Massive Formulas: That Blizzard is On Fire!

Author’s Note:

So, it’s been just a little over a month since my last Massive Formulas blog, but, as promised, here is the second one. This one focuses on Blizzard’s launch of the most successful MMO property to date. And to clarify: by success I mean a financial success, because in our hearts the MMO we currently play and love is the most successful. *sniff

The Announcement:

It was on August 31, 2001 at the European Computer Trade Show that Blizzard made an announcement which struck the gaming community like lightning out of a clear sky. They were going to make an MMORPG out of a well established Real Time Strategy franchise. Of special note is that they announced this project well before Warcraft III was even released! Going back and looking through the comments on this announcement it’s amazing the project ever took off. The feedback from the community was in a tone of outrage and betrayal. How could Blizzard turn an excellent strategy franchise into an MMO? To really fathom what the MMO market looked like in 2001, I had to dig a little deep into the fathoms of the internet, and I can now better understand why the fans were so frustrated.

The 2001 MMO and how Blizzard changed the game:

The MMO in 2001 was very different from the norm we expect to see today when a development company announces a new MMO title. In fact, the now so-called “slow” combat found in WoW, was described in the ECTS demo as being incredibly fast paced. MMOs at that time were based on throwing your character into the middle of a world and letting you do the rest. Health bars took ages to regenerate, mobs took forever to respawn, leveling was based almost entirely on grinding, and open world PvP was a lot more… uh… wild. The interfaces of many of the current MMOs left players stranded, as they had no idea what was going on. As more and more of World of Warcraft was revealed, especially after the launch of Warcraft III and its expansion, it became clear WoW was being built by Blizzard to be accessible and polished. The Warcraft MMO experience became one of letting players accomplish something in whatever time they had available, and this led to a grind similar to the ones found in other MMOs, but players were guided to the entire grinding experience through a large amount of detailed quest content. Monsters in the world were quick to respawn so players would not waist time fighting over a spawning area, and the health/mana bars were quick to regenerate, so players were never left waiting for something to do. That and a release that was relatively (and I say relatively because if an MMO now launched with the quality Blizzard had, it would probably be berated for that fact) smooth led the game to become a great success despite the flamers.


Prior to release began what can be called one of the biggest hype-machines ever created for a video game. Beta keys were being thrown at players from around the world; interviews, previews, and screenshots were cropping up everywhere; over 35% of IGN’s current database of World of Warcarft articