pick their herbs, etc. because the servers are starting to meltdown.

Another had this to say

a MMORPG isn’t a democracy. You do not have freedom of speech, you do not have the freedom to assemble. The Constitution does not apply to a virtual world that is owned by a company. The ToS you signed pretty much waive your rights in the real world.

Frankly, assembling a mass to cause lag and crash a server is an idiotic way to voice your opinions. There are the forums, there is email, there are phone numbers, and there is the allmighty credit card you use to make your payments.

Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow put it best

…real life has one gigantic advantage over gamelife. In real life, you can be a citizen with rights. In gamelife, you’re a customer with a license agreement. In real life, if a cop or a judge just makes up a nonsensical or capricious interpretation of the law, you can demand an appeal. In gamelife, you can cancel your contract, or suck it up.

Regardless of ethics or effectiveness, many protests would follow throughout WoW’s long history. From the Druids United protests to 2021 Stormwind Sit-in. When all else had failed, players would always return to collective action.

The Menethil Ganker

Legend tells of an orc Rogue who crippled his server for months in early 2005, slaughtering anyone foolish enough to step into his domain. His name was Angwe, and the server was Decethus (PvP).

At this time, Azeroth was made up of two great continents, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. There were only a few ways of getting between them. Members of the Mage class could teleport, Warlocks could summon, and all players had a hearthstone which would take them back to a place of their choosing, though it had a long cooldown. But the bulk of player traffic went by the ships, which would round-robin back and forth from select points. On the Eastern Kingdoms, your options were Booty Bay in the south, or Menethil Harbor in the Wetlands (just above Ironforge on the map I linked).

Since it linked to two of the three routes, Menethil was the pressure point of the game world. He who controlled the Harbor controlled the world (of warcraft).

Enter Angwe. He spotted a part of the zone leading to Menethil which bottlenecked players, and slaughtered every Alliance player who tried to pass through. He controlled the path day and night in his determination to stop anyone from reaching the harbour.

Angwe quickly rose into infamy, receiving more threats, insults and accusations than most people could imagine, but they only made him more determined. In fact, he lovingly collected them to preserve for future generations. That site has literally hundreds of messages.

Players speculated on when he might sleep, or work, or do anything other than massacring noobs. They wrote extensive guides on the alternatives to going through the pass, such as sneaking under the water along the coast or creating sacrificial clones to distract him.

In some cases, max level players would organize convoys to shepherd groups of newer players through the pass. Large groups of PvPers charged the bottleneck to wipe him out, but as a Rogue, he could simply disappear from sight, waiting for individuals to break away from the pack so that he could pick them off one by one.

A particularly intrepid sore-loser tried to doxx Angwe but only ended up with his girlfriend’s name – so they assumed he was a woman (because he couldn’t possibly have a girlfriend).

But Angwe was one step ahead of them. He created an Alliance character, inconspicuously named ‘Angwespy’, and used it to monitor his enemies, or taunt them after death. He infiltrated the forums of major guilds in order to intercept their comms.

But where some men see ruin, others see opportunity. Players approached Angwe with offers of gold if he agreed to gank certain other players.

To many, he was a celebrity with near mythical status.

[Ancience] whispers: Can’t we make some sort of agreement, so that you can at least stop killing me? Gold? Armour? Exp? Something?

[Angwe] whispers: no

In October 2012, Angwe held an AMA, in which he finally revealed his secrets.

It was just me, typically 8-10 hours a day. I didn’t raid, level alts and only rarely did dungeons after 60. My goal was to get on average 100 honor kills in a day (this was before battlegrounds), which would put me either 1st or 2nd place weekly in the honor grind.

For context, an ‘honor kill’ is a reward for killing a player of the same level. Of course, Angwe would also kill any low level players passing by ‘to kill the time’, even if he didn’t get anything for it. Good murder is its own reward.

In 2006, the iconic South Park episode ‘Make Love Not Warcraft’ released, and while nothing has been publicly confirmed, there are those who speculate that the episode is based on Angwe’s reign of terror.

“All the lowbies would wait back there, and I’d usually be fighting whoever is trying to kill me to get on the boat,” Angwe explains. “And as soon as I’d die or whatever, you’d see a flood of people run for the boat. Even if the boat came [and I was still alive], they’d just try to get on the fucking boat. A lot of times, the goal wasn’t to kill people at that point. I just wanted to make sure none of these fuckers made it toward the boat. If they did, everyone would lose interest in being there and I wouldn’t be able to kill anybody anymore.”

Ultimately, it was not boredom that killed off Angwe, or defeat by combat. It was Blizzard. They introduced the new ‘Battlegrounds’ feature, which allowed players to fight in separate arenas. To get to a battleground, you had to go to its physical entrance, and the most popular of these was Alterac Valley – just north of Menethil Harbor. As a result, this once-remote zone was now thronging with high level PvPers at all times of the day.

Angwe has spoken out many times over the years. After Battlegrounds dropped, he left the game and went to study game design. He now works as a programmer for MMOs, but does not play them himself.

The Kazzak Massacre

One of the highest level zones in the game was ‘Blasted Lands’. In order to give it a sense of danger, Blizzard like to place extremely powerful bosses in questing areas and make them walk around, so that players were forced to be wary of their surroundings. One such boss was Lord Kazzak.

Normally, it took forty max-level players to defeat Kazzak. He had many powerful abilities, including a shadowbolt attack that could hit anyone within a long range, as well as a skill called ‘Capture Soul’, which raised his health by 70,000 every time he killed. This meant that every player death made him considerably harder to defeat.

Due to how WoW’s combat worked, enemies could be kited. Kiting is when a player allows an enemy to attack them, holding onto that enemy’s attention, and gradually runs away, but never fast enough that the enemy stops chasing them. Through this trick, any enemy could be kited to any part of the map. And it just so happened that Kazzak’s little corner of the Blasted Lands was tantalisingly close to Stormwind – one of the largest cities in the game.

Kiting any boss to Stormwind would be an immense task, and Kazzak was no exception. Simply staying alive that long required entire groups working in unison. The trip from the Blasted Lands, up north through the Swamp of Sorrows, then across Dead Wind Pass, around Duskwood, and up into Elwynn Forest to Stormwind could take up to an hour, and Kazzak would continue unleashing fierce attacks the whole way.

But once he arrived at Stormwind’s pearly gates, a chain reaction took hold. The low level players amassed in the city were instantly swept away by his shadowbolt, and every one of them added 70,000hp to Kazzak. He was also able to kill NPCs, who would quickly respawn and die again and again. His health rapidly spiralled into the tens of millions, then the hundreds of millions, as he feasted on a never-ending supply of noobs. A famous video from 6th March 2005 shows him wrecking the city and leaving devastation in his wake.

Kazzak was unstoppable. Once he reached Stormwind, he became an invulnerable wrecking machine. Corpses filled the streets. There was no-where to hide – Kazzak’s shadowbolts went through buildings. The only option was to flee for the safety of the woods.

All seemed lost.

But those massacred players would come for Kazzak.

You see, Paladins had an ability called reckoning. After being the victim of a critical strike, their next attack hit twice. But this ability could be applied any number of times, without limit. If you got two critical strikes, your next hit would do 3x the damage, and so on. Players were quick to exploit this.

All it took was two people – a Paladin and a friend. The two would duel, and the Paladin would sit down while their friend hit them over and over. Hitting a player while they’re sitting down guarantees a critical hit, which meant they could trigger Reckoning as many times as they wanted. The highest recorded number of Reckonings at once is 1800 – that takes hours. But at that point, your Reckoning Bomb could instantly kill any enemy in the game with a single hit. Any player, any monster, and any boss.

Even Lord Kazzak.

And to this day, this is to be the only recorded way players were able to one-shot Kazzak. They never had a chance to try it out once he reached the city, because within 24 hours of the killing, the ability was nerfed.

But it wasn’t enough. Eventually, Lord Kazzak was removed from WoW, and Reckoning was nerfed. Blizzard began clamping down on the many ways players were able to exploit the game.

The Corrupted Blood Incident

This particular incident began on 13 September 2005. Patch 1.7.0 had just released, and with it came Zul’Gurub, a 20-man raid into a troll infested jungle. The final boss went by the name ‘Hakar the Soulflayer’, and had a spell called ‘Corrupted Blood’, which would inflict gradual damage to players, and spread to anyone within a certain radius. It disappeared from players who left the raid, and wasn’t meant to least more than a few seconds. But there was an oversight.

The Hunter class are able to summon pets to fight for them in battle, and if a pet got afflicted with the Corrupted Blood and was dismissed, they would still have the curse when they were summoned again. Even if they were outside the raid.

The first outbreaks were accidental. Hunters brought out their pets in the game’s major cities, only for the Corrupted Blood to spread like wildfire, infecting everyone nearby. Low level players were almost immediately killed off by the plague as it ate away at their health bars. Many never got the chance to flee – and those who did flee often simply created new outbreaks elsewhere. Before long, these curiosities had developed into a full-blown pandemic.

Much like a real virus, the Corrupted Blood was spread by animals. The NPCs could catch and spread the plague, but were almost impossible to kill, turning them effectively into asymptomatic carriers. Skeletons began to pile up in the streets of Ironforge and Orgrimmar. Dying causes gear to degrade, which is expensive to fix, so many players fled the cities to find safety in the wilderness. Others fuelled the chaos, deliberately causing new outbreaks wherever they could. These individuals were compared to biological terrorists. On the flipside, there were the ‘first responders’, who waded into the epicentres and attempted to heal the sick – though they often caught the Corrupted Blood themselves, and became spreaders in turn.

Many of WoW’s 2 million players would log on just to see what was happening (and then get infected), or log off to isolate themselves. The economy of the game totally shut down as the cities became ghost towns.

There were many parallels with how a real world virus would spread. To the powerful, it was just an inconvenience, so they went about their daily routines, whereas to low-levelled players (comparable to the weak and elderly), it presented an incredible danger.

Blizzard tried to impose a quarantine rule on players to stop the spread, but many refused to obey or didn’t take it seriously. The last time anybody made a list of the top hundred character attributes of WoW players, common sense snuck in at number 79. In the end, it took several hard resets and patches to stop the spread. The virus was contained to Zul’Gurub on 8 October.

Academics at Ben Gurion University in Israel published an article in the journal Epidemiology in March 2007, describing the similarities between the Corrupted Blood and SARS and avian flu. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention contacted Blizzard and requested statistics for research. One factor that simulations at the time did not consider was curiosity – players put themselves at risk to see what all the fuss was about, in the same way journalists might do in the real world. Nina Fefferman, a research professor of public health at Tufts University, co-authored a paper in the Lancet Infectious Diseases discusing the implications of the outbreak, and spoke out for MMOs to be used to simulate other real world issues.

It should come as no surprise that many people have compared the Corrupted Blood to Coronavirus. Epidemiologists used research from the incident to understand the spread of COVID-19, specifically how societies respond to these kinds of threats.

In a recent interview with PC Gamer, Dr Eric Lofgren is quoted as saying the following:

“When people react to public health emergencies, how those reactions really shape the course of things. We often view epidemics as these things that sort of happen to people. There’s a virus and it’s doing things. But really it’s a virus that’s spreading between people, and how people interact and behave and comply with authority figures, or don’t, those are all very important things. And also that these things are very chaotic. You can’t really predict ‘oh yeah, everyone will quarantine. It’ll be fine.’ No, they won’t.”

The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj

This was, and remains the most well-known event from Vanilla WoW, and for good reason. The date was 3 January 2006, and Blizzard were releasing the much-anticipated patch 1.9.0. Food buffs would no longer stack, shard bags were introduced, and the Ahn’Qiraj world event would begin. It would affect every one of WoW’s six million (at the time) players.

Ahn’Qiraj is a huge complex of insect-strewn architecture in the south-western corner of Kalimdor, crowned by impenetrable mountains and only possible to enter through a monumental, hexagon-shaped gate in Silithus, to the north. Ahn Qiraj contained two raids, the Ruins and the Temple. But rather than simply throw open the gates to all and sundry, Blizzard created an event designed to unite entire servers around the goal of getting in. What followed was a clusterfuck of such enormity that it made headlines even outside of the gaming sphere.

There were three phases to the event.

Firstly, players on both factions would work for weeks to collect resources – hundreds of millions of them. Food, bandages, metals, herbs. Everyone chipped in. The economies across every server collapsed as resources were siphoned away to open the gates. Prices shot through the ceiling.

This part of the process could last from several weeks to half a year. Since each faction had a separate shopping list, it was meant to become a race to see who could get there first. However most servers had/have a major faction population imbalance, and so one finished drastically quicker and ended up waiting in frustration.

Then came a set of extremely long and challenging quests, which only the best guilds could even think of tackling. The reward was a legendary item – the Scepter of the Shifting Sands. To be the holder of the Scepter was a magnificent honour, with much political backstabbing and conspiracy to ensure it fell into the right hands. Only that person with the Sceptre could ring the Scarab Gong and open the gates (and once they did, they would gain a legendary mount to ride around on).

(Gong Ringer’s Name), Champion of the Bronze Dragonflight, has rung the Scarab Gong. The ancient gates of Ahn’Qiraj open, revealing the horrors of a forgotten war…

With the gates open, the real battle would begin. Obelisks appeared throughout the world, floating ominously in the sky. For ten hours, ultra powerful enemies flowed out out, swarming players and killing them off in droves. But the enemies dropped valuable loot, so thousands of players flooded Silithus to get a piece of the action. Many thousands. Too many, in fact.

More than had ever assembled in one spot, and it was enough to break the game. Servers saw rolling crashes and such colossal lag that players began to flee the battle ground in the vain hope that it might make the game more stable. Boats glitched out and disappeared with the players still on them, reappearing in a ghostly nonexistent space beneath the world, dead players got transported to cemetaries on another continent – it was utter chaos.

The server to open the gates first was Medivh, on the 23rd January (still an effort lasting twenty days), but others took months. Aside from the greater drama of the event itself, there were many smaller stories taking place within the insanity. Major guilds coveted the wealth of Ahn’Qiraj for themselves, and went to great lengths to get it.

Rather than slowly contribute to the resource pool, they would privately hoard them until they had enough to open the gates on their own. In some guilds, spies would sell information on when the gates were going to be opened. Players would try to steal the sceptre from other guild-mates.

And it didn’t end here. It needed to be repeated every time Blizzard opened a new WoW server – which they were doing a lot, as the game was leaping from strength to strength. It was only in February 2009 that a patch was implemented so that all new servers would release with the gates already open. Ahn’Qiraj was finally over for good. The world event entered into history.

History became legend.

Legend became myth.

And over many years, the gates passed out of all memory. They were still there, quietly seething in a dark forgotten corner of the world. But to many new players, they were nothing more than window dressing in an old zone that no one wanted to level through anymore.

But they were all of them deceived, for another gate was made. But that story will have to wait until later down our timeline.

The Funeral of Fayejin

This is one of the many strange and curious events that took place in WoW’s early days, back when guilds were more than a place to collect an XP boost. They were closely knit communities who stayed friends for years. These days, when a guild member logs off for the last time, it goes by without notice. But that was not always the case.

Fayejin was a well-loved player on the Illidan PvP server (we’ll get to that), where she played a horde mage. On 28 February 2006, she died of a heart attack. Her guildmates decided to honor her with a digital funeral. Fayejin loved fishing and snow, so they went with one of Vanilla Wow’s most atmospheric zones, Winterspring. It was one of her favorite places in the game.

The funeral was advertised online on all the popular forums of the time, with an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come along. There were dozens of respondents. When the time came, they were summoned to Winterspring. One of Fayejin’s friends was able to get onto her account, and logged on so that other players could say their final goodbyes. It was beautiful.

There were even characters from the Alliance present, in a cross-faction gesture of respect. Rather a lot of them, in fact. And they were all carrying weapons. If that struck anyone as odd, they never had time to contemplate it.

Within minutes, everyone was murdering each other and teabagging the corpses. As is tradition. Black tuxedos don’t do much against knives, and you can’t change your armor when you’re in combat, so the mourners were left defenseless. It was a slaughter.

The raid was the work of the ironically named Serenity Now, and would follow them for years. The organisers insisted that they were honoring Fayejin with one final battle – she was an avid PvP fan, after all. Perhaps the bloody violence that ensued was more fitting than a load of people standing around making sombre emotes at one another. But nonetheless, the forums reacted in anger, though many found it hilarious.

A video of the funeral survives to us from the time thanks to a youtuber named ‘Women Shouldn’t Vote Productions’ (seen above). Here’s a few more videos about it.

It made it to the gaming media, partly because of its climactic ending, partly because of the discourse over whether the raid was acceptable, and partly because nobody had ever held an event quite like it before. On the one hand, it was a funeral, and you can’t just attack a funeral. On the other hand, it was a PvP server and attacking was the whole point of the game. The ethical quandry still divides players today.

Fayejin’s Funeral is referenced in a 2009 academic paper by Stacey Goguen, titled Dual Wielding Morality: World of Warcraft and the Ethics of Ganking and submitted to the ‘Philosophy of Computer Games Conference’ in Oslo.

Regardless of ethics, the raid is what made the funeral famous, and gave Fayejin a place in WoW history. What more could you ask for?

The Barrens Chat

Every zone in WoW has its own regional chat. Opon crossing the border, you will enter that chat and be able to talk to other players in the area. In most cases, these chats are silent and ignored, with one glaring exception.

The Barrens was a large, relatively empty zone where most new Horde players were funneled after level 10, and where they would remain until level 20. It was a really boring zone, so players chatted to make it go quicker. Barrens chat became infamous for its juvenile and incessant nature, its bizarre conversations and memes, but players would sometimes find themselves talking about philosophy, physics, theoretical science, ethics, law, or whatever subject happened to come up. After out-levelling the Barrens, a lot of players would go back to hang out and make jokes about Chuck Norris.

One of the most popular Barrens memes was Mankrik’s Wife. You see, one quest tasked players with helping an NPC named Mankrik find his lost wife. But since the game didn’t indicate where she was, and there is no NPC called Mankrik’s Wife – she has the unfortunate name ‘Beaten Corpse’ – they often never found her. This all happened in a time before every single answer to every question could be found online. So naturally, newbies would consult the local chat.

Over time, the players loitering in the Barrens for the social scene began to find this question annoying. It got asked over and over and over again. And as you might expect, the answers gradually became less and less helpful. New players found themselves pointed toward bizarre, far off destinations like Blackrock Mountain or Stormwind City.

In 2010, the Cataclysm expansion released, and all of the Vanilla zones were revamped, Barrens included. Mankirk’s wife was laid to rest, but her name would live on forever.

Even today, Blizzard sells a shirt that says “I survived Barrens chat.”

The Devilsaur Mafia

No sooner had WoW developed an economy than pernicious capitalists began to exploit it. Sites opened up, offering gold, rare items, and accounts with powerful characters in exchange for real money. Where these sites acquired it, no one knew for sure, though there were rumours. Most assumed they just bought it from players at a low price and then sold it at a mark-up, and that definitely happened. But the owners of these sites sought to maximise profits, and minimise costs. The solution was to set up sweat shops in China. Dozens, if not hundreds of them.

Multiple interviews have been done with Chinese gold farmers. They all described it as mentally exhausting, with working days of at least 12 hours, often spent killing a single enemy over and over. The value of farmed gold is different across the world. A day’s worth of gold could sell in China for $4 dollars, but could fetch triple that amount when sold to Americans.

It’s by exploiting the differences and selling to cash-rich, time-poor gamers that Chinese gold farms prosper. Former Wall Street banker Alan Chiu founded an online trading platform for virtual currency, a virtual stock exchange, if you will. And he sees videogame work as another opportunity for outsourcing.

“It’s a very labor-intensive job. I don’t see it any different from low-cost Chinese workers working in Guandong, producing Nike shoes, and for Nike to be sold eventually – sold at retail stores for maybe 600 percent margin.”

Yet it is different because gold farming is a gray area. Gaming companies like Blizzard, which owns World of Warcraft, see gold farming as cheating, and regularly ban the accounts of suspected gold farmers. Robin admits he’s been closed down four or five times, losing thousands of dollars each time. However, there’s always a market for gold farmers. Surveys show 20 percent of gamers admit to buying gold.

According to the New York Times, while some gold farmers enjoyed playing games all day, they nonetheless had strict quotas and were constantly supervised. They estimated that there were between 100,000 and 500,000 young people working in China as full-time gamers, earning less than a quarter an hour. It’s true that this practice did not originate with WoW. But WoW is perhaps the first time it became a major issue due to the sheer size of the playerbase, and the overwhelming demand for black market gold.

For its part, Blizzard has tried to crack down on black markets, but arguably their most successful attempt was by creating the WoW token, effectively creating a legal avenue to sell gold via Blizzard. That has its own controversy, which we’ll get to later.

Gold farming was known to evoke a strong reaction. It was seen as violating the spirit of the game, and players looked down on those who used these sites. There was a sense that if you had suffered to reach where you are, then everyone else should have to as well. Others defended it as yet another part of the free market, which catered to players who wanted to sacrifice money to ‘get ahead’.

In an interview with Jared Psigoda, a market leader in virtual trade, he states that originally, these black markets were regionally exclusive. Europeans worked in the European black market, Chinese players in the Chinese, and Americans in the American, which resulted in dramatically different prices. It was in the early 2000s that the use of Chinese labour was used across the board, undercutting western currency exchanges, in order to make further profit.

Perhaps the most infamous group of gold farmers were the Devilsaur Mafia. They realized killing devilsaurs in Un’Goro Crater had the potential to return the highest profits out of any creature in the game. While devilsaurs didn’t drop much, they could be skinned to get Devilsaur Leather, a material from which a number of powerful pieces of hunter armour could be made, such as the Devilsaur Leggings and Devilsaur Gauntlets. Outside of raiding content, this was the best gear you could get in Vanilla wow. All in all, a single devilsaur could net its killer 20 gold – a kingly sum at the time.

But where most enemies constantly reappeared, devilsaurs did not. They regenerated sparingly, and could appear anywhere in the zone. Players would spend their whole day in the zone, waiting for one to spawn. And so, a group of sellers decided to coordinate their efforts. They completely took over the crater, using their organization to out-compete other farmers, and this indirectly gave them total control over the Devilsaur economy.

On PvP servers, these cartels had teams on both factions working as security – if a Horde player tried to step on the Mafia’s turf, the Alliance security team would be alerted and sent to hunt them down, kill them, and keep killing them every time they resurrected at a graveyard. Technically speaking, cross-faction communication was against the Terms of Service, but it was almost impossible for Blizzard to prove players were communicating using third party apps. The only way to get close to a devilsaur on any PvP server was to submit to the whims of the mafia, which meant selling at regulated prices and handing over a cut of the spoils. All-out turf wars were known to occur when multiple cartels came up against each other.

This was not remotely the only instance of farmers banding together to control resources and manipulate the economy – that happened every single day. But it may be the most well-known. And when Classic Wow came about, players eagerly worked to recreate the Devilsaur Mafia.

It’s an interesting case study, but the Mafia disappeared as WoW’s economy grew and changed. The gold farmers did not. For years, WoW’s economy would be driven by a black market that depended on sweat shop labor from China (and later other countries like Mexico, the Philippines and India). It never stopped, but the practice of online black markets for virtual currencies expanded far beyond WoW, to encompass many of the biggest games in the world. Blizzard still hasn’t been able to get rid of it. No company has.

The Game-breakers

No one had ever made a world as big as Azeroth before. It had been a massive undertaking, a wonder of programming and code which cost $64 million ($94 million accounting for inflation) before it ever even began to see returns – making it comfortably the largest and most expensive game at the time. Thousands of hands left their mark on its world, and while Blizzard would spend years polishing them away, they would never succeed completely. Even now.

But it was a lot more obvious in Vanilla and that was part of the charm. For many players, it wasn’t the erotica or the world events or the combat or the gold that drew them to WoW, it was the world itself. As you might expect from a world that big, it was full of oddities. Little holes in the world, carefully hidden in spots players weren’t meant to see, written messages under the borders of the world, slabs of random environment thrown together in private areas, unfinished or rejected zones, exclusive locations for the developers and game-masters. An entire community grew up around investigating these curiosities, unravelling their meanings, and showing other players how to reach them.

Looking at this early WoW map (warning: huuuge jpg), you can see large empty patches between zones, or on the coast. Roughly as marked here:

Below Silithus lay the inaccessible land of Ahn’Qiraj (meant to contain the city of temples we covered earlier), north of the Eastern Plaguelands is the elf nation of Quel’Thalas, somewhere in the inaccessible west of Eastern Kingdoms lay the Twilight Highlands, and then there was the blocked off city of Stratholme, the focus of an iconic moment in Warcraft Lore. Players would agonize for years over the islands in the sea, and what they might be.

The challenge became all the more tantalizing when players discovered that many of these areas did exist in some form in the game’s world data, sometimes mostly finished. (Other times the reward was simply standing on a platform or tower in a major city where no other player could get, and becoming a minor celebrity for the day.)

But Blizzard had hidden their secrets well. It wasn’t possible to just ‘go to’ these areas. Explorers had to break the game to do it. A game of cat-and-mouse arose, with players discovering new ‘exploits’ and Blizzard racing to patch them out. There were techniques to fall through the world, climb vertical walls, teleport to a specific graveyard upon death, or overcome fatigue (a timed effect that begins when players move too far from the coast, which rapidly drains health).

To detail all of these hidden spots and how to reach them would take literally hours. To those who want to delve into this topic, I present this quick-fire montage:

WoW has always fostered speculation, theorycrafting and conspiracy among its most ardent fans. Players have spent hundreds of hours piecing together developer ideas from Vanilla, including playable ogres, potential zones in the South Seas, and player housing.

So where’s the drama?

It comes in Blizzard’s ‘hot and cold’ relationship with these explorers. Any player found reaching hidden areas of the game through exploits is deemed a cheater and is banned, as a matter of policy. This is despite the fact that Blizzard clearly leaves hints to incentivize explorative behavior.

Ultimately, players are still finding new tricks, and Blizzard continues to hunt them down. A lot of fans are against exploration because they don’t want to encourage other players to develop exploits which could be used to give them a leg up in the parts of the game that matter – progression and pvp. During Vanilla, the forums were often full of players complaining about others using exploits, which was part of what motivated Blizzard to monitor them so carefully.

Following is a list of some of the most notorious secret areas in vanilla WoW. F in chat for all the players who got banned explored them.

GM Island

By far the most famous secret area in the game was GM Island, designed to serve as a ‘lobby’ for Game Masters. For years, the island was located north-west of Kalimdor, way off the map. To get there, players had to overcome vast distances of nothingness – a land without texture or direction, which made it totally impossible to reach the island without exploits. So many stories have been penned about GM Island that it has taken on an almost mythical status.

Members of the company were cagey about the island. An image of the island was visible on Blizzard Europe’s Career Opportunities page, but Blizzard rarely spoke publicly on it. Before patch 1.8, players could add GMs to their friends list, and their locations would be listed as ‘GM Island’. A forum moderator ‘Zarhym’ explained in 2010:

The game masters who respond to you in the game are doing so through a separate chat/support tool. They’re not actually using the game client to whisper you, however, logging into the chat client means the character they use to contact players with is logged into all of the realms they need to. While GM invisibility exists, it makes it safer and easier to have a simple storage/port point to keep all of these characters out of the normal game world.

The island itself was small and round and covered in dense vegetation, with a tall peak on one side. It included a mansion (taken from Stormwind City), a wall, and a graveyard. There were two NPCs, a Gnome named Ari and Tuskfyre the Troll. Embedded within the lower structure of the island (about 100 yards below the surface) was a hidden room known as ‘The Prison Chamber’. It’s textured with large blank white tiles and lit with a single light source. The only object in the room was a single chair, right in the middle. Players could enter, but can never leave without the help of a GM. Its walls couldn’t be climbed, teleport/hearthstone spells did not work, and it was the only place in the game where players could not be located using the /who command. While the room had no official purpose and seemed to have been added by a programmer purely for their own amusement, it is said that in the early days of the game, before an out-of-game chat interface was added, GMs would take offenders there to discuss their crimes.

GM Island was one of those things you spoke about in a hallowed whisper, hunched in front of a blurry youtube video in 3x4 ratio with an ‘Unregistered HyperCam 2’ watermarked across the top. Those who could reach the island were legends. Most fans would only ever be able to reach it on private servers, which allowed them to teleport straight there – and that is where we get most footage of it today.

The first adventurers to come across GM Island got there by swimming (there was water back then), constantly casting spells to heal themselves from the fatigue damage. It took an hour, and if the player’s direction was even slightly off, they would be forever lost in a seemingly endless ocean. Blizzard removed the water, so players tried manipulated the models in the game files to let them cross. This back and forth process went on for a while. Players found a new way, blizzard patched it out, players found a way around the patch, and so on. When all other attempts failed, the island was moved into an instance, effectively placing it in a separate world upon itself, and then eventually it was removed from the game completely.

Other locations created for developers include Designer Island and Programmer Isle. Neither was ever accessible in live version of the game – only on private servers. Both are filled with stock assets, written messages, and a few test quests. The regions of Programmer Isle are named after some guys called Jeff and Patty Mack, and there are even a few test NPCs.

Despite, or perhaps because of the fact that so few players ever reached GM Island on a live server, and also due to its mysterious origins, it is still one of the most iconic places in the game. Even years after its removal.

Old Ironforge

Another famous location was Old Ironforge. Canonically, Ironforge is a colossal warren of tunnels and halls under the mountains of Dun Morogh. When it was first realised in-game, its scale matched that vision, but it was so big that it seemed unfair – the Horde had no cities that big. So the lower half of it was gated off (though it remained in game). Players were able to reach it by clipping through the world. It was never much of a secret – and even came to hold a more and more important position in the story.

Mount Hyjal

Mount Hyjal was another major test for explorers. It had always been extremely important to the lore of the game, and Blizzard left it out because they wanted to save it for a later expansion. Positioned right in the middle of Northern Kalimdor, its main defence was being a plateau so tall that players had no chance of climbing it. But as we have learned, nothing can stop bored WoW players. Players came up with various ways of slowly, painstakingly clawing their ways to the top, and once they reached it, they found a surprisingly complete zone, with forests, caves, temples, lakes, and an early version of Nordrassil, the World Tree. At the foot of the tree were ‘Blizzard Construction Co.’ barriers.

Mysterious removed islands

Dr. Lapidis Isle.
Gilijim’s_Isle.
Gilijim’s_Isle.

There’s also the Island of Doctor Lapidis and Gilijim’s Isle – two small islands off the coast of southern Eastern Kingdoms. They’re visible in early maps and seemed to have existed in the WoW alpha, but were taken out after that. It’s possible their names were a reference to the Island of Doctor Moreau and Gilligan’s Island. Minimaps exist from that time and we even have a few screenshots (seen above). Almost nothing more is known about the islands, but they nonetheless intrigued fans for years.

Emerald Dream

The biggest unreleased area is Emerald Dream, which had a number of distinct regions with their own unique design. Players speculate that this was the early version of a planned expansion or raid.

A Blizzard representative said in December 2003:

Actually, we have some pretty cool stuff planned for druids. They will definitely have a link to the Emerald Dream. […] I was running around the Emerald Dream last Thursday… you guys are in for a real treat. The level designers are doing a killer job.

However, by September 2006, the developers had clearly changed their minds – either they had soured on the idea completely, or had decided it would be revisited in a later expansion. A statement by Nethaera says:

As for the Emerald Dream, there are no plans for anything as of yet but it is a consideration for the future. The Emerald Dream opens up a lot of different opportunities and the Burning Crusade is definitely not oing to be the last of the expansion packs.

True to their word, the Emerald Dream would surface many times over the course of the game’s life, in the form of instanced or dungeon/raid content, but the original zone was never made accessible.

Forgotten Crypt

My personal favorite secret area is the Forgotten Crypt, hidden under the cemetery in Karazhan. Based on its shape, it was originally intended as a dungeon, and I went there once myself For the intrepid explorer, it was one of the easier places to visit.

Part of the area includes the infamous ‘Hall of Upside Down Sinners’, which features underwater corpses hanging from hooks.

Players speculated that the area was never implemented because it was disturbing, and may have unsettled younger players. However Community Member ‘Bashiok’ commented on the Crypt in 2014, confirming that it was simply an area Blizzard changed their minds on.

Oh yeah, I remember that! Haven’t seen a screenshot in quite a while. Not sure I know the story on it but knowing our development processes back then there tended to be a lot more stuff made that we just didn’t use. I can’t imagine the game rating rumor is accurate, because if it was content we wanted to use we’d just take out the upside-down sinners or whatever the issue was and use it for whatever it was we wanted to do with that space. It’s not like they’re permanent fixtures. Fun rumor though! 🙂 More likely we just changed our minds.

The area was actually partially opened for players in the Legion Expansion in 2016.

Gilneas

Gilneas was canonically a small peninsular kingdom sticking out of Silverpine Forest in the Eastern Kingdoms, cut off from the rest of the continent by the huge ‘Greymane Wall’. Behind the wall was an incomplete land with no definition, bordered by mountains and ending in a beach. Getting on top of the wall, or finding a way around it was a test for any explorer. Gilneas was fully added as a zone in Cataclysm, in 2010.

Part 2 – Burning Crusade

World of Warcraft’s first expansion ‘The Burning Crusade’ released on the 16th January 2007, to enormous hype and acclaim. Other MMOs had released expansions before – most notably EverQuest had already released twelve by that time – but nothing to this detail, and scope. Players journeyed to the broken planet of Outland, the original homeland of the Orcs.

The continent had scorched red desertsstorm-beaten cosmic hellscapes, spiked mountains straight out of a medieval torture fantasy, and even a drained sea full of giant mushroom cities. But by far the most popular new area was Nagrand, a relative paradise with floating islands and calm music. BC truly offered every kind of experience, and it was clear that a lot of thought had been put into making it as alien as possible.

WoW had a huge catalogue of lore to fall back on, so it would be almost a decade before Blizzard had to start coming up with new concepts from scratch. Players had heard of Outland before, and many of its leading characters were old faces. That only added to the excitement.

BC cemented the idea of what a WoW expansion should contain: a continent to play around in, many new raids and dungeons, ten new levels, and a new class or race.

Even though many people look back on BC with a critical eye, WoW continued gaining new players throughout the expansion, and it revitalised the existing audience, so it’s hard to say it wasn’t a success. Everything from the level design to the writing to the end game was a step up from Vanilla. Its most iconic dungeons are fondly remembered today – such as Karazhan and Black Temple.

But don’t worry; there was plenty of drama too.

The Space Goats and Gay Elves

Burning Crusade gave us not one, but two races, and both of them managed to piss off some section of WoW’s playerbase.

The Horde were going to get Blood Elves – a race of civilized, fancy, sexy snobs. This made no sense to a lot of players. They were a Horde after all. They were meant to be savage and bestial and gruesome and primitive. The delicate Blood Elves had no place among their ranks, and would be better suited to the Alliance, they thought. Sure, the Blood Elves were sort of ‘evil’, but they weren’t the right kind. They were the ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ kind of evil, not the noble, misunderstood kind of evil from the Evanescence songs.

I’ll try to give a VERY brief explanation of the lore so that we can pin down exactly why they’re evil.

It started with the Trolls. A small group of trolls settled near the ancient Well of Eternity (a fount of infinite power at the centre of the world), and used it to fuel their rise, gradually turning into Night Elves in the process. Stuff happened, the Well of Eternity went boom, and the continents of WoW were made. A small group of Night Elves took a vial of water preserved from the Well of Eternity and used it to create the Sunwell, which gradually turned them into High Elves. Stuff happened (it does that a lot), the Sunwell went boom, and the remaining High Elves found themselves desperately addicted to its power, but with no substitute. They found an alternative in Outland, using demonic energy which turned their eyes green and gave them a somewhat evil disposition. They renamed themselves Blood Elves in honor of the people who died when the Sunwell went boom, which was most of them.

So long story short, they’re evil because they used evil energy – which should have satisfied the crowd who wanted the Horde to be the bad guys (since using that same evil energy is how the Orcs turned green). But on the other hand, the Blood Elf men were wonderfully, stupendously camp. And that really was a deal breaker.

Male blood elf.

Here we can see a prototypical conversation on the topic. In a 2014 poll, 36% of MMO-Champion users considered Blood Elf men to look/act ‘gay’.

I love Belf Males casting animations and thinking of using my free 90 boost for a belf priest. However, they do seem a bit gay e.i. there emotes/stance

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the slightest bit homophobic. Just curious of your opinions.

[…]

Gay? No, but, I’ve known a lot of homosexual people that are of many different body types, attitudes, etc, so I tend not to really pay any attention to the stereotypes.

Feminine/”Metro”sexual? Yes. They’re characterized as prissy and vain, which is an attribute most commonly seen as gay, however, I’ve known more straight men that act like that than gay.

[…]

Well, if my Blood Elf Rogue looks gay, then it’s because he is gay. Well, more omnisexual. He still remembers that one night where he got drunk and tried to mount one of those statues in Dalaran in the horde area. You can still see the dent.

This is just one conversation on one forum. During the period of Burning Crusade’s release, the topic was everywhere, and held a lot of controversy.

After all, they had perfectly sharp eyebrows, almost impossibly beautiful hairfine chiselled jaws that looked a bit like Brad Pitt if you squinted and turned your head a little, with the most elegant cheekbones, a gorgeous slender frame with just a hint of pec poking out from their v-neck robes, an absolutely flaming swagger, cat-like delicate eyes, and such kissable lips, God…

That aside, there were those who insisted Blood Elves to be too evil to be allowed to join the Horde (who were, lest we forget, honorable in their savagery). This debate tended to spiral into long, drawn out arguments about collective responsibility and the subjectivity of demon magic. The Blood Elves we played never used upper-level demon blood, they said, only demonic pests and mana beasts – the equivalent of rats and lesser rodents. They were practically vegan.

Then there was an angry contingent of Alliance who proposed that they should have Blood Elves, rather than the Horde. The High Elves had long been their allies, with continuous calls for them to be added as a playable race, and the whole idea of Blood Elves had clearly been contrived to create an excuse to alienate them from the Alliance. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Blood Elf women were a lot better looking than human women, and would no-doubt look even better gracing a table at the Goldshire Inn.

The had some fair arguments. For example, Blood Elves traditionally spoke the same language as humans, known as Common, and frequently talked to them in non-game material like the books, but due to WoW’s rules on cross-faction communication, they would never be able to communicate with humans. The response to this was that there is no evidence all Blood Elves spoke Common – maybe it was just officers, delegates and diplomats – and players happened to control Blood Elves who didn’t. But also, Blood Elves could be Paladins. Up until their introduction, only Alliance races had been Paladins, never Horde races.

In retrospect, perhaps they were simply afraid of monster Blizzard had unleashed.

Indeed, before long Blood Elves became the most popular race in the game, with Blood Elf women in number 1 and Blood Elf men in number 2. It was a golden era for ERPers. The Horde finally had a race they could wank off to, and they took to it with gusto. On RP servers, Silvermoon City became the Horde hub for any and all roleplay.

While the Wayfarer’s Rest Inn was its heart, almost every single building became the home of this guild or that guild. Silvermoon was so out of the way that non-Roleplayers never bothered going there, so it was the only city in the world wholly dedicated to Roleplay.

But that would not be the last we heard of our metrosexual blood boys. In 2015, Blizzard decided to update the models for them, and players quickly noticed that the new models were a lot more masculine. They had thicker frames, bigger muscles, and better posture.

A Community Manager by the name of Nethaera confirmed that the change was done to make Blood Elf men look more intimidating and manly, which drew heavy criticism. To some who played Male Blood Elves, their waifish figures were part of the charm. They were furious that Blizzard was forcibly bulking up their characters. Defenders of the change pointed out that by making Blood Elf frames more similar to humans, less work was needed to make sure that outfits didn’t break or tear. Also a lot of WoW’s promotional art has historically been done by Sam Didier, who always portrayed Blood elves as quite muscly, so there was a precedent for it.

Regardless of their controversy, Blood Elves were here to stay. But what about the Alliance?

The new race given to the Alliance was the Draenei, a motley crew of tall goat-people with blue skin and tentacles. They arrived in Azeroth on a crashed space-ship made of giant crystals, led by a 25,000 year old prophet who could see the future, and guided by giant floating light gods. The community found them a jarring addition, more sci-fi than fantasy, and there were complaints they didn’t really fit with the aesthetics or themes of WoW. No matter how you look at it, Burning Crusade was audacious.

Of course, Blizzard never skimps on the lore, and they had plenty of backstory in Burning Crusade. The cliff notes are these: The Draenei had originally been Eredar, a race of powerful aliens who lived on the planet Argus and mostly stood around smelling flowers and praying, until they were corrupted by an even more powerful alien Sargeras, who himself had been corrupted by some particularly capricious Old Gods, who were, at the time, trapped under the surface of Azeroth. A small group were able to escape the corruption of the Eredar and named themselves Draenei. They fled to a planet full of Orcs and Ogres, which they called Draenor, where they set up shop for a while alongside the Orcs. But the Eredar found them and weaponized the Orcs against the Draenei. Stuff happened. The planet exploded, becoming Outland, and the surviving Draenei then fled to Azeroth in their space-ship, while the Orcs built a giant inter-dimensional gateway called the Dark Portal, through which they would go on to invade Azeroth, which made a lot of people angry and has widely been regarded to be a bad move.

Got all that? Good.

Chris Metzen apologised for the difficulties in the new lore, which contradicted the old law in more than a few ways. He dismissed the idea that the space ship was sci-fi, because space-ships fly through space, and the Exodar didn’t fly, it teleported, which was totally different and not at all sci-fi. After all, mages teleported all the time, and no one went around calling them sci-fi.

For some reason, this perfectly flawless logic didn’t convince players.

It didn’t help that no one quite knew how to pronounce this race’s name. In Warcraft III (the game which preceded WoW), it was pronounced ‘dra-neye’ with an accent on the first syllable. But in an official forum post in October 2006, it was ‘dran-eye’. Lead designer Scott Mercer used the pronunciation ‘dr&’ni’, and community manager Tseric (remember that name) claimed it was ‘dray-neye’, and another lead designer pronounced it as rhyming with ‘man eye’, and all this didn’t exactly fill the community with confidence.

In the end, the Draenei would never capture the attention of players the way the Blood Elves had, despite the fact that – as many noted – the female Draenei more closely resembled female Blood Elves than male Draenei. Aside from being a spectacular example of the sexist dimorphism of WoW’s character design, they remain a niche, often forgotten race. Unlike Silvermoon, Roleplay never really took off in their zones, and their little corner of the world remains largely empty. They would see a brief resurgence in the Warlords of Draenor expansion, as well as in the final patch of Legion, but that’s all.

The Issue of Flight

During Vanilla, the world was strategically dotted with flight masters. Every time a player interacted with a new flight master, they unlocked the ability to fly from that point to any other flight master on the map, for a small fee, of course. And in a world where the alternatives were walking or a very slow ground mount, flight paths were considered cool.

One of the most consequential changes to come with the Burning Crusade was the introduction of flight.

It was a huge promise, but no simple task to deliver. Blizzard couldn’t just give players the ability to move vertically. Vanilla’s zones were not designed with flight in mind, and that allowed Blizzard to cut corners. When designing a building, tree, or mountain, they never bothered creating the whole model as a single object, they would only create the parts the player could see, and leave the rest behind. From the ground, everything would look complete, but when viewed from above, the illusion would become clear. The flight paths had been carefully planned to avoid revealing anything.

Outland was the first part of the game designed to maintain its structural integrity when players flew above it. And at first, it was incredible. The ability to fly cost 900 gold, and a flying mount cost another 100, which made it incredibly costly at the time. On top of that, players could only fly once they reached max level. But it was a worthy sacrifice. The moment players first took off from the ground and flew around Outland, it was like a whole new game had opened up to them. Players could let the world fall away, sweeping over monsters or natural obstacles without a care. The floating islands of Outland which sat tantalizingly out of reach were now easy to visit, and a lot of max-level content in Outland was only doable with flight.

But after a while, the cracks started to show. Players began to voice their concerns on the forums, and in the game, that the community aspect was disappearing. The chance encounters and group activities that had kept WoW’s world so exciting became a rarity, because everyone was in the sky. The change was even more pronounced on PvP servers. Players would idle in the safety of the stratosphere, where nobody could find or touch them. And the long, perilous journeys from one end of the continent to the other suddenly became a breeze that took no more than a few minutes to complete. This had a massive impact on the social fabric of the game.

“The world feels a bit more populated when everything is at a slower, smaller scale,” says Hazzikostas. “You can see someone next to you. They’re not 50 yards above you. So there’s no question that adding that extra dimension has the effect of making some of our cities feel a bit emptier.”

Wow’s Developers often compared flight to Pandora’s Box. No one predicted the consequences of adding it, and once it was there, it became such a pivotal tool that it was extremely difficult to remove in future expansions. Once players had flown, they would need to fly everywhere. They couldn’t go back to flight paths. They were now a crutch. And often they were badly planned so that they took inefficient, slow routes. But as long as players could fly, the game would suffer. Ever since this reality became clear, WoW’s playerbase has been fiercely divided on the issue. It’s a dilemma which would infect every MMORPG in the industry going forward.

Blizzard continued integrating flying into new expansions. Wrath of the Lich King prevented players from flying until they had out-levelled all but the final two zones – both of which were built with flying in mind. The next expansion, Cataclysm, had flying baked in from the start. The plus side was that this gave Blizzard a free reign to design the most extreme geography and architecture they could imagine, because none of it had to be traversable by foot. Flight was so necessary to those zones that when players died, their ghosts would appear on flying mounts, presumably because otherwise it might be impossible to reach their corpses to revive.

After that, there was a gradual attempt to phase flying out, with controversial results. We’ll get to them later.

The Bot Lawsuit

Like every MMO that came before it, WoW relied on grinding. That’s the term we use to describe repetitive, low-skilled work in order to gain resources, experience, or gold. One form of grinding might be running between five pre-determined points in an area and clicking a piece of ore every time it appears, or killing the same animal over and over for its skin. Grinding is generally awful and easy to automate, which led to the rise of ‘botting’. Players would use programs to do the work for them.

The bots were sold to normal players, but most of their customers were sweat shop workers – a topic we’ve already covered. One such bot creator was a certain Michael Donnelly, whose programming skills birthed the WoW Glider. It sold for $25 online, with the option of a 5$ subscription that provided additional functionality. The Glider website included this:

“Getting a bunch of characters to 70 is a pain. Getting money to equip them is a pain. Doing big instances, Battlegrounds, raids, and generally socializing in the game is fun. We use the Glider to skip the painful parts and have more fun. Someone suggested we sell it, so..”

Blizzard reached out to Donnelly’s company (MDY Industries) to ask them to stop. MDY Industries responded by pre-emptively suing Blizzard, to which Blizzard responded with a counter-suit in Feb 2007. They claimed he had infringed upon their copyright, broken World of Warcraft’s End User License Agreement, and made more than $2.8 million in the process. By knocking the game’s economy and gameplay out of whack, he was costing them money.

“Blizzard’s designs expectations are frustrated, and resources are allocated unevenly, when bots are introduced into the WoW universe, because bots spend far more time in-game than an ordinary player would and consume resources the entire time,”

For the most part, the lawsuit is a long, tangled jumble of legalese. If you want to read about it in detail, you can do so here.

There are two parts to Blizzard’s case. The End User License Agreement (EULA) part and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) part. The EULA is the agreement players make upon buying the game, and the DMCA is a US law which ensures that owners retain control of their works.

Blizzard argued that the EULA prohibits bot use and therefore if a player used Glider, they were breaking the EULA, which constituted copyright infringement. They held MDY responsible for distributing the Glider in the first place. The court agreed that the bot broke the EULA, but did not agree that it was breaching copyright.

This was a major win for DMY, because it hugely reduced the potential penalties Blizzard could seek against them. However, Blizzard won the DMCA argument. The court found that since Glider was specifically designed to evade Blizzard’s control over their client, it broke the anti-circumvention laws in the DMCA.

Much smarter people than me have gone into great detail on the precedents set by this decision, and how they would affect games going forward. But if all you want to know is the outcome, Blizzard demanded $6 million in damages. Donnelly couldn’t pay that, so the judge granted Blizzard all the profits made from the WoW Glider. Blizzard didn’t think that was enough, so it asked for Donnelly’s entire life savings and even the title of his car. The judge declined. For a company with a value in the hundreds of millions, this came off as a bit malicious.

As usual, the forums had a lot to say. There were the hard working ‘sweat of the earth’ resource farmers who had felt the bots cutting into their profits, and they supported Blizzard wholeheartedly. But at the same time, some players pointed out that bots made the experience better, and may have kept customers from ending their subscription with Blizzard out of sheer boredom. By using a bot, they were able to play the parts of the game that appealed to them, and skip the annoying bits. Blizzard argued that the bots caused them to lose subscribers, when the actual result may have been the opposite.

Blizzard would go on to sue many creators and distributers of bots, and would use patches to try and undermine them. But whenever they destroyed one, two more took its place. Botting is still a common thing in WoW to this day – and it’s present in every other MMORPG. It’s a simple fact of life.

The Broken Mod

This particular fiasco takes place on World of Warcraft’s forums. Players have dozens of different places to talk about the game nowadays, but in the early years, the official forums were the place to be. The moderators were known as ‘Community Managers’, and tended to be a lot more up front and personable than the ‘unseen hands’ who patrol most modern social media. Even so, they were vastly outnumbered by the overwhelming userbase. Keeping it in order was an impossible task.

There was one CM who stood out from the others. He was known as Tseric. At first, Tseric would rebuke players who had broken the rules, or respond with frank honesty about their suggestions. He was friendly, hilarious, and respected, though he didn’t put up with bullshit.

After two years on the job, however, it was starting to get to him. In May 2007, tweaks to the Enhancement Shaman class left them severely underpowered, and players took to the forums to make their anger known. Tseric was there to read their posts, console the weary and confront the abusive. It was too much for any man. When one user created a thread called “Tseric = Dou chebag”, Tseric responded.

At least I don’t circumvent the profanity filter to try and call someone out.

I guess you can’t help it. You’re an e-thug.

This sparked a controversy that soon spiraled out of control. You can read the whole thing yourself, but to summarize, users started asking about where they could report Tseric for inappropriate behaviour. Tseric replied ‘Good luck with trying to get me fired, or whatever…’ It reached the point where Tseric was complaining about his job in the form of poetry.

Can’t help it.

Posting impassionately, they say you don’t care.

Posting nothing, they say you ignore.

Posting with passion, you incite trolls.

Posting fluff, you say nonsense.

Post with what facts you have, they whittle down with rationale.

There is no win.

There is only slow degredation.

Take note. It is the first and only time you’ll see someone in my position make that position.

You can be me when I’m gone.

It was remarkably candid for a Blizzard employee. This only riled up the playerbase more, and strengthened the calls for Tseric to be removed. He lashed out, describing how ‘a group of belligerent and angry posters can drive people away from this game with an uncrafted and improvisational campaign of misery and spin-doctoring.’ Some players began to support him at this point, and it was certainly clear he was suffering. The sense of banter was gone, and Tseric had fallen into despair. A lot of users took Tseric’s side – they were sick of the behavior on the forums, and were thrilled that someone at Blizzard had finally acknowledged it.

Understand that this moment will be fleeting, and that there is a hard crash of self-esteem to follow. You’ll try to feed it again, and fill the void, but it will never be enough.

You’ve backpeddled into the troll excuse. You have no point. You have no meaning. You have no significance.

You will be forgotten.

Godspeed.

The thread was deleted after that. But the abuse continued. Trolls are like sharks – even a drop of blood is enough to draw them from miles around, and Tseric was a wounded animal thrashing in the water. His rant went viral, drawing attention to Blizzard’s moderation, to the toxic environment on the forums, and to Tseric. After one final post, he was never heard from again. Blizzard quietly announced that he had left the company, though they declined to state whether he quit or had been dismissed.

And so ends the ballad of a broken CM.

The Pedophile Guild

Let’s move on to something a bit more juicy. In September 2007, one of World of Warcraft’s most famous guilds hit the spotlight – Abhorrent Taboo. They were an ERP guild on the server Ravenholdt, who marketed themselves on scandal. You could entertain any and all proclivities among their ranks, but the biggest draw was politely described as ‘extreme ageplay’.

And yes, that probably is exactly what you think it is. We’re talking about pedos again today, folks.

While ageplay is legal, it’s not the best sign if someone is into it. Very quickly, Abhorrent Taboo found themselves in forums, and plastered over Digg. This all suited Abhorrent Taboo just fine. They were actually branching out to other servers. And when they did, their Guild Master introduced themselves on the server’s local forum with this charming statement.

“Role-playing is legal. Even if you are role-playing something that would be considered deplorable and highly illegal IRL, it’s still just role-playing and isn’t subject to any form of disciplinary action. Negative publicity is still publicity. Make a Digg or website about how sick we are. Report us to PervertedJustice. All it does is bring in more members. In fact, the Digg the guy on Ravenholdt made about us was so effective, several people signed up for WoW just to be in our guild. The bottom line is: We’re allowed to do what we do on any server we please and no one can do anything about it.”

The guild also posted their recruitment policy, which explained exactly what these ‘highly illegal’ activities were. “NOTE: Be advised that we frequently ERP in guild chat and often engage in even potentially offensive kinks such as (Extreme) Ageplay, Bestiality, Child Birth, [something that is censored by the WoW forums so I can’t tell what it is], Watersports, or any other kink those playing may wish to explore. If you are easily offended or upset by others using kinks you may not personally enjoy, this is not the guild for you. Furthermore, we are a guild based on freedom of love and sex. Monogamy of any kind runs counter to this, and so, all sexually exclusive relationships are prohibited.” The guild denied insinuations from a whistle-blower that they purposely avoided checking the ages of applicants.

The behaviour of the guild was so extreme that other erotic roleplayers started investigating, and they quickly came across real under-18 players roleplaying sex with adults, the youngest of which was a 12 year old girl. As soon as this got out, the WoW forums exploded in talk. Everyone kind of knew there was something like this going on in the game, but most hadn’t seen such a blatant display of it before.

Lilith would later clarify that she meant to defend pedophiles who are only attracted to children, but who do not molest them, and that she herself hated kids. This was, as we say in the entertainment industry, ‘a bad look’. The whole fiasco quickly drew attention from Blizzard, who forced the guild to disband. Their statement on the forums boiled down to ‘it’s gone, now please never speak of this again’.

This topic is no longer suitable for conversational purposes. We understand there is immense interest in this subject due to the changes that it may cause on your server. However, this matter is not one Blizzard takes lightly in any way, shape or form, and we do not wish to have this topic continue circulation.

Those who were part of the offending guild should not post information sent to you on this forum or any other, as it is prohibited by our forum rules to discuss such matters.

Let it finally be said that we appreciate those of you who brought this particular issue to our attention and that we will continue to follow up with this matter in the future to ensure the safety of all parties concerned.

Of course, getting out of a bind was something the members of Abhorrent Taboo enjoyed greatly, so they were up and running again almost immediately under the name ‘Vile Anathema’. The Guild Master, Lilith, suggested that they were given a free reign to reform because one of their members was a Blizzard employee, which caused another huge stir. After all, reforming so publicly under a name which was almost identical to Abhorrent Taboo was almost like a challenge to Blizzard.

I promised I wouldn’t give out their name, since they could lose their job. But let’s just say that not everyone at Blizzard is as uptight about what we do as the people who banned us.”

Whether Lilith was being truthful or stirring shit (probably one of her many fetishes), we may never know. But this incident once again raised a conversation in the wider WoW community about extreme ERP, and whether it was ever acceptible in the game, even when contained to private channels. A lot of players wanted it gone completely – they considered any pornographic chat to be too much. But other players were more even handed. Some ERP was innocent. And who decided what counted as ERP, anyway. A lot of players chose to blame the parents.

You know who’s to blame? The parents of this 12-year-old for letting their kid play an online game which clearly states in its ESRB that content may change online. Parents — please be parents, and don’t leave the job up to video games.

Was a simple romance erotic? What about a kiss?

There were also legal quandries. Is it the player’s responsibility to verify the age of another player before performing erotic roleplay? What if the other player lies? Does the responsibility lie with the user of the platform, or the platform itself? Should video game age verification be more complex than simply ‘clicking’ if you’re above a certain age?

For once, World of Warcraft was not leading the conversation. The epicentre of all this nonsery was Second Life. And that’s how we got ‘Aschroft v Free Speech Coalition’, which confirmed that criminalising virtual child pornography was unconstitutional in the USA. However ageplay was explicitly banned in other countries, specifically Germany and Israel. Since these game worlds were accessible world-wide, the result was that every player had to adhere to the laws of the strictest nation.

If one country banned something, it was banned throughout the digital world. This whole thing prompted further discussions about where virtual worlds stood in relation to real-world countries. A number of American political minds were concerned that this could be used to ban otherwise legal speech, during a period where the online world was becoming ever more dominant. And that risked causing the opposite problem – a tort.

The proposed solution was to split players up by country, or even by province/state, and enforce separate rules for each, so that every player could be guaranteed the maximum possible freedoms under their local laws. Obviously, this never happened. But it could have, and perhaps the precedent would have changed online gaming forever. Blizzard elected to avoid splitting up their playerbase, and chose instead to tread the fine line of legality, dealing with issues as they arose.

That turned out to be a bad decision, because as we have seen (and will continue to see), Blizzard is terrible at dealing with sensitive issues.

The Price of Zeuzo and his Glaives

One of the most famous guilds in Azeroth is Method, on the server ‘Sylvanas’ – that was the case then, and it is now. Over the years, they’ve been the first to take down a number of final raid bosses. During Burning Crusade, their best Rogue was a player called Zeuzo. He was perfectly kitted out from head to foot, and even had the Warglaives of Azzinoth – the best melee weapons in the game (and the most iconic for the expansion) They were one of only four ‘Legendary’ weapons available at the time, and Zeuzo was the first person on his server to get them.

Every other player looked at him with seething envy. And one decided it wasn’t worth working to get the glaives himself, when he could simply buy them. But the glaives were bound to Zeuzo – he couldn’t give them away even if he wanted to. This mysterious buyer could only get his hands on the glaives and the gear by convincing Zeuzo to sell his entire account.

So what’s what he did.

Zeuzo began to receive whispers offering money in exchange for his account. He said no, so the whispers came back with an even greater offer. Zeuzo persisted, and as he did, the offers grew and grew. By September 2007, the sum was 7000 Euros – $9500 at the time. Zeuzo was encountering financial difficult times in life, and found himself unable to resist.

The sale went ahead. Zeuzo’s account changed hands, and the character was renamed to Shaks.

Buying and selling accounts is nothing new. It happens all the time, with accounts going for about $300 on average. It’s often easy to spot a bought account, because their skill doesn’t match the gear they’re wearing.

“The problem is,” said Ms Vaughan, “you have no idea how to play the character properly.”

“Within a short space of time, you would be subject to the embarrassment of other players noticing your lack of skills, and it would be very apparent that you had either bought your account, or had paid to have your character levelled,” she said.

It became immediately obvious to everyone on the server what had happened. It was obvious to Blizzard, too. The best-geared Rogue on the server had spontaneously changed his name, left his guild, moved to another server, and become astonishingly bad at his class. Word spread like wildfire. After a paltry five days, Shaks was banned.

He and his precious Warglaives were consigned to the abyss.

In a panic, he turned to Zeuzo in hope of a refund, with no luck. He stated he had plans on suing both Blizzard and Zeuzo (who had just created a new Rogue and re-joined Method), but nothing came of that either. I suppose if their goal was to headline on the BBC News, they achieved it.

But at what cost?

The Misled Moose

This isn’t really a drama, but I wanted to include it just because I thought it was cool.

World of Warcraft once again hit the headlines in December 2007, and for once it wasn’t due terrible reasons. According to the Norwegian news site ‘Nettavisen’, 12 year old Norwegian player named Hans Jørgen Olsen was saved from a life or death scenario due to his knowledge of WoW. Hans and his sister enraged a local moose during a walk near their home, and after using the ability taunt to attract the moose’s attention away from his sister, Hans did what his Hunter would do – he used feign death.

In World of Warcraft, feign death causes the hunter to appear to die, dropping their health bar to zero, and all non-player enemies instantly lose all aggression toward them. Apparently it works in real life too, because the moose decided he wasn’t worth pursuing, and both siblings were able to get away safely.

For once, World of Warcraft had done something good.

The Rogue Who Got Thor’idal

This is another story of how players can be corrupted by the tempting shine of a legendary weapon.

This surrounds ‘Sunwell Plateau’, the final raid of the final patch of the Burning Crusade. In this 25-man raid, the game’s best players would delve into the Isle of Quel’Danas to find the Sunwell, and stop the evil Kil’Jaeden from stepping through into Azeroth.

Exciting, right?

Back then, raids were a big deal. Guilds would carefully select their team members, work tirelessly to get them the best gear, practice and research every fight, and set aside entire evenings or even multiple days to get the raid cleared. Every boss dropped loot – armour, weapons, resources, or if you were extremely lucky, mounts. Some rare pieces only dropped once in a dozen, a hundred, a thousand raids. Players worked for years in pursuit of the most coveted drops.

Control over the loot went to the raid’s leader, who would distribute it as he or she saw fit. This has resulted in a lot of internal guild drama over the years. When multiple players wanted an item, the one who missed out might cause a scene. But in the summer of 2008, there was a loot scandal so great that it shook the forums to their core.

The guild was Vicarious, on the server ‘Area 52’. They had just defeated Kil’Jaeden, and were rewarded for their hard work when their loot flashed up on screen. Thor’idal appeared. Its orange text indicated it was a legendary item – the fifth to be added to the game. It dropped for only 6.5% of raids.

Why was Thor’idal such a big deal, I hear you ask.

At the time, Hunters had to maintain a stock of ammunition because every bow used up arrows, and every gun used bullets, and that all cost money and took up storage space. But Thor’idal magically generated its own ammo. Not only was it the most powerful Hunter weapon in the game, it was incredibly cost effective. Plus it looked really cool. Any Hunter would have killed to wield it.

And there were two Hunters in that raid group.

But neither of them got Thor’Idal. It was given to a Rogue named Analogkid.

Rogues could equip bows, and would enjoy their stat bonuses, but couldn’t actually use them. The idea of handing such a game-changing Hunter weapon to a Rogue was absolutely unimaginable. And to make matters worse, Analogkid already had a Warglaive of Azinoth in each hand. So he didn’t need the bow anyway. No matter how you slice it, it was an astonishing snub to the Hunters in the group.

right. screw a class out of their ONE legendary to someone who wont make 1/10th of its potential just because hes been in the guild longer. riiiiight.

One of the guild’s members went and told the forums, which promptly exploded in righteous indignation. The thread is lost to time, but I was able to dig it up for your viewing pleasure.

Wow, I’m speechless. Giving a ranged weapon to a rogue when two hunters are present? I don’t care who you are and what situation you’re in, this is a r****ded decision.

Vicarious had been a major raiding guild before the incident took place, but afterward, their name was dirt. No one wanted to raid for a guild that might give a vital drop to someone else – perhaps someone who had no use for it. The guild’s members bled away over the following days, some leaving in protest, some leaving to preserve their reputations as serious raiders, some leaving simply so they could walk the streets of Shattrath City without a dozen players using the /spit emote on them.

All in all, on behalf of the rest of the hunters of Azeroth, we agree not to ninja anything else if you don’t ninja this bow. Please. We beg of you. PLEASE! That means you rogues! Youre a meelee dps class! You don’t need this!

There were members of Vicarious who tried to defend the decision, but they were rapidly shouted down.

Though I can’t speak for Kharhaz on this matter I can see why he would want to give Analogkid priority on this over Tums and Zzerg. Analogkid has been raiding with us since we rerolled here and were doing kara and gruuls lair. He has had an excellent attendance and has given his best using full consumables alot of the time, even on farm content throughout all of raiding from t4 to sunwell and in this respect deserves loot, especially legendaries over people who transfered to our guild after we killed pre-nerf M’uru, a fight which i might add that was very trying for our guild.

Many of the responses were something along these lines:

One would only do that out of pure disrespect and arrogance. Is the GM 5 yrs old or an idiot or both?

You don’t trick people into spending months of their time to help you and others get gear (of course they gear up some too but still…) and then f*** them over by giving their most coveted, well earned item (98% attendance, etc.) to the wrong class.

If GM called that crap a “loyalty test”, that’s just a flat out lie or he’s f****** re*****d. What the GM did was just plain disrespectful and childish.

If I was a director in my company and said “let’s work hard everyone and you’ll get a bonus from your completed MBOs” and then decided to slash salaries or not give the bonus to the employees after they did everything they were expected to…as a loyalty test, everyone would leave the company or I’d get fired immediately.

I feel sorry for those who tried so hard only to get mistreated. I don’t blame you for being less loyal after this sad incident.

But no one received more hatred than Analogkid. He had committed the cardinal sin of taking Thor’idal. He had been offered the bow as a gesture of loyalty, but the consensus was that he should never have actually accepted it. And perhaps if he had taken a moment to think it through, he would have politely declined. But he didn’t, and once equipped, a piece of loot can never be traded away.

Even if he had said no, and one of the hunters had gone on to wield Thor’idal, I’m sure they would remember being passed over. That kind of rejection can scar a person.

and after talking to both the hunters present, they feel that it was a sign of pure disrespect towards them to be called disloyal to the guild and have them be pretty much negated from the equation.

To this day, Analogkid is the posterchildren loot ‘ninja’ – a term to describe players who sneakily take loot they don’t need from other group-members. As for Thor’idal, it was just one of many legendaries that ended up being defined more by its controversy than its value as a weapon.

Luckily for the members of Vicarious, there was a new expansion on the way.

By November that year, Thor’idal would be obsolete.

The Raid Overtuning Controversy (this entry was contributed by lifelongfreshman)

There was a widely-believed rumor that the middle tiers of the Burning Crusade were deliberately designed to be so overtuned as to be impossible to beat even when using the best possible gear and playing your class to its absolute best.

The idea certainly had merit. Players were consistently being trained by the designers to become better and better at the game, which meant that tougher fights weren’t necessarily going to mean a proportional increase in time taken to overcome them.

This brings us to our penultimate TBC baddies, Kael’thas Sunstrider and Lady Vashj, both servants to the expansion’s ultimate baddie, Illidan Stormrage. The fights were actually really interestingly designed, in that Kael’thas’ fight was entirely about a rigid structure that you could plan for and the challenge was in executing the proper steps in the proper order to make your way through the prescripted dance. Meanwhile, Lady Vashj was a much more chaotic fight, having mechanics that required people to react on the fly to randomly distributed attacks that required spontaneous group coordination to get through.

These days, these fights aren’t anything to write home about, thanks in large part to the gradual succession of ever-more-difficult bosses (and the arms race between Blizzard’s ability to create raid battles and modmakers’ ability to create mods to help you successfully track, navigate, and overcome those same complex battles). But back when they released? They were, hands-down, some of the most difficult content in the game.

The people who first got to Kael’thas and Lady Vashj found a problem, though: They were certain they were executing the fight mechanics right, and yet the bosses … just weren’t dying. The tools they used to track their group’s damage output were showing that they were all performing incredibly well, inarguably better than the vast majority of other players. Strategies were changed and evolved, classes were rotated to maybe eke out just a little bit more damage, because maybe there was something they were missing, maybe a strategy had to be refined. Surely the designers wouldn’t intentionally put in a boss that had no feasible way to be beaten, right..?

From what I remember, Lady Vashj did indeed fall to clever players figuring out ways to handle her mechanics while stacking their raid groups with high-damage classes. But Kael’thas? Kael’thas wouldn’t fall until after his first round of nerfs.

There was tons of speculation in the time since that the fight was was deliberately overtuned, made impossible to beat even if everyone in your raid had perfect gear. I’m pretty sure many world-first guilds straight-up gave up on beating the fight, so certain were they that it was impossible. It is important to remember that these were literally the best players in the world. These people knew the mechanics of their classes as well as anyone could, better even than some of the developers, in a world before theorycrafting aggregation sites. If they couldn’t do it — if they were certain it was impossible, who were we to argue?

There was no small amount of drama around this overtuning theory, either. My first introduction to it was from a guild berating another, blaming them on their inability to ever clear it. I’ve forgotten the players now, but I remember the drama involved: World first has always been a big deal in WoW, and while it was nowhere near what it would become, the fights were brutal even back in TBC.

So when one guild got a tip that they needed fire resistance gear for Kael’thas’ Dragon (actually a phoenix), they were skeptical, but couldn’t afford to ignore the tip. After all, the tip came from a group that was, at the time, ahead of them, so the tipster would know, and they believed they could trust their source. So, they went ahead and paused their progression in order to get the gear they were told they would need, only it turned out to have been a lie! Days, weeks of progression were lost, and oh, if only they had never been lied to, they could surely have thrown that football over the mountains, they could have gone pro! beaten the likely-impossible boss fight that nobody among their contemporaries could beat.

Part 3 – Wrath of the Lich King

After the bizarre two-year LSD-fuelled interlude that was Burning Crusade, players were back in Azeroth, plunging into the icy continent of Northrend. Out of all the content missed from Vanilla, this was the place players most desperately wanted to go. And it was excellently done. This expansion concerns the story of Arthas Menethil, also known as the Lich King. I won’t go into the details because we’d be here for hours, but here’s a quick twenty minute refresher and here’s a three hour long monstrosity.

On their journey from level 70 to 80, players had the option of starting out on Howling Fjord or Borean Tundra. From there they would visit either the jungle-heavy Scholozar Basin or Grizzly Hills, a chilled out alpine zone with beautiful music. After the nature zones were done, we moved onto the desolate Dragonblight, absolutely brimming with dragon lore, or the home of the Frost Trolls, Zul’Drak – wow’s first totally urban zone. After that, players usually hit level 68, and were able to buy the ability to fly – which was vital for the final two zones due to their inhuman scale – Icecrown, the bastion of the Lich King’s army, or the mystical Storm Peaks, which was an abandoned science lab left behind by the ancient Titans.

If it wasn’t obvious, this was a huge leap in scale and aesthetic compared to Burning Crusade, and I can tell you that the questing experience was vastly improved. Players had so many options, they could level two characters through Northrend without ever touching the same content. That said, there was very clearly a fan-favourite route. Howling Fjord (never Boring Tundra, as it was known), Grizzly Hills, Dragonblight, and then Storm Peaks, although every zone was good.

Right in the middle of the continent sat Crystalsong Forest, and above it, Dalaran, a city of mages and beautiful purple spires, which hung in the sky in much the same way bricks don’t. It immediately became a fan-favourite.

Then there was the addition of the Death Knight, a ‘hero’ class, which started at level 58, and was so popular at first that the game was overwhelmed by them for months.

On top of that, the expansion gave us some truly iconic raids, like Ulduar (considered to be one of the best ever), Naxxramas, and Icecrown Citadel.

The period encompassing Wrath is considered by many long-time players to be the game’s golden age. Subscribers reached their peak of between 11 and 12 million, and stayed there for the entire expansion. If this all sounds a little too good, then let me placate your fears. There was all sorts of drama to be had in Wrath of the Lich King.

Let’s go through some now.

The Zombie Infestation

To many, the most memorable moment of Wrath of the Lich King happened before it even released. Blizzard wanted to try having another go at a world event, because the one at Ahn’Qiraj had gone so smoothly (take a look at part 1 for that). It was called the Zombie Infestation, and it was designed as a throw-back to the Corrupted Blood incident (also in part 1). Players knew some kind of scourge-related event was on the way, but that’s all.

Wow Insider posted these portentous words right before the event began:

Will it be a simple replay of the Scourge Invasion that brought Naxxramas to our shores for the first time? Or will it be something even more sinister, a world event that shakes the very foundations of the World of Warcraft as we know it?

Call us destructive, but we’re kind of hoping for the second.

On October 23, the first phase began. Items called Conspicuous Crates and new NPCs called ‘Argent Healers’ appeared in Booty Bay, a small cross-faction city. Any player who touched the crates had ten minutes to reach a healer, or they would be turned into a ghoul. They would gain the ability to kill any players or NPCs, and their hotbar would be replaced with a new set of abilities, most notably the power to infect other players by vomiting up clouds of infectious air. Successfully infecting an NPC or player healed you, so it was in your interest to do it. Since the timer was so long, and the healers so plentiful, the plague remained under control.

The next day, more crates appeared throughout the capital cities of the game. Plagued Roaches began crawling the streets, infecting any player who stood on one. The timer for players to find an Argent Healer halved to five minutes. It was definitely a challenge to stay on top of, but still manageable.

On day three, NPCs started to transform into Plagued Residents and would wander the streets attacking any player or NPC they came across. The damaging abilities of Ghouls increased dramatically. They gained the ability to control nearby zombie NPCs.

Every morning, players woke up to find their cities more overwhelmed by the scourge. On the fourth, NPCs appeared in capital cities, handing out quests for players to investigate the plague, with the goal of stopping it. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. But meanwhile, it grew harder to avoid. The incubation period dropped from five minutes to two, and infected NPCs became far more powerful. They could explode, killing themselves but infecting everyone around them. The number of Argent Healers halved. Zombie bosses began to appear throughout the world. Necropolises began to fly across the questing zones, dropping off clusters of infected enemies as they went. Even in the forums, player avatars became zombies.

On day five, the incubation period shortened to just one minute and the Argent Healers were almost completely gone. The zombies dealt drastically more damage. But there was hope – players were finally able to combat the infestation. Horde players could accept quests to cure the plague, and Alliance players developed a weapon to destroy the Necropolises.

At midday on 27 October, the cure was found, and the invasion came to an end. Zombies could no longer spread the plague, and once killed, would not respawn. It was over.

Despite only lasting a week, the infection left a long-lasting mark on the game.

One of the most interesting things about becoming a zombie was that it allowed for cross-faction communication.

Zombie status is its own faction. Even on a PvE server you will be attackable by both Horde and Alliance players. Attacking guards and players will flag a PvE player even after reviving as your living counterpart. Both Horde and Alliance players can talk together as zombies. Non-zombie players will see /yell messages as a combination of “…” and “brains”.

In addition, zombies could use portals in Shattrath to travel to any city, even one from the opposite faction. Horde zombies could easily reach the streets of the Alliance capitals, and vice versa.

Here are a few recollections of the event from players around Reddit. This comes from Reddit user lolplatypus:

God I loved that event. A friend and I were just finishing up in Outland when it happened. We both hit 70, high-fived, and hearthed back to Stormwind. It happened almost like a movie. Trade chat was full of people going “Why the hell is there a Ziggurat outside SW?” and “Need help at the bridge, there’s zombies!”

We got stoked, and ran to defend Stormwind with our newfound 70-ness. It was a bloodbath. It was the marines in Aliens getting overrun, the opening of Red Dawn, and all the best zombie movies rolled up into one. The line kept getting pushed back, everyone was getting infected. First we tried to hold them at the gates, then the bridge, then the tunnel, and then we finally got infected ourselves and joined the undead army streaming through Stormwind’s streets.

And then the tears, oh god the tears. Everyone in SW was so mad. I really wish something like this would happen again.

DJDaring had this to say:

It was honestly one of my favorite events of all time. It started off mild, a new boss to farm in Kara with the guild and some boxes in neutral cities with occasionally ghouls. Then some invasions with some sweet loot and the rate at which the plague spread grew faster exponentially.

Finally, all the capitals were either battlefields or ghost towns as all NPCs and poor infected players (A fair number of instigators too.) fell to the plague. Quest givers, vendors, guards, trainers, it didn’t matter. They all turned to ghouls.

I remember a battle lasting for a few brief days as horde and alliance gathered in the upper ring of Shattrath and cleansed fleeing players while acting as a bulwark against the undead. Blood knights and other Horde, stood along side me and the Alliance Paladins and Priests in solidarity. Then it cleared and we charged the boats and sailed to Northrend.

And another:

WoW’s greatest world event ever. Would you defend your city against an endless onslaught of the walking dead, or join the dead and chew on your friends’ brains (bonus points if you took out the aid station)?

And another account from c_corbec:

I loved it. Me and some guildies holed up at the Orgrimmar bank (I think it was the bank, anyway…) Shaun of the Dead style, with everyone who had a ‘remove disease’ spell cleansing as many people as they could.

An account from _Drakkar:

When I saw the first couple of ghouls come at me, I immediately started spamming my anti undead abilities like turn undead & the likes. When I hit the one that lets me track undead on the map, I saw this mob & looked to then see the wave hit me. 0FPS & ten minutes of lag later, they had killed me & I was a ghoul now. Also they made it inside orgrimmar.

And Tequilashot360:

I recall getting infected in STV I think, got spanked by a couple of other players. Was part of a very large social guild at the time, called in the regular ‘nothing better to do’ crew, so we started off with about 5-6 infected. From there we made tracks all the way up to Ironforge, having an absolute blast chasing lowbies anywhere we seen them. By the time we got to IF there must of been about 50-60 people in our group…to say all hell broke loose when we came across the regulars duelling at the gates. After we made our way inside we decided to camp the battlemasters and AH (can’t remember if the AH guys were killable though).

To say people were unimpressed is an understatement! Got to think of all the people who only get their 2-3 hours of wow every evening and they have to spend it being slaughtered in their own base of operations.

However not everyone enjoyed it. In fact, the event was rather controversial at the time. The WoW economy totally shut down, and so did all progression. Raids didn’t happen, trading didn’t happen, players couldn’t even approach cities without getting sucked in.

It’s funny because as someone that was a hardcore raider at the time; I remember this event just being kind of annoying lol. It’d be great for them to bring it back, as in retrospect, it was fun, but at the time it was honestly kind of annoying.

You couldn’t go about your routine without getting ganked by PC zombies hiding in the green slime in the Undercity, or right next to a flight master, or…..everywhere, really…..

Great event, but it really put a damper on anyone trying to just play normally, when it happened. I gold to grind out for consumables….and couldn’t.

Nowadays, most processes in the game can be done through the user interface, but back then, everyone relied on NPCs. If you wanted to queue for a battleground or buy materials or sell something, you had to speak to an NPC to do it – and the NPCs were all busy trying to gnaw on your head.

Nonetheless, the Zombie event is remembered fondly by most players. And it would be a fitting introduction to one of the most beloved expansions in the game’s history.

The Torture Quest

In an expansion full of death, undeath, disease and pestilence, it’s really no surprise that one quest involved torturing a character for information. ‘The Art of Persuasion’ is a short and sweet quest in which you torture a captured enemy with an item called the ‘Neutral Needler’, which has the description ‘Inflicts incredible pain to target, but does no permanent damage.’ Each time you use it, the character screams and begs for you to stop, and on the fourth, you successfully extract the info you’re looking for.

The Quest text is suitably foreboding.

The Kirin Tor code of conduct frowns upon our taking certain ‘extreme’ measures – even in desperate times such as these.

You however, as an outsider, are not bound by such restrictions and could take any steps necessary in the retrieval of information.

Do as you must.

The quest caught the attention of Richard Bartle, a revered MMO pioneer and general industry boffin. He posted a rant on his blog, which you can read here.

I’m not at all happy with this. I was expecting for there to be some way to tell the guy who gave you the quest that no, actually I don’t want to torture a prisoner, but there didn’t seem to be any way to do that. Worse, the quest is part of a chain you need to complete to gain access to the Nexus, which is the first instance you encounter (if you start on the west of the continent, as I did). So, either you play along and zap the guy, or you don’t get to go to the Nexus.

I did zap him, pretty well in disbelief — I thought that surely the quest-giver would step in and stop it at some point? It didn’t happen, though. Unless there’s some kind of awful consequence further down the line, it would seem that Blizzard’s designers are OK with breaking the Geneva convention.

Well they may be, but I’m not. Without some reward for saying no, this is a fiction-breaking quest of major proportions. I don’t mind having torture in an MMO — it’s the kind of thing a designer can use to give interesting choices that say things to the players. However, I do mind its being placed there casually as a run-of-the-mill quest with no regard for the fact that it would ring alarm bells: this means either that the designer can’t see anything wrong with it, or that they’re actually in favour of it and are forcing it on the player base to make a point. Neither case is satisfactory.

Bartle’s comments caused a stir in the community, who had largely ignored the implications of the quest up until then. It circulated around blogs, before making it to Kotaku – one of the largest gaming news sites. And it only gained traction from there.

For the most part, the playerbase reacted with ridicule.

The enemies in question, Malygos and his blue dragonflight, have declared war on all spellcasters, and kidnapped and murdered a ton of them, while threatening to destroy the planet with some pretty hardcore stupidity. They also threaten to kill the families of wizards if they don’t join his cause. You are complaining about torture? Whether you play alliance or horde, you have been killing thousands upon thousands of creatures, a lot of them innocents. A 30-second torture session is worse than that? You would probably kill him if the quest was to execute him, so go jump into a well, Mr Bartle.

Another commenter mocked Bartle for trying to apply the Geneva convention to a fantasy game.

Ah, yes. The Geneva located right next to Booty Bay.

This seemed to be a common sentiment.

Guess this guy would be surprised to learn that what he has done countless times in games, aka killing people, is actually prohibited by the law.

One user simply responded with “Don’t be a little bitch.” Others directed him to Hello Kitty online instead. Within the game, the consequences of not torturing the character are global destruction. Some players argued would be more unethical to skip the quest. One fascinating response was from a player who disagreed with the torture, but only because their Roleplay character wouldn’t like it.

Playing on a Roleplaying server (Cenarion Circle) my ridiculously Lawful-Good priest would have had a huge problem with it. I would have much rather found another way to deal with it to work with my character’s backstory, habits, etc. but there really isn’t.

Other pundits were more even-handed.

Scott Jennings of Brokentoys.org pointed out that there were other quests in Wrath of the Lich King which involved torture, but justified it with the fact that this was a Death Knight quest, and Death Knights are evil by nature.

Jennings entertained the idea of giving the player the option of refusing to participate in ‘The Art of Persuasion’, but that this would mean making the quest far more political than it was ever designed to be. And of course, World of Warcraft is all about slaughtering animals to take their stuff, so torture isn’t really that extreme when you think about it.

Writing for Wired.com, Clive Thompson argued that not only is the torture fine, there should be more of it in games. He argued that video games are the perfect vehicles for helping people inhabit complex scenarios. Players love choices and consequences. Adding torture to a game, and writing it realistically, would be a great way of demonstrating how bad it is – how often it generates totally false information (because victims will say anything to make it stop), how it can have crushing psychological effects on the person inflicting it, how it can cause you to lose your moral high ground and can push people to the side of your opposition.

In Thompson’s opinion, the problem with ‘The Art of Persuasion’ was the lack of consequences like these. If the torture had caused other NPCs to refuse to speak to you, or neutral characters to become aggressive – and on the flip side, what if it made the game easier, because future opponents were scared of the player.

From my perspective, Americans aren’t thinking very seriously about those consequences. The torture at Guantanamo Bay, in overseas CIA prisons and at Abu Ghraib has all gone by with relatively little public outcry.

Why? Partly because U.S. officials refuse to describe or admit clearly what they’re doing. But equally important, I think, is that our mass culture is filled with wildly misleading ideas about how torture works.

Bartle responded to all of this controversy with another post. In reply to the comments about the Geneva Convention, he said, “Blizzard could put a quest to rape characters in there: real life anti-rape laws wouldn’t apply. Nevertheless, a lot of people would be very disturbed by such a quest.”

When it comes to the discussion of killing in the game, he had this to say.

I am aware that playing WoW means you get to kill thousands of creatures. I am aware that murder is a worse crime than torture. Murder is a worse crime than anything (other than mass murder). However, previous quests have not exactly asked you to commit murder (at least for the Alliance — I don’t know about Horde). It’s always been for some morally justifiable purpose (self defence, most of the time).

There’s a contradiction between “you have to torture this guy because if you don’t then the Blue Dragonflight will destroy the world!” and “if you don’t like it, don’t do the quest”. If I don’t do it and the world isn’t destroyed, that means it wasn’t necessary in the first place, right? So why do the guys want me to torture him?

It’s worth noting you can skip the whole questing experience if you want, and just level through dungeons instead. But that doesn’t mean the quests are unnecessary.

He also argued that it broke the covenant between game and player by defying expectations. He went in expecting thievery and killing, but not torture. “It’s as if you were reading the new book 8 of the Harry Potter series and Harry turns to drugs and uses his magic powers for sport to blind people. […]I knew it had rogues, so I expected thieving. I had to wait until the second expansion to find out it had gratuitous torture.”

Overall, Bartle lays out a number of points which you can read for yourself here.

Once again, the topic took off and circulated back into the gaming media, even reaching The Atlantic.

Players were quick to mock the idea of the quest as ‘gratuitous’:

Gratuitous torture? For a second there I thought you just clicked a button and watched swirly lines shoot out at a cartoony douchebag. I must have missed the bit where you beat the living shit out of him, cut off his fingers one by one and make him eat them, and then slowly remove his organs until he talks.

There was also a lot more mockery, with an entire article (on a now defunct website) called ‘Richard Bartle is a pussy’.

Look at me! Look at me! I invented muds and I’m still relevant! READ MY BLOOOOOOOGGGGG!

There was really no ‘climactic moment’ in this situation. It sort of fizzled out. Among the wash of WoW controversies and discussion, it faded out of relevance. But it’s interesting to look back on, as yet another example of WoW provoking discussions about far greater topics than wizards and dragons.

The Wintercrash Update

Wrath of the Lich King was ambitious. In some ways, too ambitious for its own good. The sheer scope of the expansion meant that Blizzard had less time to polish it. Bugs were rampant. A number of patches came out shortly after the expansion’s release in an attempt to fix its problems, but often these only succeeded in making it worse.

Enter Patch 3.0.8. It released on 20 January 2009 and brought a slew of new bugs with it. This post attempted to list them all. Players were unable to create Death Knights, human women were clipping in and out of their weapons, mail had gone missing without a trace, arenas were broken, there was unbearable lag, and dozens of little problems appeared all across the game. More importantly, there was a major glitch with Wintergrasp that could break the whole server.

Wintergrasp was one of the big selling points of Wrath of the Lich King. It was a zone dedicated entirely to world PvP. Even on non-PvP servers, any player who strayed into Wintergrasp for too long would automatically have their PvP enabled. There were siege engines, ranks, enemy buildings to destroy, scheduled battles, and rewards for the victors.

Whoever won control of Wintergrasp would defend it next time around, and in the mean time, would be able to complete daily quests or access a short dungeon. You can read more about the process of fighting over Wintergrasp here.

It was well received. But after 3.0.8 came in, every time Wintergrasp changed hands, the entire continent would collapse. As soon as it started back up, the battle would reset, fighting would resume, someone would win, and the continent got knocked offline again. Over and over and over. The whole thing was a disaster.

There was speculation that Blizzard released the patch before it was ready because Wrath of the Lich King had pushed the subscriber numbers to never-before-seen heights, and they desperately wanted to keep their new players happy.

the massive number of quite big bugs for a patch that has been on the PTR for quite a while really stunned me.

One player wrote.

You all bitch and bitch and bitch for them to put the patch out, they rush it out, and you bitch some more.

Blizzard quickly acknowledged the issue. The thread is full of players begging them to disable Wintergrasp so that they could play the game without being constantly disconnected.

Jesus, yes. For the love of all things holy turn the GD thing off. Can’t do ANYTHING in northrend.

Later that day, Wintergrasp was gone. Whichever faction had last controlled the zone would retain control until the problem was fixed, which caused problems of its own. Players who weren’t on the winning side complained that they were unable to do the Vault of the Ancients (that dungeon I mentioned).

In the meantime, players took to calling the zone Wintercrash.

There’s a lot more to this disaster of a patch than I’ve mentioned, but I won’t go into too much detail.

The Power of Martin Fury

This is my favorite incident from Wrath of the Lich King, just because it’s so bizarre (and relatively inconsequential). In April 2009, the website Wow Insider received a tip off about an enigmatic guild which was shattering the Ulduar raid achievements at a suspicious rate. They got them all done in a single day – an almost impossible feat for even the most skilled guild. Based on their gear and experience, they had no business even attempting Heroic Ulduar.

There was the possibility that players were hacking the game, but everyone assumed such a feat would’ve gained more attention, and so the early suspicions were dismissed. The forum post about it had so many deleted replies that it was impossible to follow.

But the tip-offs kept coming.

The guild was The Marvel Family, on the US server ‘Vek’nilash’. Inquisitive players quickly narrowed in on one specific member of the guild, called Karatechop. His gear was fine. Not great, not terrible. But WoW displayed fun stats on each player, which were publicly available, and this is where the breakthrough happened. At some point, Karatechop had dealt 353,892,967 million damage. in a single hit.

Players puzzled over how anyone could do that. There were a number of scripted story quests that let players deal huge damage, but nothing even close to that number. Then someone noticed that 353,892,967 was the maximum health of the Flame Leviathan.

Players were able to destroy towers throughout the raid in order to reduce the Flame Leviathan’s health before taking it on. Defeating it without destroying any towers was insanely difficult, and would net players with a rare achievement called ‘Orbit-uary’.

There was another achievement associated with the Flame Leviathan called Shutout. The boss had four turrets on top of it, and players could destroy them in order to slow the boss down and increase damage. Shutout was rewarded to raid groups who managed to defeat the Flame Leviathan without destroying any of his turrets.

Not only did Karatechop have both of these achievements, he got them at the exact same time. In case it wasn’t obvious, that was borderline impossible.

The natural conclusion was that Karatechop had found some way to one-shot the Flame Leviathan. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, the evidence indicated he had one-shotted every single boss he came across.

As this information came to light, the entire community turned its gaze on Karatechop. Every single crumb of information was carefully analyzed and cross-analyzed, until players noticed something strange. On his profile (which showed what gear a player was wearing), he had an item in his shirt-slot, but it wasn’t loading.

The witch-hunt ended here. Item #17, a shirt called Martin Fury.

Use: Kills all enemies in a 30 yard radius. Cheater.

Got him.

Somehow, Karatechop had gotten hold of a piece of gear which should never have found its way into his hands. It wasn’t unusual for game-breaking items to be used by developers and programmers to help them put the game together or test bugs. The fact that it was only the 17th item to ever be created (out of tens of thousands) proved it originated some time in WoW’s early development. Even items from the earliest parts of the game had at least four digit numbers.

As soon as this news came to light, it exploded through the entire WoW player-base with a force and speed that was impossible to ignore. Everyone on every server and every forum was talking about it, speculating on how it could have happened, and on what they would have done in Karatechop’s place.

Such is temptation. With infinite power at your fingertips, could you resist using it? Karatechop couldn’t, apparently. As the saying goes, power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That can certainly be applied to Karatechop here, but what of the person who awarded it to him? If this is an accident, it’s on the list of most unlikely accidents ever.

Every single member of The Marvel Family was banned, even those who hadn’t participated in the raids. Karatechop made public the email he received from Blizzard, which said the following:

The character, “Karatechop,” on the realm “Vek’nilash” was found to have obtained an item (inaccessible by standard game play) from another player and trivialized the World of Warcraft raid contents with the exploitive use of this item. Consequently, this character was able to assist with the accumulation of items and achievements through the use of this item that is not obtainable by “normal” means.. The character’s actions gave the account an unfair advantage over all other players. As a result of the violation of the World of Warcraft Terms of Use, this account will be permanently closed.

One of the members made a blog post about it, which got hit with so much traffic that the site collapsed.

I had no idea that for a week, my guild was in possesion of a legendary chest piece given to one of us via in game mail from a GM. The person who got it in the mail had their account hacked a few weeks earlier, and petitioned blizz for about a month before everything was restored, not sure if this has any relevance. It was not bind on possession or equip or anything, so the person who got it in the mail traded it to our guild master.

It was called Mathin’s something, or Martin’s something, but it basically had 99 charges to kill anything within a 30 yard radius. They chose to try it out in Ulduar.

I wasn’t there, but they apparently downed Flame with this item and our guild master got a huuuge hit registered on the armory, everyone got achivements which we had only dreamed of getting before. The next day when he tried to log in his account was banned (suprise!) and trade chat was absolutely merciless towards anyone with the Marvel name over their heads.

I got whispers from countless level ones, obviously alts from different servers, asking me how we did it, why his armory was so whacked, etc. One was offering me “thousands of USD” to give him info. Ignored.

Everyone had open tickets, and then more bans. Guildies were going offline and vent was nuts with everyone all like “This WoW account has been closed and is no longer available for use…” and getting really mad. One by one the entire guild was slowly getting their accounts locked, eventually I got mine ( I have never been in Ulduar, let alone in the group that night.) Threads are being closed on the forums, our vent info was compromised at some point, and a 12 year old joined cursing and talking about chicken.

The post led to the theory that a GM had tried to restore a player’s lost items, and had accidentally only typed the first two digits, thereby sending Martin Fury by mistake. But there was a not-insignificant faction who suspected this had all been deliberate. They questioned whether Karatechop had some connections within Blizzard, or if there was corruption involved. Or perhaps someone at Blizzard got fired and decided to go out with a bang.

Blizzard has rarely restored any toon I’ve seen hacked to its former glory. They seem to give you some random stuff and just leave it in one of these multiple in-game mails. On his level 13 warlock, I believe, was Martin Fury. […]I honestly thought it was something Blizzard gave to one of Leroy’s alts for four months of ignoring the problems with his account.

poll found that only 48.6% of players would have messaged the GMs (Game Masters) if they had received Martin Fury. 33% would have done exactly what Karatechop did, 11.4% would have used it to mop up PvP, 10% would have saved it for future use, and 28.8% would have used it sparingly.

On 30th April 2009, WoW Insider would interview the man, the myth, the legend, Karatechop himself. He confirmed he was not a hacker, and didn’t work for Blizzard (as some rumors had claimed).

I don’t believe banning is fair, especially since this would be my first infraction in the 4+ years I’ve played the game. But it’s Blizzard’s game and they are the ones calling the shots, so fair is relative. Up until the bans, I honestly didn’t think I was destroying the World of Warcraft.

We were given a ‘You Win’ button and it was something we used.

The interview once again caused a stir, with many players angry at Karatechop.

You broke the EULA. You hurt your guild. Blizzard is just following their protocol for cheaters like you. And your little dog-and-pony show is pathetic too.

However he did have his defenders.

The guy got a freaking Dev item by mistake! He could of done a lot worse damage than what he did! He could of gone into Wintergrasp and killed every horde member in sight!

[…]

in terms of the EULA, please show me where it says that you cannot use an item given by BLIZZARD?! If you fail to give me evidence of this then your posts are nothing but trolling.

[…]

I hope the Blizzard employee who f’d up (if that’s the case) got the sack as well, otherwise to ban only the player is unfair and excessive.

Indeed, while the community was divided over Karatechop, they were united in their anger against blizzard.

It’s easy to be very holier-than-thou and say YOU wouldn’t have used it, but I think past history shows that a vast majority of players would have not only used it, but used it to a much greater degree.

Blizzard screwed up.

Blizzard got embarrassed by their screwup

Blizzard overreacted by blanket-banning an entire guild, most of which had nothing to do with the screwup

Blizzard tried to cover up their over-reaction by purging all references to it from every site that they have sway over.

Karatechop didn’t seem to mind the condemnation. In another interview, he said this:

“We never meant to upset people, anyone, by personal gain of loot or achievements. That’s never how TMF rolled. It was simply a ridiculous amount of fun. That’s all.

“I cheated. I know this. The item said ‘Cheater.’ I justified it, to be sure, and it was an easy thing to find justification for.

However, it didn’t stop at condemnation. You probably know enough about the WoW forums by now – it never stops there. Karatechop received enormous amounts of abuse online, personal attacks, and threats.

Martin Fury is still visible on a number of wow databases. It’s the lowest-numbered item in the game. Its use has been changed to instantly kill the wearer, to prevent the same mistake from ever happening again.

As for Karatechop, perhaps it was worth losing his account. He remains one of WoW’s most infamous users, a figure of controversy even years later.

The Ensidia Raid Scandal

On 8 December 2009, Blizzard released the final patch of the expansion: Fall of the Lich King. The day approached with frantic excitement, as the first players entered Icecrown Citadel. Its spire had loomed in the distance for the entire expansion, and loomed large in the lore of Warcraft going back a decade. Its final boss was the titular Lich King himself.

When they first come out, bosses can take days or sometimes weeks for the best players in the world to take down. But once they do, the encounters are gradually toned down to give more causal players a chance. The Lich King first fell on 3rd February 2010, and the coveted world-first title went to a guild called Ensidia.

And then it was taken away again.

Blizzard’s design team would often watch (invisible and from afar) as guilds took down bosses for the first time, to make sure everything went to plan. Whatever they saw with Ensidia, it clearly upset them. They come to the conclusion that the guild had cheated. All of the members of the group were banned for three days, and they were stripped of the achievements and loot from the fight. Since they couldn’t complete the Raid that week, they were unable to unlock the Heroic (hard mode) version of the raid the following week, putting them firmly behind their competition. The decision proved immediately controversial.

So what had Ensidia done wrong?

Blizzard’s official reason for the ban was, “Abuse of in-game mechanics or glitches with intent to exploit or cheat in World of Warcraft.” If that seems vague, let me explain.

The problem came down to a Rogue named Naihiko, who used Saronite Bombs throughout the fight. Saronite Bombs were a kind of grenade item that helped guilds do little more damage. However in this case, the bombs caused the fight to glitch. As you progressed through the Lich King’s stages, the arena was meant to get gradually smaller, giving players less and less room to move. If you watch this tutorial, you’ll see the platform shrink around 3:05, and again at 5:15. During the final phase, the Saronite Bombs caused the stage to glitch back to its larger size, making the fight easier.

Blizzard claimed that the raid group knew about this glitch and exploited it. They deliberately brought the Lich King to the edge of the platform to make him easier to defeat. And that once the platform glitched, they should have stopped their playthrough and reported it.

The members of Ensidia spoke out extensively about the perceived unfairness of this ban. Their website is long gone now, but I’ve dug up a copy here. Almost all of the banned members made their own responses, some more polite than others. Here they are, from PoptisseEkyuMuqqKungenTjaniJinxarn, and Eoy.

Ekyo’s post is the longest and most coherent of the bunch, and reads a lot like a HobbyDrama post itself.

The entire progress on this was pretty chaotic due to 10 people actually knowing what to do and the others going with the flow.

Ekyo said “…we realized something was actually wrong with the floor respawning. […] We didn’t actually know what was causing it and we actually had one […] try without it.

Now some will say that seeing this bug we should have stopped and wait for an hotfix before proceeding for a kill. But would anyone actually have done that really ? Not only would you waste tries in the meantime, but what if another guild killed it before you. We are talking about a race against other people there after all. And what proof do we have that the dev team didn’t actually find out this bug BECAUSE we happened to trigger it

Muqq was kind enough to include a full copy of the letter he received from Blizzard. Among other things, it said, “It is with regret that we take this type of action, but it is in the best interests of the World of Warcraft community as a whole, and for the integrity of the game. The use of these items bypassed a major portion of the encounter, significantly reducing the difficulty in a clear abuse of game mechanics.”

The rest of Muqq’s post is a ‘leaving note’ of sorts, in which he promises to quit World of Warcraft when his month’s subscription runs out. “Anyway, back to the subject. This was as good time as any to drop this game and move on. Had been considering it for a while, and I always said to Buzzkill and the gang that I was just waiting for the sign. A sign from heaven to guide me on my way. Today, I received it.” It gradually gets angrier and angrier from there. It’s quite a read, honestly. And it caused a stir of its own.

“the way Muqq has ranted doesn’t put Ensidia or himself in a good light.” One player commented. “He seems to think he’s the end-all and be-all of WoW and that him quitting will end this game. I’m sorry chester, but you’re a nobody outside the game and you’re not a puppetmaster. He could have taken the high road and at least constructively posted something when he didn’t agree with the suspension, but this rant is embarrassing.

Finally, Dear Blizzard.

Fix your goddamn buggy bullshit half-assed encounters. The amount of time and effort we dedicated to get through Wrath of the Lich king and Icecrown to see this guy die and take a turn at Arthas is just sick. To finally see him die only to have the ENTIRE raid banned is simply an insult. It’s cheap enough to make a bugged fucking encounter, but to ban people when they do not know what’s causing the bugs is just a fucking joke.

Tjani claimed, “ I have never before felt so brutally insulted without being able to defend myself.” Most of his post is bullet-pointed dismissals of the points held against him.

Kungen’s contribution was a list of all the bugs from WoW’s raid bosses, and how they could be exploited. His point was that these were the rule in WoW, not the exception.

What I’m trying to say is that EVERY SINGLE end boss since Vanilla has been bugged. Sometimes it has made the boss harder, sometimes easier. But it’s something all the top guilds during these periods have been dealing with the same way. All of us were still pushing to kill it first. We’re not the ones who control these things. We play the game to advance and to kill bosses for loot and glory. While Blizzard even have a team that get paid to test these bosses and we get punished because they can’t do their job?

I recommend going through the pages I linked, especially if you enjoy seeing some vintage, finely aged rageposting.

The question of Ensidia’s guilt or innocence became public discourse. Numerous sites debated the scandal.

Every argument, every scrap of information was taken into account. There was a truly wide range of takes, from ‘the ban was completely unwarranted’ to ‘I’m real happy. Even if this doesn’t affect me directly, I must say I am quite satisfied with what blizzard has done.’

Most players took Ensidia’s side, arguing that Blizzard should have fixed the bug before releasing the raid, that Ensidia didn’t know they were breaking any rules, and that this was all very unfair.

It’s standard at high-end for rogues to use the bombs, and Ensidia had no way of being able to tell this was an exploit, since they had no way of knowing what was supposed to happen. The ban is unfair, taking away the achieves is unfair, and Blizz should have to take it back with a lot of egg on their faces.

However a lot of users were sceptical of all this. During previous raids, they had also gotten a world first by ‘accidentally’ exploiting glitches. It seemed to be a running habit of theirs. It had happened with C’thun, the final boss of Ahn’Qiraj. It had happened with Kael’Thas, the final boss of Tempest Keep. It had happened with Yogg-Saron, the final boss of Ulduar, and Blizzard had even intervened to reset a fight with Illidan (final boss of Black Temple) and warned them to do it again without cheating. This all seemed like one step too far, and the cries of victimhood were falling on deaf ears. Ensidia was finally receiving their comeuppance and they were glad to see it.

Remember, these are the people who managed to figure out that summoning a disgusting oozeling 16 times in a row would break the C’thun fight. They’re the ones who figured out how to use Divine Intervention to cut half of Lady Vashj’s health off. They’re the ones who figured out that sychronizing JoLs allowed them to get twice as much healing on Firefighter. And now we’re supposed to think that they didn’t figure this out, when all the evidence points to them knowing something?

If you’re interested in learning more about Ensidia and Nilihum (their old guild name), someone wrote up an absolutely absurdly long essay on the dynamics of the group.

The Dungeon Finder

Releasing on the same day as Icecrown Citadel was the new ‘Dungeon Finder’ feature. Players could queue up for any dungeon based on their level and role, be randomly assigned with other players from any server, and would be instantly teleported inside the dungeon.

Prior to this, players would have to either [A] form groups with members of their guild, or [B] use regional/city chats to cobble groups together. The Dungeon Finder was envisioned as a massive improvement in speed, convenience and accessibility – and it was. To sweeten the deal, Blizzard introduced daily bonuses for using the Dungeon Finder.

But it was not without controversy.

Grouping up for dungeons was a large part of the WoW experience – it was how communities formed. If a player was a dick, he would gain a reputation on his server and no one would work with him. That kept people on their good behaviour (some of the time, at least). But the Dungeon Finder effectively eliminated consequences. You would rarely see other players from your own server. Even if you did, you were in the dungeon by the time you had the chance to do anything. No one expected the Dungeon Finder to have such an enormous impact on the culture of the game – no one even realised it was happening until long after the fact.

On top of that, the Dungeon Finder was so convenient that it made questing obsolete. A majority of players didn’t bother levelling through the game’s zones anymore, because dungeons were quicker, so the game-world became a lot emptier, which had already been a problem ever since flying was introduced in Burning Crusade.

At the time of its release, Dungeon Finder was actually quite popular. It was seen mainly as a tool for casuals, since established guilds were hesitant to move away from the old system. But over time, players would pin-point the Dungeon Finder as the harbinger of WoW’s decline. Yet others point to it as a sign of WoW adjusting to the convenience of modern gaming.

Here’s an example of that criticism.

The bottom line is all these features changed the game from vanilla to BFA so much that it’s undistinguishable. Have they made it better? For me – hell, no. I would always prefer a game with social interaction and memorable stories than a “massively multiplayer” game that most play without saying a word in 10 years judging by modern experience in guilds and dungeons. Has it become better for players who enjoy playing like this? Probably, so good luck to them if they can’t tell shit from good.

Here’s a pro-Dungeon Finder view.

I see a lot of people crying that the dungeon finder ruined WoW. Not at all. Rossi is right that the dungeon finder vastly improved the accessibility of 5 mans and later raids and made “quick” dungeons possible, but at the end of the day you zoned back out to your own server. You existed in the same world as always and there were plenty of other server-specific things to do with the folks in your own neighborhood. Which you got to pick, by the way.

And another.

Hands-down the best thing about the dungeon finder is that you can get on with doing other stuff whilst you’re queued. Sitting around in Org/SW spamming that you were looking for a group kinda sucked a lot of the fun out of the game

This isn’t as dramatic or scandalous as the other items in this post, but it’s something worth talking about. It still divides fans to this day.

While we’re here, let’s talk about the controversial addon that lost much of its popularity with the release of Dungeon Finder.

GearScore was a player-made addon (like a mod) that collected together all of a player’s statistics and boiled them down into a number. The idea was that instead of carefully examining other players to decide whether they were good enough to join a raid or dungeon, you could simply look at their GearScore instead. And they were pretty hard to fake, so players trusted them.

You might be asking where the drama is here.

On some servers, every single ‘pug’ (a group put together by players) would expect a GearScore of over a certain number. Everything else about you was tossed out of the window and only that number mattered. Your skills and experience were irrelevant. A player levelling/gearing up an alt (a separate character from their main character) might struggle to get into groups, despite being perfectly competent. And unlike ilvl (a system built into WoW which gave a number based on the quality of a person’s gear), GearScore changed based on how well a player’s gear complemented their Class and Spec.

As GearScore’s website said:

GearScore represents the maximum potential for a player to perform. The higher your GearScore the higher your potential to heal/dps/tank. Remember however, that is is up to the player’s skill to match that potential.

It was never a ‘scandal’, exactly, but it was always divisive. It took a lot of players by surprise and they weren’t fond of the idea.

The bottom line though is gear score doesnt mean jack. All it can be and should be used for is for a basic idea of were the player has been based on the gear they have. It tells you nothing else. I cant tell you if they died on every pull spent every boss fight face planted for 99% of the fight or paid a guild to carry them and gear them.

However there are those who supported it.

As far as my stance on gearscore is concerned I’m all for it. It does really help in building >pugs my logic is: If you have determination you get pre-raiding gear if you get pre-raiding gear you can get into first tier raids if you can get into first tier raids you can go into further raids which ends up in you getting a good gearscore.

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone misses it.

Community gating in any form should be frowned upon and broke ASAP. Gearscore in wrath is a prime example.

The Sparkle Pony

During the beta for Wrath of the Lich King, players eagerly dived through the game files in search of anything spicy. Hints at the story, patch content, that sort of thing. Blizzard have always done their best to disguise anything important, with mixed results.

It was through this method that players discovered a heading labelled ‘Paid Character Customisation’. There were whispers that Blizzard might be introducing microtransactions into World of Warcraft, but these were quickly dismissed. After all, it was a subscription-based game. Players paid full price for each expansion, on top of a monthly fee, specifically to avoid the ads and in-game shops that were beginning to plague the free-to-play genre. The mere idea of adding microtransactions was so audacious, no one could believe it at first.

But this was Blizzard. They had long forgotten what shame felt like.

At Blizzcon 2008, WoW’s lead producer J. Allen Brack revealed exactly what ‘Paid Character Customisation’ was. By putting down cash, players could change the way their character looked, in a manner similar to the in-game barber shops (which run on in-game gold). There was no inherent reason why Blizzard had to charge for this – it didn’t cost them a penny to change how a character looked. It was purely a profit-driven exercise. Many players were (rightly) worried where this could lead. If WoW could sell character appearances, what was stopping them selling mounts or gear?

Blizzard had always had an online store. It sold books, merchandise and WoW subscription cards – that sort of thing. But in November 2009, new products were added which whipped the community into a drama. These were the Pandaren Monk and Lil’KT. They were pets – non-functional NPCs that follow the player around. And at $10 each, they weren’t cheap either. To smooth things over, Blizzard announced they would donate 50% of the profits of the Pandaren Monk to the Make-A-Wish foundation (a scheme they quietly ended a month later).

That thread can be viewed here. The most obvious thing is that most of the comments were positive. Most people saw it as harmless. For the most part, the talk of slippery slopes was hand-waved away. After all, it was for charity!

These are companion pets.. they have no effect other than a status symbol. Not really that different from shelling out $10 extra for a collector’s edition of an xpac (getting you an exclusive pet).

Here’s another post made in response to complaints that Blizzard were taking this too far.

Since when did pets and mounts become game breaking items? If people want to spend money on this stuff let them what right do you have to say how people spend their own money? Fair enough if it was some kind of game breaking item (eg legendary item or whatever) but its not it’s a mount… I could just as easily argue “Oh my god Blizzard are selling WoW Mousemats! How long till they start selling epics?”

They would come to rue those words.

Thank you for spending precious production time on money grabs instead of content which I’m already paying $15 a month for!

Said one user, to which another responded: “They’re a business, and are in business to make money.”

On 15th April 2010, a new $10 pet was added to the store. And more importantly, a mount called the Celestial Steed.

The Celestial Steed. For many, this is where Blizzard had crossed the line.

It’s hard to convey to a non-player how significant mounts were to the people who collected them (which was most players). There were some mounts you could get cheaply and easily, some you could only get through in-game events or seasonal quests, some through achievements, some through PvP, some through reputations (usually by completing daily quests for weeks).

But the rarest and most prestigious mounts of all came from drops. Each expansion usually had one mount you could get by killing an incredibly rare enemy that only spawned very irregularly, such as the Time Lost Proto Drake, and usually the final boss of each raid had a microscopic chance of dropping a mount too (in some cases we’re talking a drop rate of 0.1% or less). Players would work for years to get their hands on one. I know people who ran through a raid every week for over a decade in the hope of getting The Ashes of A’lar or Invincible’s Reins. What I’m trying to say is that mounts were a huge part of the game, massive status symbols, and were often the motivator that kept people playing.

Pets were negligible, but now Blizzard was selling something integral to World of Warcraft. And at what cost? The price tag of $25 would have been high in a free to play game, for what amounted to an art asset. In WoW, it drew shocked reactions from every corner. It didn’t help that the Celestial Steed was absolutely fucking fabulous, so naturally everybody wanted it.

Downloadable content is something which has worried gamers for a long time. There has been examples of developers charging for content that’s already on the disc, and allegations of some companies deliberately removing content so they can charge a premium for it post release. But for all the overpriced horse armor and expensive map packs out there, Blizzard’s latest offering on their online store really takes the biscuit.

After some searching, I was able to track down the announcement thread.

The response from Palisade is probably the most coherent:

I think it is extremely unfortunate that we are starting to see F2P (Free To Play) microtransactions in a game that we already pay a service fee for, not to mention the upfront costs of purchases the base retail game and its following expansion packs. 2009/2010 is certainly the era of DLC. Quite frankly I think any game or service that requires upfront retail costs as well as perpetual service fees to use the service should not include microtransactions or paid downloadable content. Period.

How long have some us been playing and paying for your product. Those who have been here for years have shelled out an insane amount of money to play a “video game”. While I think server transfer fees and the such are a little expensive, I can understand the need for such a service and why it should cost. But for actual in-game content, there is no excuse for paid DLC. You might as well promote purchasing RMT gold, because that’s essentially same mentality you are promoting here. Give us your money, get something in game.

As a Blizzard follower since Warcraft: Orcs & Humans back in the day, this company sure has changed a lot. Customer loyalty has been replaced with corporate greed. It’s unfortunate.

But this was a controversy with two sides. That forum thread is full of players excitedly talking about buying the mount. And within three hours of the Celestial Speed’s debut, it had already generated $3.5 million in revenue. They became immediately visible around the game world and glittered in their dozens in the skies above Dalaran.

The mount you rode said a lot about you. It was your way of showing off your accomplishments to the people on your server. It might set you apart as a great raider, a distinguished PvP-er, a passionate roleplayer, or a fanatical quester.

But what did the Celestial Steed say about you?

According to some, it said you were a gullible fool, easily parted with your money.

Said one player in the official WoW forums: “One by one they are systamatically putting a dollar price tag on what previously you obtained through playing the game, through skill, there is no achievement and no skill in paying money, there is no challenge won buy pulling out your wallet.”

This sentiment echoed around the internet, with one Kotaku commenter saying, “umm no thanks.. i appreciate cool mounts and pets.. but not for real money. gotta earn that stuff in-game or its not cool.”

The community started derisively calling them ‘Sparkle Ponies’, sharing memes about My Little Pony, and coming up with various other ways of shaming anyone who bought the mount.

The mount buyers responded with comics and memes of their own.

For Blizzard, this was the start (and nowhere near the end) of their gradual decline in the public perception. People started to see them as money-grubbing and exploitative of their faithful audience – which they were. Much of this monetisation was blamed on the influence of Bobby Kotick’s activision, who controversially merged with Blizzard in 2008.

The message this sends to the business minded portion of the gaming industry is disappointing at best and alarming at worst – gamers don’t want good content, instead they’ll elect for anything shiny, a trend which seems especially apparent in the MMO genre. Why would the makers of World of Warcraft ever want to push the creative boundaries when something like this four-legged waste of space allows them to make so much money?

The biggest concern for most fans was that the Celestial Steed had proven so profitable, it guaranteed Blizzard would try something like it again. And they did. As of right now, there are no less than 24 mounts available to buy, each for a similarly high fee.

I won’t buy and I encourage other players not to buy.

You’re actually hurting the future of the game if you support this.

With this stuff taking off the way that it is, it won’t be long before Blizzard starts charging for things that carry an in-game advantage.

But we’ll be returning to the store during the Warlords of Draenor write-up, so I’ll leave this topic here.

The Real ID Controversy

Out of all the scandals to afflict WoW during Wrath of the Lich King, by far the biggest concerned Blizzard’s Real ID system. Basically, it was an optional feature which attached your real name to your account. In addition to befriending other characters, you could become Real ID friends with other players, and could communicate with them no matter what character they were playing, or what Blizzard game they were on.

Real ID friends would appear to you under their real names, would be able to see each other’s entire Real ID friends lists, and would see exactly what each other were playing, and where, at all times. The system was gradually upgraded so that two Real ID friends could enter a party and play together, regardless of what server they were on, as long as they were both playing the same faction.

So far, so good, right?

Well on 6th July 2010, Blizzard announced plans to integrate Real ID into the World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo forums. Players would appear – to everyone – under their real names. The idea was that if Blizzard stripped away the anonymity, it would discourage ‘flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness gone wild’.

“Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before,”

If you’ve been reading my other write-ups on WoW, you’ll have an idea of what to expect from World of Warcraft’s forums at this point. They’re absolute hives of discrimination, doxxing, abuse, and harassment, and it is perhaps their saving grace that all users are shielded from real-life targeting by their character personas.

You can imagine the reaction to this announcement, but I’ll outline it for you anyway.

People lost their fucking minds.

I’ve dug up the main thread for you, which stretches out into literally thousands of pages. But if that’s not enough, don’t worry. The conversation didn’t end there. It overflowed onto every fan site, every forum, and every server of the game. People were genuinely terrified of Blizzard attaching their names to all future forum posts, and perhaps even worse, all past forum posts too. To those who had participated in scummy behaviour, their names – and real-life reputations – would be destroyed. To those who had been the victims of scummy behaviour, their very safety was at risk.

”I’ll just stop posting on the official forums,” posted one person, “When someone googles my name they get me as the first hit. I really don’t want some overzealous HR toady taking me out of consideration because my name is also associated with an MMO. It has a negative connotation for the majority of the corporate world and I certainly don’t want to have a game hurt my ability to provide for my family.”

There were those with valid reasons to want to keep their names hidden. Some women or ethnic minorities worried about being the victims of discrimination. Others had more specific issues:

I’m in witness protection for testifying in a trial that sent a man to death, and his family swore to send me to my death too, so I will be deleting every single post I’ve ever made in FEAR for MY VERY LIFE.

Everyone knew it would be a massively consequential change. As Susana Polo of themarysue.com put it:

This has been a discussion we’ve been long due to have. The Internet is at a crossroads right now, with the Facebook argument that all personal data is more or less public nowadays coaxing us towards one path and the mootean argument that anonymity is essential to online discourse coaxing us towards the other.

In a demonstration of confidence in the new system, Blizzard employee Bashiok revealed his name in the forums – Micah Whipple. That thread was never preserved, but we know from articles that users immediately responded by posting enormous amounts of personal information about him, including his phone number, address, and the names of all his relatives. Bashiok received a shower of death-threats and abuse. What’s worse, some of the information first posted about him was incorrect, which resulted in the possibility that a totally random person was harassed because of this – and that was blamed on Whipple too. His attempt to endorse Real ID had come crashing down upon him with such ferocity that it took on a life of its own and became a news story in itself.

There was blood in the water. In order to fully drive home how easily this real-name system could be manipulated, forum users began to doxx every Blizzard employee they could find. This information was collected and categorised for easy access. I recommend you spend a few minutes just scrolling through that site, because it’s difficult for me to explain how horrifying this all was.

In hindsight, it’s possible that these kinds of tactics were necessary to make the risks clear to Blizzard. The question has been tackled numerous times.

However there were those who spoke out in favour of the change. Nicholas Deleon of techchrunch.com dismissed player concerns.

Why does your boss give a darn what you do on your own time—provided it doesn’t impair your ability to produce widgets while on the clock? Is it really so detrimental to your social standing to be seen asking where to find a certain mob, or reporting a bug in the new five-man dungeon? What planet do you people live on that this is a big deal?

And let’s not forget the fact that we live online nowadays, and that many of you claiming “INVASION OF PRIVACY~!”, I’m sorry, don’t have a leg to stand on. How many of you have Twitter or Facebook accounts? How many times does Twitter have to suffer a massive security breach before you say, “Hmm, shouldn’t be there”? How many of you post photos of you and yours on Facebook for the whole world to see—unless, of course, you take the massively pro-active step of locking your account down?

Do you really think 4Chan (or any other group, or person) is going to get away with harassing people who post on the new forums, a common complaint I’ve seen? “Now people will annoy me in real life!” That sounds like a one-way ticket to a lawsuit, courtesy of Activision Blizzard. Just because your name is “out there” doesn’t mean people are allowed to threaten you. Surely you recognize this?

Another proponent of Real ID in Wow’s forums was Krystian Majewski. In his blog, she wrote:

Maintaining a community where the only way to prevent people from physically assaulting is each other is to put everybody under a witness protection program doesn’t seam like a healthy thing to do. If real-life stalking and verbal abuse is indeed such a big problem, maybe we should start thinking about limiting user interaction in WoW in general.

It seems like a missed opportunity. Implementing Real ID in a large forum such as the WoW would have been a great test to test the Greater Internet Fuckward Theory. A lot of the protesters argued that it wouldn’t improve the post quality. On the other side, I think we shouldn’t underestimate the role of anonymity plays in ALL the mentioned problems.

Majewski’s main point seemed to be that using real names on the Starcraft forums would make it seem more legitimate as a sport.

I think introducing Real ID into the StarCraft 2 can vastly improve the quality and professional appearance of that game. If new e-Sport players are bred from a pool of anonymous Internet trolls, it’s difficult to get that mentality out once the players reach a professional level. This has detrimental effects on the appearance of e-Sports in general. Even among gamers, StarCraft’s reputation is not that of a civilized and mature game.

There are many players who, in hindsight, think that it was a good idea.

Virtually all the problems that we experience now all stem from anonymity and the ability to socially misbehave without repercussions. Every single problem that is associate with bad behaviours, trolling, being jerks, etc, etc, all comes down to lack of accountability that Real ID would have provided.

This wouldn’t have happened with Real ID tying your account to your character and providing an entity in which you would have had to represent yourself. Having an account associated with your character would have also eliminated the need for Raiderio because you could just link you Real ID for gear score and achievements…

The crazy thing is that if Real ID was introduced nowadays it would be accepted without question. We have social media accounts everywhere now, it’s no big deal these days. It simply failed back in the day because it was a new concept to have a social identifier associated with a “video game”.

Regardless of its supporters, the overwhelming opposition won out. After just three days, Mike Morkaime – Blizzard’s CEO – made a statement in which he cancelled the idea.

We’ve been constantly monitoring the feedback you’ve given us, as well as internally discussing your concerns about the use of real names on our forums. As a result of those discussions, we’ve decided at this time that real names will not be required for posting on official Blizzard forums.

For most of the community, it was a massive victory. However as many journalists pointed out, Blizzard had no intention of dropping Real ID, they firmly planned on integrating it more and more into their games. It was just this specific change which had been aborted.

But perhaps that was for the best.

If you want to read about this in more detail, someone wrote a whole essay about the shitstorm, examining its sociological implications.

But I will leave you with the words of one eloquent user:

possibly the worst idea in the history of bad ideas

***

There are a number of other Wrath of the Lich King controversies we could go over: the bizarre YouPlayorWePay site, which tried to insure players for World of Warcraft server downtime, or the overly easy dungeons, or the player anger over the disappointing ‘Call of the Crusade’ patch. And I’m sure plenty could be written about the Activision-Blizzard merger. But with my personal experience, I struggled to bulk these topics out enough to justify including them.

Part 4 – Cataclysm

The Leaks

Cataclysm didn’t just contain controversy. For the first time, an expansion was the controversy. So we need to go right back to the beginning to figure out how it all unfolded.

MMO Champion has always been one of the largest platforms for WoW discourse outside of the official forums. And it was here, on the 15th of August 2009, that Cataclysm was leaked. World of Warcraft was no stranger to leaks – there had already been half a dozen, each promising a different vision of WoW’s next expansion – but they were rarely this detailed, which lent these particular leaks a certain credibility.

In short, the premise was this:

The ancient dragon aspect Deathwing (one of the only big baddies left from the original Warcraft games) had broken free from his prison in the centre of the world, and had used his enormous power to tear Azeroth to pieces. The continents from WoW’s first release (Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms] were going to be totally overhauled with new visuals and new stories, as well as the addition of player-flying.

Five new zones would be slotted in around the world too, where players could level from 80 to 85. Each new zone had an elemental theme, which would continue throughout the expansion. They included the lore-heavy Mount Hyjal, the expansive underwater world of Vashj’ir, the dark and atmospheric subterranean Deepholm, the Arabian Nights-Ancient Egypt fusion which was Uldum and the once peaceful, now apocalyptic Twilight Highlands.

Every expansion included new classes or races, and Cataclysm would be no exception. The Alliance would get Worgen – the human inhabitants of the walled off nation of Gilneas, who had the ability to turn into werewolves. The Horde would get goblins. I joined during Cataclysm, and to this day Gilneas is my favourite zone in the game.

It almost seemed too good to be true. Players had been begging for an alternative to the Vanilla zones, which were really starting to show their age. But no one had expected the scale or scope of these leaks.

The user Naya said, “Everything I read here is all I ever wanted.”

Some fans were wary that too much was being promised.

”I love all of this, and really looking forward to it, but I wouldn’t bet running around naked in paris on all of this (stick to the races) just yet,” the user Skysin warned, “a lot of it seems very far fetched, compared to what has been speculated so far. none the less this would be an awesome next expansion if even 75% of it makes it into the next expansion.”

And some didn’t believe it at all.

”giant troll by blizzard imo”, said revasky

Luckily, they wouldn’t have to wait too long in suspense. Blizzcon was just around the corner.

The Announcement

The 21st August was a sunny day in Anaheim, California – as every day is there. The city’s convention center was packed to bursting with over twenty thousand fans. Most of them had turned up with one primary desire: to be there in person when the third World of Warcraft expansion was announced.

The Opening Ceremony began at 11:30 sharp. When Mike Morhaime took to the stage in Main Hall D, it was to raucous applause. He warmed up the crowd like a pro; he played them a montage of historic Blizzard opening nights, showed off a glossy new WoW ad featuring Ozzy Osbourne, and when the moment was right, brought out the only man capable of eliciting more hype than himself – Chris Metzen. Chris was the mastermind behind Warcaft, and his arrival could mean only one thing. Something big was about to happen.

Sure enough, in the ceremony’s closing minutes, the announcement was made and the trailer began to play.

It wasn’t very impressive – the content being revealed was clearly in an early state of development. But that didn’t matter. The cheer that rose up from the crowd would never be matched by any announcement Blizzard made after that.

The leaks had been true, to the last word. Cataclysm would be the biggest expansion Blizzard ever made, and its development even outpaced the original production of the game in many ways. Perhaps for that reason, well over a year passed before the next big reveal, a glossy cinematic trailer.

Players were drip-fed information over that time, and due to WoW’s use of large scale beta testers, everyone knew exactly what the expansion was like months before it released. The hype had never been so high.

On 7th December 2010, Cataclysm released. It represents the time when World of Warcraft hit its peak. For a brief period, it would boast twelve million players, a number no subscription-based MMORPG had ever achieved before, or would ever achieve again. After a few months, WoW would begin its inexorable decline, but no one could ever have seen it at the time. On the contrary. World of Warcraft looked unstoppable.

Players loved it… for a while.

But slowly, the cracks began to show. Familiarity breeds resentment, and players had a lot of time to mull over the many problems with Cataclysm. Those cracks grew into canyons. And by the time the expansion ended in September 2012, World of Warcraft was a shadow of it its former self.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from Northrend in the first place. And some said that even Northrend had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left Outland.

There wasn’t any single thing that doomed Cataclysm. Trying to pin down the thing that killed it is like trying to pinpoint what ended the Roman Empire. It endured a death by a thousand cuts, some of which are complicated and difficult to explain.

But I’ll do the best I can.

Problem 1: Remaking the old world was pointless

In a tragic twist of fate, it was Cataclysm’s biggest and most anticipated feature which dealt the greatest blow: the recreation of Azeroth. You see, almost every single zone was remade from scratch, changed up a little, and given a whole new plot told through entirely new quests (all of them set during the time of Cataclysm). And for what it’s worth, they were very good. Great stories, creative design, nice visuals, and some of the funniest quests ever added to WoW.

But their purpose within the game was unchanged – they were levelling zones to get players to level 60, at which point they would go on to the Burning Crusade zones (until level 70) then the Wrath of the Lich King zones (until level 80), before finally returning to Azeroth for the new Cataclysm zones, which would take them through to level 85.

As you can imagine, this made the timeline incredibly confusing for any new players. But more importantly, levelling wasn’t a big deal any more. Every time Blizzard added a new expansion, players had to go through more content to reach max level, and so levelling was made quicker. By the time Cataclysm released, the 1-60 process was incredibly fast. If you were already max level when Cata came out, and didn’t want to level up alts (secondary characters), then you wouldn’t see any of the new content. And even if you did create a new character, you could always level through PvP or dungeons instead. If you made the specific decision to level through questing, you might only see five of the thirty-eight re-made zones. A vast amount of development time and resources had been put into a feature which was, in hindsight, expendable.

“They reworked the 1-60 content to be faster and easier for new players, but in my personal opinion reached a point of being too easy (almost mind numbing, what was wrong with having a few elites around every now and then?),” one user said. “The fact that world content was easier along with heirlooms and dungeon finder (even though the latter two were from WotLK) really made the leveling experience rather impersonal, where there was rarely any reason to really even speak to other players.”

Azeroth was big. Really big. You won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it was. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Azeroth. Blizzard could only create so much content for Cataclysm, and most of their time and resources had been spent on the revamp. This would reduce every other aspect of the expansion to its barest bones.

Problem 2: There was nothing to do

There were only five new levels. The other expansions had ten. There were only five ‘new’ zones (six if we include the PvP zone, Tol Barad). Burning Crusade had seven and Wrath had eight (nine if we include Wintergrasp). There was no new city. Both previous expansions had included a city.

To make matters worse, the new zones weren’t even that good. Uldum had promised players a detailed look into the ancient lore of the Titans (WoW’s mysterious gods), but it turned out to be a prolonged Indiana Jones goof. Mount Hyjal felt artificial due to its over-reliance on ‘phasing’ – technology Blizzard had developed to seamlessly change zones around you, based on your actions.

And most controversial of all was Vashj’ir. It was huge (so big that they split it into three sub-zones), mostly empty, and entirely underwater. Players were given special extra-fast mounts to get them from place to place, as well as the ability to run on the sea floor, but it wasn’t enough to stop the zone from feeling like a chore to get around. The zone’s three-dimensional setting was difficult to navigate, because Vashj’ir had a number of vertically-layered areas, and quest markers never told the player how high or low their objectives were.

On top of that, WoW’s gameplay was never designed to work underwater. In the featureless abyss, it was often difficult to tell how far away an enemy was, and since they could be anywhere above or below you, players often found themselves taken by surprise.

Vashj’ir had its fans – in fact, all the new zones did. But they were a vocal minority. It wasn’t long before the community labelled Vashj’ir the worst, most hated zone in the game.

You didn’t have a brand new continent to level up on, instead you had zones that weren’t as ‘linked together’ as the ones in Outland or Northrend. Vash’jir, to most people, was a terrible leveling zone simply because it had a Z-axis. Mount Hyjal was on the other side of Kalimdor from Uldum, Twilight Highlands was off by itself in the Eastern Kingdoms, Vash’jir was underwater and Deepholm was underground. The game kept sending you back to Stormwind or Orgrimmar every time you finished up a zone just to send you through portals to get the next area. It seemed disjointed.

There were plenty of other hints that Blizzard had run out of time on Cataclysm. While Blood Elves and Draenei had been core to the story of Burning Crusade, Worgen and Goblins were often forgotten. Blizzard elected to totally block access to the Goblin starting zones (which was a big deal because one of them, Kezan, was the Goblin homeland), but they got the consolation prize of Azshara (one of the vanilla zones) being revamped with a Goblin story, a mono-rail and a mini-city, Bilgewater Harbour.

The Worgen got no such luck. Once they finished their starting zone, all of the NPCs, animals, and quests vanished. Gilneas was lavishly decorated and incredibly atmospheric and even included a fully built and decorated city.

Gilneas.

But for whatever reason, Blizzard decided not to finish it. To this day, its houses, streets, and villages are conspicuously empty. This is kind of a problem, because Gilneas is crucial to the story of Lordaeron. The lack of clear resolution on Gilneas would anger fans (particularly the Lore nerds) for over a decade.

Okay, so this all looks bad. But there was other stuff to do, right?

Usually, expansions would have ‘dailies’ – a set of quests in each new zone that you could re-do every day in order to fill up a ‘reputation’ meter with a certain faction. As you filled it, you gained access to a Quartermaster who sold lots of cool stuff, like fancy new mounts. But dailies took time to design, so Blizzard let players gain reputation by playing dungeons instead. Blizzard had promised other end-game content instead. Path of the Titans was planned to be a max level progression system, but it was canned in development. There was also the addition of the archaeology skill. But it had originally been devised as a way to work through the Path of the Titans, and without it, all that remained was a crushingly dull minigame. So in the end, dungeons were basically all there was to do.

But as long as they were good, the fans would manage, right?

Problem 3: Dungeons and raids were a mess

Wrath of the Lich King’s dungeons had been easy. Comically easy. Fans complained, and Blizzard promised to bring back the hard-core difficulty they had once loved. So when Cataclysm released, it was with brutal dungeons, unforgiving bosses and oodles of ‘trash’ – groups of enemies players had to dispatch before they could get to the important fights.

Tanks struggled with crowd control, and healers often had to chug mana potions after every trash fight. Every dungeon group needs a tank and a healer, but no one wanted to take up those roles, so the queue to join a dungeon often exceeded two hours. When it finally happened, it was a slog which often ended with everyone dying and subsequently quitting.

The entire game devolved into players idling in Stormwind and Orgrimmar until the Dungeon Finder told them they could go out, struggle with a dungeon, fail, and teleport back. ‘Never Leave Major City Syndrome’ slowly destroyed the community and the game-world.

Casual fans were angry at Blizzard for making the game so difficult to play. Hard-core fans were angry at casual fans for being angry at Blizzard, and for not being better at the game. Casual fans then responded that they shouldn’t be expected to treat World of Warcraft like a full time job just to be good at it – it was meant to be fun. Hard-core fans replied that the difficulty was part of the fun. And this argument on for months.

In World of Warcraft, hard-core raiders had always assumed that they were more intelligent than casuals because they had achieved so much — the fall of the Lich King, Karazhan, Black Temple and so on — whilst all the casuals had ever done was muck about in the questing zones having a good time. But conversely, the casuals had always believed that they were far more intelligent than the hard-core raiders — for precisely the same reasons.

Blizzard weighed in on the issue, with Ghostcrawler basically telling players to stop shouting at each other and have fun.

We do understand that some healers are frustrated and giving up. That is sad and unfortunate. But the degree to which it’s happening, at least at this point in time, is vastly overstated on the forums. We also know that plenty of players like the changes and find healing more enjoyable now. Both sides need to spend a little less effort trying to drown out the other side claiming that everyone they know — and by extension, “the majority of players” — agree with their point. You shouldn’t need to invoke a silent majority if you can make an articulate and salient point.

It didn’t work.

In April 2011, the first major patch came out, and made the problem even worse. ‘Rise of the Zandalari’ brought two ‘new’ dungeons (they were remakes of Vanilla dungeons), Zul’Aman and Zul’Gurub. Not only did these dungeons make Cataclysm’s twelve other obsolete (because they had better gear), they were even harder. The player-base was livid. World of Warcraft was down 600,000 subscribers since the start of the expansion, and that was just the beginning.

Blizzard was desperate. They made every dungeon dramatically easier in order to stem the losses, which pissed off the only remaining people who had been happy about Cataclysm. Then they scrambled to release the next major patch as soon as possible, and even that wasn’t soon enough – another 300,000 subscribers would leave during patch 4.1. Rage of the Firelands was no instant-classic, but it was a much needed breath of fresh air in a very stale room. In addition to the Firelands raid, Blizzard introduced ‘the Molten Front’, a daily questing zone.

But the quick release of Firelands came at a cost. The patch was meant to resolve the two unfinished ‘elemental’ plots – fire and water. In one of Cataclysm’s first dungeons, the ruler of the plane of water (Neptulon) was abducted by Deathwing’s minions. A huge raid called The Abyssal Maw was designed where players would free him, but it was scrapped due to time constraints, and so Neptulon simply… stayed abducted forever?

When asked at Blizzon, Chris Metzen summed it up as ‘a damn mess’.

The fan speculation about the raid garnered more and more attention throughout Firelands. Greg ‘Ghostcrawler’ Street tried to minimise the loss of the Abyssal Maw, describing it as ‘three bosses inside Nespirah (a giant shell), with no unique art”. However players had seen the art and early designs, and so they knew this wasn’t true. Ghostcrawler insisted that it would have been shitty and cited the player pushback against the underwater gameplay of Vashj’ir as the major reason for its cancellation. Whether he was right, we will never know. But Firelands alone was not enough to tide the playerbase over for long.

I’m so salty about this getting scrapped. It would’ve been so much more unique than the rest of the raids.

[…]

It’s kinda sad to look at the what-could-have-been… so much great content scrapped, remnants of it all left, a shadow of what it should have become. Makes me think, wouldn’t it be so cool if it was in the game?

Problem 4: The terrible final patch

It was the end of November when the final patch released: Hour of Twilight. Sure, another 800,000 subscribers had left since Firelands, but Blizzard planned on winning them all back. The story of Cataclysm would be tied up, and players would finally get the chance to slay Deathwing. It would go down as one of the most despised patches in World of Warcraft history. This was all rooted in the fact that Deathwing was too big to engage in a conventional fight, and either Blizzard didn’t want to come up with anything creative, or they simply didn’t have the time or money to make it happen.

There were three new dungeons, and the idea was that they told a coherent story which players could follow through to the raid. Of these, one was well received – probably because it was originally going to be a raid, which had gotten shelved. The other two were slight edits of a Wrath of the Lich King zone called Dragonblight. ‘End time’ at least varied it up a bit but ‘Hour of Twilight’ (the dungeon, not the patch) barely changed anything.

But these disappointments were nothing to ‘Dragon Soul’, the final battle against Deathwing. Not only did it take place in another re-skin of Dragonblight, and not only was it an underwhelming end for WoW’s greatest villain, it also included some of the most mechanically awkward boss battles in the game – ‘Madness of Deathwing’ was especially hated for this reason.

80% of the raid is rehashed environments and models and the 20% that isn’t was among the worst or most frustrating encounters in the history of the game. also the story was f***ing laughable

One of the new features introduced during this patch was the Raid Finder. It was a simple premise – the Dungeon Finder from Wrath of the Lich King had been a massive success, so Blizzard created a new one for Raids. LFR (Looking for Raid) was treated as a separate mode to the normal raids, which was astronomically easier. Personally, I loved it. I had never been good at WoW, so it was the first time I actually got to see current raid content, and feel like I was actually involved in the story (rather than watching it play out on youtube). I know a lot of people in the community loved it for the same reason.

Hardcore raiders made up a very small percentage of the community, and a huge amount of development time was dedicated to raids which most players would never see. It made sense for Blizzard to introduce LFR during a time when they were struggling to find content to keep players happy.

However to say that LFR was controversial is a massive understatement. A lot of fans absolutely despised it. Blizzard was accused of catering to the worst possible demographic – ultra casuals.

Instead of battling against people playing at the very peak of their class, you play with people content with being the very worst.

Reddit user Hawk-of-Darkness explained it pretty fairly:

Typically speaking people on LFR have no idea what they’re doing in the raid and it can become a train wreck very quickly, with only a couple people actually knowing what to do and then getting frustrated because everyone else keeps wiping.

However, it was often confusing exactly why hard-core players had such a burning resentment for LFR. After all, they didn’t need to play it, and it wasn’t aimed at them

There’s this illusion that without LFR more people would be doing regular raiding, when in reality (and the devs already realized this) they would just quit because the reason raiding is avoided like a plague by the community isn’t the difficulty, it’s community and commitment reasons.

Writing for VentureBeat, William Harrison spoke for many players like me.

The new mechanic has received much praise and ire, causing an already polarized community to become even more hostile to one another. What are the claims? Why is everyone so angry? Most importantly, is the Looking For Raid system a help or hinderance to a game that has lost close to two million subscribers in the last year?

[..] until last week I had never seen the defeat of the main boss of a World of Warcraft expansion with my own eyes. That was until the LFR system took me straight into the maw of madness. I looked ahead and struck swiftly to victory.

As a fanatic of the lore and canon surrounding the Warcraft universe, I rejoiced at finally seeing the culmination of a story that I had been a part of for almost a year. To see Deathwing, bringer of the Catacylsm that destroyed the face of Azeroth itself, was a moment I never thought I would see. I mean, who has the time to raid when you have a full-time job and a life?

The LFR system is amazing for subscribers that want to experience the content while it’s still relevant.

Over a year would pass before any new content was added. Another 1,200,000 subscribers left during that time. It was this patch that cemented Cataclysm’s reputation as the expansion that set WoW on its downward spiral.

Problem 5: The story took a nosedive

World of Warcraft has some of the most dense, complex lore of any video game franchise. While most fans probably don’t care about it, the most vocal ones usually do. And from the start, it was clear that something was wrong with Cataclysm.

The first hint was Deathwing, or more accurately, the complete lack of Deathwing. Every single part of Wrath of the Lich King tied into its main villain somehow, even tangentially. It was done to showed how he was a growing threat. You couldn’t get through a zone without him appearng in some way. But Deathwing was relatively absent in Cataclysm. There was a fun little feature where he would occasionally appear over a random zone, killing any players in it, but that’s all.

I still remember getting obliterated when Deathwing carpet-bombed my zone, it was … GLORIOUS!

Most of Cataclysm’s story focused on other enemies – the Naga, the Twilight’s Hammer, and the Elemental Lords, whose only connection to Deathwing was their allegiance to him. In the lore, his motivations had always been flimsy compared to the previous two big bads, Illidan and the Lich King. And since Deathwing was never around, players never got to understand him. He was just a big angry dragon boy.

Said reddit user Diagnosan:

I’d wanted a Deathwing patch from the first day of Vanilla. When it became clear that xpacks were going to be centered around individual villains with the announcement of BC, I wanted one for him. But when he looked nothing like he did in WC2 (Warcraft 2), I became a bit skeptical. This wasn’t the Deathwing I’d grown up with.

Once we got to see him in game, all he did was flap his wings and yell at us like some senile old man wanting us to get off his lawn. Oh how I came to HATE that flapping sound, it was the Sindragosa log-in screen all over. We never got to see him cause havoc, really, just the aftermath. From time to time he’d gank you, sure. But it wasn’t particularly linked to the story and it quickly turned into a boring annoyance. The one time it actually looked like he was going to kick some ass, the cinematic cut out. Even in dragon soul, what does he really… do? He just sits there and takes it while the same trashmob elementals we’d been fighting all xpack meekly walked up and gurgled at us threateningly.

He wasn’t a raw, primal dragon that evoked fear and caused chaos during any of the actual gameplay. For a game about cataclysm, there was just so little of it. Then to add insult to all that injury, the old lizard was just a fucking pinyata with lava coming out of his face.

If the expansion’s antagonist was a bust, its protagonist wasn’t much better. Thrall was the founder of the Horde, and its leader. He was voiced by Chris Metzen and clearly his favorite character, as evidenced by the fact that he was a colossal Mary Sue. He was the biggest, strongest, magicalest, most level headed, most powerful, most loveliest, handsomest orc ever and if you didn’t want to lean through your screen and kiss him on the lips, well, you weren’t the kind of player Chris wanted in his game.

I won’t delve into his backstory much, but it involves being chosen by the elemental spirit of fire (et al), freeing his people from captivity, taking them across the sea, and founding a new nation. I don’t know if the Moses parallels were deliberate, but they sure were glaring. In Cataclysm, Thrall got an upgrade from saving his people to saving the entire world. And so Green Jesus was born.

Thrall’s goodie two shoes-ness was fine at first, because it kind of balanced out the crazies in the Horde. But he was becoming unbearable. He was constantly shoved in the player’s face, and never questioned or criticized by other characters for his dumb decisions. The whole plot of the Hour of Twilight patch was to help Thrall power up the McGuffin weapon so that Thrall could work with the immortal dragon demi-gods and Thrall could take the final shot at Deathwing and Thrall could get all the credit. The ending cinematic of Cataclysm showed fireworks going up across the world while the camera panned to Thrall and his girlfriend, heavily implying she was about to give birth to a smorgasbord of mini-Thralls who no doubt promised to plague Azeroth with their manly Metzen voices for the rest of recorded time. He even got his own book, which went into further detail on just how spectacular he was, and how he was the only mortal worthy of taking Deathwing’s place as a demi-god of Earth.

Players came to despise him. On the Horde, they felt like he was constantly upstaging them. On the Alliance, they felt like Thrall (a Horde character) was turning into the MC of Warcraft. Other characters were being neglected or pushed aside to clear the way for Thrall.

To quote one user:

”I’ve had it with these motherfucking Thralls on this motherfucking elemental plane!”

As is often the case, someone wrote a whole university paper on Green Jesus.

While we’re on the topic of books, we need to remember that Blizzard released a novel accompaniment to every expansion. Sometimes they were decent, and sometimes they were written by Richard A Knaak. But these books had never been a big deal, because they just added detail to the events of the game – until Cataclysm. A number of major story events were only ever explained in the books, including important character deaths. Two faction leaders died in one of these books, with zero mention of it in the game. One day they were there, and the next they were gone. The decision divided fans, with some insisting all major story beats should be shown in game, and others pointing out that subtle character interactions and motivations were better portrayed through books because World of Warcraft’s writers were generally pretty bad.

And here we are. I think that’s everything people hated about Cataclysm. Not everyone hated it, of course. There were some who loved it – as I did. And some who held on in the vain hope that the next expansion would be better.

I think back to how much fun early Cataclysm was with its brutal heroics, amazing outdoor questing areas and awesome first raid tier and then I think about what it turned into with Firelands and Dragon Soul and it makes me sad. Cataclysm could have and should have been a lot better and we the community with our incessant never ending whining played a huge part in its demise.

It was – at least in my opinion. But it was also even more controversial. We’ll save that for another time.

Brennan Jung summed it up best.

The idea of this expansion was great, the execution.. not so much.

The Stabbings, Shootings and Bombings

The worst things about WoW during these years happened off screen. Some of them got pretty grim.

World of Warcraft made headlines in July 2012 when an argument over the game in an Ontario neighbourhood ended with one man being stabbed in the chest. You can view the wound here (NSFW). The attacker, Justin Williams, was having an enraged argument with guildies over his headset. Jordan Osborne visited to see what was going on, and tried to de-escalate the situation.

“I was telling him, there is no need for you to be freaking out about ‘World of Warcraft.’ It’s just a game,” Osborne told QMI.

Williams responded, “It’s not just a game, it’s my life.” He then assaulted Osborne, grabbing him by the throat, punching him in the face, and stabbing him in his sternum.

‘I was sitting in my house today thinking I could be dead – and it’s all over a World of Warcraft game. It’s true, it takes over your life.’

Osborne was taken for treatment and made a full recovery. He later told the ‘Peterborough Examiner’, “’The doctor said he could fit his whole finger in my chest.”. Williams faced arrest and was charged with ‘aggravated assault with a weapon’.

This wasn’t the first instance of violence attributed to WoW. There was the 2006 suicide of Zhang Xiaoyi (read Part 1 for more on this), the 2010 rape and murder of Kimberly Proctor, and another instance that same year in which a man choked out his mother, threw his son, and was shot in the head by his grandfather during a drunken World of Warcraft marathon.

The game had already earned its reputation for inspiring extreme and sometimes violent behavior. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the global media began to question the effects of World of Warcraft in greater depth. Not because of the stabbing of Jordan Osbourne — though that didn’t help. But because of something much more severe.

On 22 July, just a week after the Ontario incident, a Norwegian man named Anders Behring Breivik detonated a van bomb in Oslo, right next to the Regjeringskvartalet – a collection of government buildings. 8 people were killed. By the time the dust settled, he was halfway to the island of Utoya, where a summer camp was taking place for the Worker’s Youth League. Breivik proceeded to hunt down and kill 69 participants.

In court, Breivik then attributed his success to World of Warcraft: “Some people dream about sailing around the world, some dream of playing golf. I dreamt of playing World of Warcraft.”

Breivik professed to playing the game non-stop (as much as 16 hours a day at points), describing it as a ‘martyr’s gift’ to himself, and using it as a smokescreen to mislead his mother while he planned his attack. Researchers found he had led three guilds, all of which focused on hardcore raiding. He played a human female mage named ‘Conservativism’ and a tauren female druid named ‘Conservative’, though his main was called ‘Andersnordic’ (video below of his character fighting Magtheridon).

Breivik would also post on the official WoW forums. It gradually became clear how important World of Warcraft had been to his identity.

The news shook the WoW community, especially on the servers he had played (Silvermoon-EU and Nordrassil-EU). Trolls would recreate Breivik’s characters in appearance and name and stand around in a city for the inevitable outrage — then profess ignorance when questioned by GMs.

Some of his past guildies discussed their relationships with Breivik, which gave an insight into what he was like as a person.

My memories of Anders are very good, and the atrocity was so incredible that I suppose I simply refused to see the pictures as Anders at first.

One of the replies was from a fellow Norwegian.

This is surrealistic, as an Norwegian it is hard to even comprehend what he has done and even harder to fathom his motives. The killer portraited in our news papers and on television seems so far out that it is easiest to judge him as a rabbit psychotic. To know that i have been guilded and chated with him for over a year in Virtue, at least back then he seemed pretty normal, makes this even more uncomprehensible.

The general consensus was that while Breivik had been unpleasant at times, it was difficult to imagine him doing something so evil. Coincidentally, one of the teenagers who had escaped Breivik on the island had once played World of Warcraft with him.

The debate over whether video game violence caused real-world violence had played out dozens of times, usually in response to the revelation that some American shooter played Call of Duty or Battlefield or something like that. But this time, the conversation focused entirely on World of Warcraft. The media, both in Norway and throughout the world, questioned whether WoW was a safe place for children. All of the game’s past incidents came back with a vengeance, and were held up to the light as examples of its danger.

Part 5 – Mists of Pandaria

It was mid-2011. The final patch of Cataclysm was on its way, and Blizzcon was just around the corner. The subject of World of Warcraft’s next expansion had begun to gain traction once again, and as was tradition, the internet became awash with leaks. Some promised Old Gods, some foresaw Kul’Tiras or Zandalar or Nazjatar, Tel’Abim or Suramar or Sargeras – in short, players made every possible prediction in the vain hope that one of them might be proven right.

But none of them were.

No one could have predicted Pandaria.

An Unexpected Trademark

It wasn’t until the user ‘Mynsc’ went wading through the US Patent and Trademark Office website in search of info about Titan – Blizzard’s ‘open-secret’ new game in development – that they stumbled upon a recently-filed trademark by the name of ‘Mists of Pandaria’. Among all the theory-crafting and scavenging for information, it had been there a week, out in the open where anyone could find it, and yet completely overlooked.

It was immediately dismissed by many users as a book, a figurine, an in-game microtransaction perhaps. They cast it aside and turned to the more realistic leaks. But upon further inspection, the trademark was for a game, distributed on CD-ROMs with instruction manuals and guides. It had to be WoW content.

Okay, the community said. Then it was a patch.

”they don’t trademark patches. If they never did before, why now?”

Then it had to be some kind of trading-card game spin off. Definitely not an expansion.

”The international class used in the trademark is the same as they used for previous expansions. The timing and information for the Mists of Pandaria trademark matches that of The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm. If this is not going to be the expansion, they would really need to hurry to come up with a name and trademark it before they announce it at Blizzcon. Seems risky. Seems unlikely.”

It was a red herring, said the user ‘Johnnyarr’.

”Do you think blizz trademarked it to throw people off because they know we’ll be searching pre-blizzcon?”

This sentiment echoed around the forums. Players simply refused to believe that Mists of Pandaria could be a real, genuine, true-to-life WoW expansion. What even were the ‘Mists of Pandaria’? A lot of them had never heard of Pandaren before.

But they did exist. Sort of.

One of Blizzard’s main artists, Samwise Didier, was known by the nickname ‘Panda’ to his friends, and had imagined and drawn Pandaren in the early 2000s. Blizzard had announced their addition to ‘Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos’ as an April Fools joke, and the response had been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, many fans were disappointed it had been a prank.

Pandaren became a favorite after that, an inside joke, and they began to worm their way into the game for real as easter eggs hidden away for perceptive players to find. When Blizzard released ‘Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne’, it was with a real Pandaren playable character, Chen Stormstout.

In World of Warcraft’s early development, questions arose about whether Pandaren would make a return. A community manager replied with the following:

pandaren will not be a playable race … at this time. Will they make cameo appearances in the game as NPCs? Some things are best left unanswered I think 🙂

There were a couple of items that referred to the Pandaren, and one NPC child who would walk around telling unbelievable stories, one of which was ‘I swear, people have actually seen them. Pandaren really do exist!’

They re-emerged in 2005 as part of another April Fools joke. This time it was the Pandaren X-Press, a service that allowed players to order Chinese food deliveries within the game. A few years later in 2009, a cosmetic pet was added – The Pandaren Monk. I actually covered it in my Wrath of the Lich King write-up.

In fact, Blizzard had originally planned to make Pandaren a playable race in the Burning Crusade. They had created the models, designed the cities and the buildings, and written the lore. But when the Chinese government found out, they put a stop to it. Draenei were cobbled together to replace them at the last minute. That didn’t go public until after Mists was announced.

In a 2009 podcast, Sam Didier and Chris Metzen joked that Pandaren would be added as a playable race in ‘Patch 201732-and-a-half’. You can see why the trademark was dismissed as a red-herring at first. They had always been a joke, never a serious part of the lore. And that’s how Mists was seen.

”Decoy, I’m calling it right now,” said ‘Ryme’.

[…]

”Hehe, I know the news is slow at the moment, but I don’t think this is the answer.”

[…]

’Vetali’ replied, ”I think they be trolling….. or they better be….”

[…]

”obviously a decoy before blizzcon, no way would they do a whole f’ing expansion on pandaria,” said another user.

Some players were receptive to the idea of a Pandaren expansion.

’Austilias’ replied, ”I was always under the impression that Blizzard avoided the Pandaren issue with respect to WoW, due to problems that it might cause in China which already has a pretty strict code on what aspects of WoW they permit (investigate Abominations in the Chinese version, for example, compared to the EU/US versions). Still, if the Pandaren are to be introduced as a race, I know that i’d be rather overjoyed where they a neutral race who perhaps in a questline would pledge themselves to the Alliance or the Horde.”

The expansion was divisive. There were those, like the user ‘Gunner_recall’, who said “If this is happening….SUPER STOKED!!!!”

‘Kathandira’ had the honour of being the expansion’s very first hater. Sixteen minutes after the trademark was posted, they responded:

“if this goes live, you will see my goodbye thread soon after, this game has been bordering TOO cartoony for me, this would be the last nail in the coffin.”

It caused quite the stir. I won’t post every reply, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Most people dismissed the entire concept, and those who didn’t were heavily divided. In an IGN interview a few weeks after the trademark, Game Director Tom Chilton further put players off the trail.

Chilton said the speculation was, “wildly overhyped.” He added, “if you look at traditionally how we’ve handled that race it’s been in those secondary products because we haven’t realized it in the world. Most of the time when we do anything panda-related it’s going to be a comic book or a figurine or something like that.”

That put rest to the debate. For a while.

The Desolation of WoW

The stage had been set for one of the biggest dramas in World of Warcraft history.

Blizzcon 2011 had a different tone. The cosplay was still there like always, the esports were still going ahead, the merch shop still sold keyboards and hoodies. But there was an unspoken tension in the air – World of Warcraft had lost two million subscribers by that point, with no clear end in sight. Unlike every other announcement year, there hadn’t been any conclusive leaks.

No one knew what to expect. It was with uneasy, desperate excitement that fans packed Stage Hall D. Chris Metzen warmed up the crowd with his usual charm and some rather obscure promises of a new faction war. He told us a war was coming, but this expansion would be the calm before the storm. He got everyone hyped up, and then the trailer began to play.

At Blizzcon, the guests went wild. But most of these players already knew about the trademark. They were prepared. And there’s something to be said for the effect of a good atmosphere. The announcement streamed out to Blizzcon pass holders, and then was uploaded to Youtube. Within minutes, it was on every forum, every server, and every gaming news site. Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of pandas, which obey their own special laws.

It was official. Mists of Pandaria (hereafter abbreviated to MoP) was the next World of Warcraft expansion.

The community imploded. It was utter pandamonium.

From the frost-bitten slopes of Northrend to the sands of Uldum, the reactions came in thick and fast.

I though the Pandaren were a running joke? I stopped playing WoW just after Cataclysm but I still keep up with it since I do think it’s a great game and I still love the art direction. But seriously. Pandas? What. The. Actual. Fuck?

The MMOChampion user ‘Quackie’ said, “Pandas? This is Blizz just trolling us right? […] Time for a new game.” To which others responded with, “Don’t forget to close the door behind you, lock it and throw away your keys!!!”

My personal favourites were those who looked at it and said ‘Oh, how original,’ the way a kindergarten teacher might do when one of their students turns in a messy crayon drawing of their parents fighting.

Reporting on the scene of Blizzcon, Simon of the Yogscast said:

”I played a monk, a panda monk. It was strange. I sort of just waddled around, I hit things, I was doing [KUNG FU SOUNDS].”

”There’s no weapons, you don’t even punch things, you hug them. It’s going to be renamed World of Hugcraft,” he said, before reaching over and giving his colleague a big old squeeze.

There were reactions of confusion, bewilderment, incredulity, reactions of despair and anger, reactions of tentative anticipation. And some, like me, actually liked the look of MoP, if you can believe it.

Fans had a number of gripes.

The first, and perhaps the most knee-jerk response, was that it was just dumb. It had no solid foundation in the lore, it was too girly and cheery and bright (WoW’s worldbuilding was historically quite dark), and conflicted with the existing style of art, music and story-telling. It was a jarring Kung Fu Panda rip off.

Some thought the resemblance was so uncanny that there might be legal action

”Oh dear… I would not be surprised if this ended in a lawsuit, its too close, even if you can argue that the concept are not similar (martial art pandas vs… martial art pandas?)almost every environment they showed looks like a Kung Fu Panda set…”

Another responded.

My knee jerk reaction as well, the camera shots, building layouts and color pallets are uncanny. There’s the building with the pool of water similar to the scroll room from the movie, and the squared courtyard very similar to where the festival takes place at the beggining of kung fu panda. The scene with the peach tree in particular with the bright pinks and dark purples are almost short for shot.

However not everyone felt that way.

Most likely because both pull from the same real world sources of ancient china and martial arts.

[…]

Yeah I just don’t see it. It’s like saying racing movie B copied racing movie A because they both have american cars in it….

Nathan Grayson, writing for VG247, had this to say.

Back in my day, Warcraft had orcs and humans. Squishy, weak-willed, whiny humans who wouldn’t stop saying, “Moah work?” That was it. And now? Pandas. Warcraft has rotund kung-fu pa – [CONTENT REMOVED, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DREAMWORKS ENTERTAINMENT].

During BlizzCon’s opening ceremonies, Blizzard roundhouse kicked fans’ perceptions of what Warcraft’s all about with warm, soothing colors, furry fists of fury, and heaping dollops of d’aaaaaaw. Folks weaned on bloodshed, angst, and cold, calculating strategy were understandably (and audibly) upset.

Are things really as bad as they seem, though? Will Blizzard’s behemoth be done in not by a giant apocalypse dragon, but by fluffy – and perhaps even wuffy – pandas?

Far from a departure, Senior Game Producer John Lagrave promised a return to form. Conflict between the Horde and Alliance had driven the story of the original Warcraft games, and it was WoW that constantly forced the two factions to work together against a common enemy.

“It really hearkens back to the original game where you landed in Hillsbrad because the Alliance were coming up and starting to fight. That spontaneous world PVP was happening. That’s the old war that’s coming back.”

But even then, there was no hook, no big bad, nothing to keep players engaged beyond ‘faction conflict’. There was a villain, but it was ‘the Sha’, which was explained as a kind of misty black manifestation of negative emotion. It had no personality, no goals, no motives, and was generally difficult to care about.

”So how do you even get players excited about that? You’re billing it as ‘the calm.’ Generally, that connotates to “not very exciting.” The point between the epic clashes. Those pages everybody skipped in Lord of the Rings where people started singing.” Nathan said. “How do you make people say “Oh boy!” about that?

One classic mock-trailer kept the deep angry voice but changed a few words around.

“An adventure safer than any we’ve known thus far. Low textured clouds, retextured trees. A mystery shrouded in a mystery. Architecture that looks really, really close to Chinese. And a people that may well know… how to sprinkle water on their opium an easier way…”

Here’s another.

”A mystery shrouded by April Fools jokes, a land of forgotten power – mainly because we made it up over the last couple of months.”

One of the biggest accusations levelled at Blizzard was that they were trying to win over the girls, the gays, the kids, the Chinese, the causals – everyone except the ‘real fans’. Of course, those ‘real fans’ only made up a tiny percentage of the playerbase.

”glad I stopped playing this game. getting gayer every update,” said one user.

[…]

Over the past seven years since WoW’s launch it’s gotten increasingly more cartoonish and playful. Gone are the savage looking armor sets and the grotesque demons littering the various dungeons, to make way for foam weapons, motorcycles, helicopters, and now, a playable Panda race. The Pandaren are the hardest to defend, take a look at them, they’re a race composed of bipedal Panda Bears–there’s no getting around it.

Many people within the community voiced similar opinions.

“I gotta say I really, really dislike the addition of pandas. Yes, I am going to get a lot of stick from morons who have no concept “OPINION”. I just think they are way too silly, even though this has never been the most serious game in the world. The worst part is that it seems they are trying to do it with a straight face, which makes it even more hilarious (not in a good way).Apart from that though? I think the expac looks really, really good.”

Not everyone had a problem with all the players complaining, and promising to leave.

I think it’s better that the people who don’t like the next expac leave anyway. They are probably the sticks in the mud.”

There were, of course, plenty of players who really looked forward to Mists. Here are a few of those reactions.

”I’m very satisfied with what I saw at Blizzcon today. MoP looks fantastic,” said ‘Worgoblin’.

[…]

”I don’t get the hate for this expansion. They’re adding some fantastic features, and are taking a much better design direction with the game. If only people looked passed Pandas. People are so freaking dense.”

[…]

The moment I saw this I cried. I don’t ever care if that’s crazy. I CRIED.THANK YOU BLIZZARD!

The China Problem

There was a whole section of this debate relating to China. Some players saw it as a shallow appeal to the Chinese market.

“The only reason Blizzard created Mists of Pandaria was to save their sinking ship. Only about 20% of WoW subs come from North America. Half of the subs come from Asia, and the rest are from Europe and other countries. To put it simple, Blizzard isn’t solely surviving off of North American subs ..so they created Mists of Pandaria to appeal to the people from Asian countries.”

One response said:

”I wouldn’t be suprised when Deathwing will be changed into a Charizard…”

To which another player replied,

”charizard is jap mate.”

Some not only rejected the idea that MoP was meant to satisfy the Chinese, they accused it of being a carefully coordinated insult. They claimed the whole expansion was a caricature, which not only combined stereotypes from all across East Asia without regard for their origin, it also made a total mockery of them.

“Mists of Pandaria,” Blizzard’s latest expansion for their legendary massively multi-player online role-playing game “World of Warcraft,” is a high-resolution mishmash of every Asian stereotype available, sans poor driving and high grades — however untrue any of those stereotypes may be. From the dragon kites to the koi in various ponds, everything is all so Asian.

Notice I don’t say Chinese — though the humanoid pandas are certainly based more closely on the the Middle Kingdom’s history than the Land of the Rising Sun’s.

But it’s all so shallow — and borderline racist. The Pandaren speak in near “Engrish,” the dialogue is ripped straight from a midnight kung-fu film and some Pandaren have Fu Manchu mustaches. I’m already encountering lazy yin-yang themes that draw heavily on spirit worship and ancestor references.

It’s hard to dismiss this take. The Pandaren were not ‘cool’, like in the Sam Didier art, nor did they try to be. They were fat, goofy, greedy, lazy, characters with silly accents.

Although they are anthropomorphic pandas and always have been, early sketches of the race depicted them as more muscular than chubby, and their samurai armor gave off an air of ferocity and strength. Now that the race has been made playable in Mists, they’ve been significantly de-fanged.” Sophie Pell wrote for NBC News. “Every pandaren has a belly, and they remark constantly how they love to eat, very similar to Po from the Kung Fu Panda franchise. They have not one, but two racial bonuses that apply to food.”

An NPR article criticized their portrayal:

“To be completely honest, I don’t know what Blizzard was thinking when they announced the new Pandaren race and having them be known for their “Art of Acupressure”? Laughable.”

Commenting on the ‘wow-ladies’ blog, the user ‘Baisuzhen’ was also unhappy:

I’ll be honest here. Being Asian Chinese in South East Asia, personally I am not entirely very fond of the entire theme itself, since it’s practically my heritage/culture. The translated names are just cheesy beyond belief, as Blizzard literally translated many Chinese words/names directly.

Maybe also having grown up and surrounded by Chinese temples, culture, history etc, having to see all these in a predominantly fantasy land is just jarring to me. This is different from other Chinese MMOs that takes place in Ancient China as those are still Earth while Azeroth is definitely not. To have so many familiar themes, words, history and social nuances translated in a rather cheesy manner across just irritates me.

Again I would like to reiterate that this is my personal views and I am not attacking anyone.

Indeed, according to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime, most of the player losses following the announcement of Mists came from Asia. Over a million of them dropped WoW and went to go… find something else for their whole lives to be about. And that was before MoP even came out. But 2012 was dominated by ‘Hour of Twilight’, an infamously hated patch which went on for over a year.

When asked about it in an interview with Wired, WoW Production Director J. Allen Brack dismissed concerns:

”We’ve always tried to make Warcraft very much its own thing. Certainly we have influences from all around the world. And certainly the panda is the symbol of China. Obviously, there’s a lot of influence, but it’s a very light touch of how much China it is or how much it is the rest of Asia. We just tried to take little bits here and there and incorporate it into our own thing.”

There were some who acknowledged the ‘problematic’ aspects of Mists, while also still wanting to play it.

I agree wholeheartedly that MoP is appropriating a wonderful culture and creating some kind of Disneyland trip.

So how do we respond? For those of us who DO want to play it, what kind of action should we take? Should I feel bad for even wanting to play it? What kinds of things would be critical to point out in a letter to Blizz? And would a letter do anything at this point in their creation of the new expansion? I’ve really been quarreling with myself about the expansion because I’m really excited to play it, while at the same time recognizing that it’s culturally insensitive and there are several things I take issue with.

As if that wasn’t enough drama, there was a whole controversy in which Chinese players complained that there were non-Chinese elements in the expansion. Particularly here, in which a pillar has writing on it in gasp Japanese characters.

On Weibo – China’s Twitter equivalent – an angry user said:

“What’s the next chapter in World of Warcraft? The Mists of Pandaria! Everyone can fucking see you’re just trying to sweep up the mainland [Chinese] market again. So how is it that the fucking whole thing is full of Japanese culture, it makes me so disturbed!”

And another.

“[…] even though there are pandas [in the expansion], for the sake of the [game’s popularity] you mixed in Japanese culture. If you love Japanese culture so much, why didn’t you just make it Japanese monkeys [instead of pandas] and call it a day?”

In fact, the characters were not Japanese. They were ‘Pandaren’, a totally fictional script which Blizzard made up, and which Chinese players had just assumed was Japanese.

One Chinese commenter said it didn’t matter, because ‘Chinese people invented Japanese people and Korean people’, so it was all Chinese culture at the end of the day.

This reply sums everything up wonderfully in my opinion:

”To say that the Chinese have a bad past with Japan is like saying that a drinking a mixture of cyanide, rat poison, jet fuel and a bowl of lit matches is a bad idea. It’s a HUMONGOUS understatement, so I would understand if blizzard didn’t want to risk it.”

The Million-Man Beta

In a last-ditch effort to cling on to their subscribers, Blizzard made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. The Annual Pass. If players simply committed to remaining subscribed for a single year, they would get three very tantalizing things.

  • A free digital copy of the heavily anticipated Diablo III
  • An extremely sexy Diablo-themed mount, Tyreal’s Charger
  • Guaranteed access to the Mists of Pandaria beta.

A whopping 1.2 million players signed up. It was a colossal success – I certainly continued paying long after I got bored and wanted to stop.

But there was a problem. Everyone got to see the expansion months before they had to buy it. They got to play through all of its content while Cataclysm was still out. And not only that – they saw all of its content while it was being developed.

I recall seeing broken combat, half-finished zones, crippling lag, server crashes, buggy quests, buildings without any textures. Personally, I loved the experience of ‘seeing behind the curtain’, but not everyone did. First impressions matter, and these people (many of whom were already wary about the concept to begin with) were not seeing Pandaria at its best. For those who didn’t get the Annual Pass, the internet was littered with first impressions and gameplay videos which exposed the half-finished expansion. Sometimes these online personalities laid out disclaimers about the nature of a beta. Sometimes.

It’s kind of surprising how incomplete it is. A couple of my buddies were in the Burning Crusade beta, and from what I saw and played it felt like a complete game that we were just basically stress testing. While I can’t speak for the WotLK or Cata betas, the Pandaria beta definitely caught me off guard in that context. Zones are still inaccessible, many animations are still missing, and overall it feels more like an alpha than a beta. Many quests are buggy and include testing notes in the quest text to get around the bugs

To make matters worse, World of Warcraft and the Beta took place on totally separate servers with separate launchers and installers. This had the added downside of splitting the World of Warcraft player-base. In a year when subscribers were already dropping, over a million of the most dedicated players simply disappeared from the main game. And it was really noticeable. Online communities came apart at the seams because so many of the old faces were off traipsing through the Beta.

Until then, the weeks and days preceding an expansion were filled with excitement. Many players have memories of waiting outside shops until midnight so they could storm inside and buy their copies of Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King, staying up until the early hours of the morning. When Mists of Pandaria finally released, there was very little of the usual fanfare. Everyone who wanted to see the expansion had already done it. A lot of them would be levelling through its zones for the second, third, or fourth time now.

Blizzard had shot themselves in the foot.

The Game Comes Out

And so, it was with a whimper, not a bang, that the expansion began. On the 4th October, the mists finally lifted. Blizzard sold only 2.7 million copies within the first week. Cataclysm had sold considerably more, within a single day. There were a few hiccups, such as the hilariously broken gyrocopter quest, but those are core to every expansion.

There’s not a huge amount to say about Pandaren or Monks. Despite the massive dramas prior to release, they sort of faded into the background. The Pandaren get a stunning starter zone, which is actually the back of a giant turtle. But that’s it, really. The big thing with Pandaren was that they started neutral, and could choose a faction to join at level 10.

There was a fun story of a Pandaren player called ‘Doubleagent’ who refused to choose a side, and instead reached max level without ever leaving the turtle, by picking flowers. It took him 8000 hours.

Five Hundred Dailies of Summer

Overall, the continent of Pandaria was a mixed bag. The levelling experience was well-received in general. But after that, things became a little more divisive.

Blizzard’s game development operates like a pendulum. They swing one way, fans complain, so they go to the exact opposite extreme. If you know that, and you know what happened in Cataclysm, you can guess how Mists went.

Cataclysm hadn’t had enough daily quests or reputations, so Mists of Pandaria was absolutely stacked with them. Each day, you would complete quests for the Golden Lotus, the Order of the Cloud Serpent, the Shadow-Pan, the Anglers, the Tillers, the Klaxxi, and the August Celestials. There had always been a daily cap on the number of daily quests a person could complete, which was 25. Blizzard removed that when MoP released, so that players could complete Pandaria’s 48 daily quests unimpeded.

“…it looks like there will be approximately 1300 quests in Mists of Pandaria. Right this moment we don’t have the numbers off-hand to show how that that compares exactly to the previous expansions, but the quest count seems to more closely mirror Wrath of the Lich King, however with a much greater emphasis on dailies. Mists of Pandaria is actually the expansion where we have emphasized dailies the most… ever!”

And don’t worry, the first and second patches both brought yet more dailies.

It didn’t take long for daily-fatigue to creep in. Unfortunately, high level gear was locked behind faction reputation requirements, so many players felt forced to do every daily, every day, in order to stay competitive. I recall it would take me several hours. Here are some experiences from other players.

”I think what turned a lot of people off was the huge emphasis on doing dailies for literally every faction every day in order to get rep and gear upgrades. If you missed a day, it felt like you were ages behind everyone else.”

Players often cited the sheer avalanche of daily quests as the reason why they quit – they just burned out.

The MOP dailies were so time consuming that I was unable to do all dailies for all factions in one day. It took me 3 months to get ambassador. I came tired physically from work and then got tired mentally from endless grind to get exalted in wow.”

[…]

”The rep grind was so bad it actually made me unsub. It wasn’t fun anymore when I’d spend 3 hours a day doing what felt like a tedious chore, knowing that the amount of rep I could get in one day was capped so to get exalted would take a month of daily quests. Really sucked the fun out of the game.”

[…]

Gameplay shouldn’t be something you feel you have to do; it should be something you want to do. And to me, daily quests are never something I want to do.”

[…]

”Dailies are the worst form of content, ever.”

There were, of course, critics. Dailies weren’t mandatory, at least not technically. And according to the user ‘Styil’, what could possibly be wrong with more content?

I will never understand this mentality. How can you have “too much” content, let alone see it as a problem?

[…]

There weren’t too many dailies. People just have zero self-control.

The Talent Tree

After the content drought of Cataclysm, Blizzard took pains to create plenty of things to do.

There had always been world bosses – extremely powerful enemies roaming questing areas, which players could group up to kill – but MoP turned them into a real feature. World bosses had a tiny chance of dropping mounts.

Speaking of which, MoP introduced systems for players to conveniently track mounts across their characters, as well as toys and gadgets. ‘Elite Enemies’ were scattered across the world in their dozens. There was also the ‘Lorewalkers’, a unique faction which rewarded players for examining monuments, reading scrolls, and hearing folk tales across Pandaria. The Brawler’s Guild allowed players to take part in an underground fighting ring. Warlocks got a long requested questline to turn their fire demonic green. Professions were re-worked, gameplay was drastically changed across the board, and the talent system was totally remade.

This last change was quite controversial. The ‘talent tree’ had always offered players a number of small stat boosts which they could buy with points.

The old talent tree.

Blizzard didn’t think the system felt very rewarding, and was too easily ‘optimized’, which they were kind of right about. But many players were attached to it.

”Sure, people still used cookie cutter builds, and there were plenty of worthless talents, but I enjoyed it. Getting a point to spend every level made it feel like I was actually getting stronger,” said Reddit user ‘PB-Toast’.

Others disagreed.

”Dont let nostalgia hide that a good portion of these talents were increase chance to hit 1/5% and incredibly boring.”

The new talent tree.

Every fifteen levels, players had the option of choosing between three abilities. Usually, they were of similar types – they might all be damaging spells, or movement-related, or healing powers. The intention was to free players from the need to do whatever the internet said was best. But that didn’t work, and the internet quickly figured out which choices were the most efficient.

Players saw it as a departure from the classic RPG elements, and yet another appeal toward casuals.

”It’s not even about nostalgia, it’s about making it an RPG. Levelling up was rewarding, you got talents, got stronger levels of spells and had a general sense of progression. Wow is a MMO. Its been long since it lost the RPG.”

Players argue to this day over which system was better.

Farmville and Pokemon

Another major feature was the ‘Sungsong Ranch’, a little farm players could own in the Valley of the Four Winds as part of the ‘tillers’ guild. Each player would only ever see their own farm upon entering the area, but could visit other peoples’ farms by grouping up.

Sungsong Ranch.

It worked similarly to Stardew Valley. Next to the farm was a market, where players could sell their vegetables or give them as gifts to the locals in order to improve their relationships, and gradually unlock more parts of the farm.

Despite the inevitable Farmville comparisons, it was well received overall, which was a massive problem, because Blizzard only ever works in extremes. A far more elaborate version of this mechanic would rear its head in the following expansion, with terrible results, but that’s a drama for another post.

The most eye-catching addition to MoP was ‘pet battles’. Pets had existed for years, and were just little animated creatures that followed the player around. But now a system had been created to track and collect pets, name them, trade them, level them up, and fight them in matches against NPCs or other players.

It was almost identical to Pokemon, a similarity lost on absolutely no one, and yet everyone felt the need to point out. Indeed, Blizzard had to reassure the community that it was not, in fact, a joke.

“This is like a comedy reel. Everyone’s laughing cuz it’s exactly like Pokemon in every way…he mentions feature after feature and they’re all taken from Pokemon. I’m surprised he kept a straight face for the most part.”

Youtuber ‘King Beaver’ had this to say:

”I thought this was gonna be really gay at first but then i realized i loved pokemon as a kid and you know what =/ i honestly wanna give this a try”

I suppose his intentions were good?

At any other time, pet battles probably wouldn’t have raised any eye-brows. But in a time of ‘Farmville knock-offs’, simplified talents, and cuddly pandas, when the community was already freaking out about MoP being aimed at girls, children, and casuals, it only poured fuel on the fire.

In his thread titled ‘Mists of Pandaria – Made for Children?’, one user writes:

Who honestly plays World of Warcraft and says “I’ve got to log in to duel my pet!”? Who gets a kick of these things? Go play tamagotchi or Pokemon if you wanna play a game like that. AND FARMS?! GO PLAY FARMVILLE OR SOMETHING!

Of course, when they actually got into the game, these people realized that the pet battles system wasn’t even noticeable unless you actually took an interest in it. And those who did take an interest usually loved it. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that development time had been spent on it. WoW players have always had a toxic relationship with the finite nature of development. Whenever they see a feature they didn’t want, they immediately imagine the things they did want, which had to be sacrificed (usually a raid), because Blizzard could only create so much content.

”Blizzard need to focus on the bloody gameplay and not waste their time on these childish things. They have dug the grave for this game with cataclysm and now they are just sh*ttin on it”

Fortunately, there were some sane responses, such as this one by the user ‘Tziva’.

Everyone I know who is looking forward to the pet battles is well into adulthood. I’m not sure why they cross the line into childish more than, say, having a pet in general. Or transmogging to play dress-up. Or riding a giant kitty. Or getting your hair style changed. Or any of the other aspects of the game one could single out and proclaim “for children.”

Standing alongside this whole drama was another one, relating to ethics. Pokemon has always managed to sidestep the ‘animal cruelty’ aspect of making creatures fight each other through heavy worldbuilding. Pokemon are treated well, given the utmost medical care, and are shown actively choosing to participate Particularly in the show, Pokemon are treated less like slaves and more like fully independent characters who just happen to live in balls.

WoW never really tried to do this. And in many cases, the pets were literally just normal cats, rats, dogs, and birds. For example, the baby ape or Whomper, whose description is “When Whomper wants to play, he’ll let you know with a playful headbutt.”. WoW had hundreds of pets, and a lot of them didn’t really fit the whole ‘pokemon’ aesthetic. Players criticized the ethics of making them fight.

There were also literal children who could be used as pets, but Blizzard prevented them from being used against each other. This decision upset some people.

”I can’t have my own little humanling running around, punching squirrels in the face!”

[…]

If the Hunger Games taught us anything, we love to see children fight it out to the death. I hereby propose letting the little orc and human children join the pet battles. Add the little Christmas orc slaves too.

Aside from the jokes, there were some users who pointed out that many pets were just as sapient as humanoid children, so Blizzard was sort of making a statement by choosing which ones to allow. This drama didn’t really go anywhere, but it’s fun to talk about.

Is it okay to fuck a baby dragon? Asking for a friend.

While this isn’t one of the biggest dramas in Mists, it’s one of the strangest.

Anduin was the son of the Alliance leader, Varian Wrynn. It was clear he was one of the main characters Blizzard had singled out to become important later on. He was a recurring figure throughout almost every zone in Pandaria, and every patch too.

Wrathion was a black dragon – the last ‘uncorrupted’ one (all the others fell under Deathwing’s spell). When he took a human form, he appeared as a dark-skinned young man with red eyes, a beard, and a turban. Anduin and Wrathion had an story which proceeded through the game’s main patches, in which they had an enemies-to-friends relationship.

In the history of World of Warcraft, no pairing, before or since, has ever provoked such an astronomical amount of fan made smut.

The problems here were manifold. Not only was Anduin a teenager, Wrathion was a baby. He had been born during one of Cataclysm’s quests. There was a lot of criticism of this ship, considering neither member was technically ‘legal’.

Said user breadisfunny:

”it’s a 16 dating a 3 YEAR OLD. thats a toddler. unless you want to have it be bestiality your talking pedophilia pick your poison. it doesn’t matter what fantasy terms you use to dress it up the fact of it still remains that he’s DATING A TODDLER.”

There was some debate on this point.

”Paedophilia between this ship would be if Wrathion could not give consent as he does not have the mental maturity or physical capacity to do so. However, because he’s a dragon, he’s able to do so. Because they age much more quickly.”

[…]

”People love pushing fictional kids together. It’s really weird.”

Some members of the community were quick to disclaim that they didn’t want to portray Anduin and Wrathion having sex, only enjoying a wholesome romantic relationship. Here’s a little taste of that discourse.

”it’s pedophile territory and you know it.”

[…]

”Seriously the most interesting relationship dynamic in WoW. Who even cares about genders at that point?

It’s basically the best. <3”

[…]

”Nice try but homosexuals do not and will not exist in the WOW universe.

Whats your next fetish, a gay relationship between a Walrus man and an Arakoa?”

World of Warcraft had dozens of main characters, and none of them were LGBT, so they couldn’t be blamed for latching on to the next closest thing, right? That’s what they thought. And in their defense, Anduin was very twinky.

This ship would simmer down for a while, and Wrathion would largely disappear from the scene. This is pretty common. Blizzard picks up new focal characters every expansion, and then tends to drop them straight after.

But Blizzard continued refreshing Anduin’s model over the expansions to show him aging. And three expansions later, he was officially Anduin the Manduin, and had gone from twink to twunk to full on hunk. When Wrathion made his unexpected return after a glow up of his own, the shippers reawakened from their slumber. An almost industrial amount of fanart was then churned out, with adult characters this time.

Things start to get better

Only two months after MoP released, the first patch dropped. ‘Landfall’ was heavily story-based, and mostly followed the Horde and Alliance as they built up fortifications on the southern coast of Pandaria. As players progressed through the story, the defenses got bigger and stronger, which made it feel rewarding. Even though it was mostly more daily quests and reputations, it went down well.

Only a few months after Landfall came ‘The Thunder King’, widely considered to be one of the best patches in Warcraft history, with a new zone containing a really interesting story, and one of the best raids in the game. It had an awesome Chinese/Aztek theme.

It would have been enough to satisfy players for up to six months, but they only had to wait two. The third patch, ‘Escalation’ took players to the zones surrounding the Horde capital of Orgrimmar. It was mercifully short on dailies, and continued to tell the story of Garrosh’s turn to Tyranny.

Just four months passed before the final patch dropped. Less than a year after Mists began, it had ended. ‘The Siege of Orgrimmar’ was another incredible patch. Its raid was colossal and had a number of creatively designed fights. Garrosh Hellscream, Chad of Chads, took seven phases to kill. The Vale of Eternal Blossoms was redesigned and given a totally new story.

Blizzard brought in the Timeless Isle, a new form of end-game content which eschewed dailies in favor of treasure chests, puzzles, mini games and dozens of bosses, some of which were very creatively designed. For example, there was Evermaw, a giant whale that circled the island, which players had to chase down using water-walking spells.

The Timeless Isle was incredibly addictive and got a positive response from players.

Following the release of MoP, subscribers continued to fall. At first, quite rapidly. Then slowly. Then, to everyone’s collective shock, they began to go up again. 200,000 subscribers came back during Quarter 4 of 2013. And it’s not hard to see why. Blizzard were releasing excellent content at a rapid pace. There were talks of Mists being a new renaissance for Warcraft.

But it came at a steep cost.

The Four Hundred and Sixty Day Patch

After the Siege of Orgrimmar, players waited eagerly to see what would come next. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen. Nothing went on happening for several months, in fact. If you celebrated the release of Siege of Orgrimmar by having unprotected sex, your baby would be transitioning from milk to solid food by the time the next major patch came out.

You may remember Hour of Twilight, Cataclysm’s infamously long patch from the last write-up: that one had been 301 days long. Siege of Orgrimmar lasted 460. To this day, it is the longest pause in the game’s history, and speculation and discussion about the lack of activity was rampant:

”Does Blizz just expect us to keep killing the same bosses week after week for this length of time? It seems really ridiculous. The game is getting so boring when it’s just the same thing week after week for months on end.”

As you can imagine, the attitude among fans went from jubilant, to bored, to downright furious. And all the while, they followed the next expansion with ever-more critical eyes, but we’ll get to that absolute disaster next post.

The love players had for Siege of Orgrimmar gradually turned to hatred. They started to hate its length – it made it time consuming to finish for the hundredth time. They hated its focus on story – it was just a distraction. They hated its complicated fights, because they just wanted to get them over with so they could get to the loot. The freedom that made the Timeless Isle great started to feel like a lack of direction. The bosses, which could only be taken down when entire communities worked together, became unwinnable because no one wanted to be there anymore.

“All that time yet I only killed Garrosh once”

Oh, and by the way, the ending of the raid was… inconclusive. The only way to learn of Garrosh’s fate was to read the novel War Crimes. I won’t go into the whole ‘Faction Bias’ issue yet, because I’ll have much more material a couple of posts down the road. But these are the basics: The Horde had effectively nuked an Alliance city, committed heinous atrocities, split apart, revolted, and deposed its leader. After years of fighting on-and-off, a (mainly Alliance) force had taken the Horde’s capital city and cut off its leadership. They finally had the power to break up the Horde for good, or turn it into a vassal, or at the very least prevent it from arming again. They could have done whatever they wanted.

And what did they choose to do?

They wagged a very imposing finger in the faces of Horde leaders, told them not to do it again, let them choose a new ruler, and left. And no one questioned this decision. Well, pretty much all the fans did, but no one within WoW’s world. Garrosh wasn’t even killed, or taken into Alliance custody, he was sent to an ‘international’ court and freed, to terrorise another day. Cataclysm had experienced its fair share of writing flops, but this was one of the first real deep cuts to the faith fans held in their writers. And it would not be the last.

Anyway. The WoW renaissance had ended as quickly as it started. The Subscribers started falling again. Mists had started at 10 million subscribers and hit lows of roughly 7 million. It had been, for the most part, an excellent expansion, but its ideas were just too much for some people, and its content release schedule was far too ambitious.

Mists of Pandaria still divides fans today, but its public perception has changed dramatically. It gradually developed a sort of ‘cult classic’ status, which has grown more and more common over the years. Most of the community looks back on it fondly. It’s not uncommon to hear it described as the best expansion, World of Warcraft at its absolute zenith. But there are still those who see it as a disappointment. If Cataclysm was the downward turn, Mists of Pandaria was the cliff.

”An expansion where Blizzard wanted money and weren’t afraid to degrade itself as a company along with the Warcraft franchise in the process. Have they done it before? Yes. Was it more apparent this time? Indubitably.”

[…]

”Terrible, made me leave. Leveled to 90, looked around and say “nope, not gonna jerk off the panda folk for dailies ad nauseam” and unsubbed for a year.”

[…]

”The dreadful leveling experience, the lackluster dungeons, the unbearable shitfest that is LFR, and the isle of a thousand chests can all go fuck themselves.”

[…]

”for me it was the worst expansion yet, the theme has been my big issue and I can’t get over it : /” Said the user ‘Horizon’.

You don’t tend to hear from those people as much anymore, perhaps because they quit the game and left its community.

***

More to come.

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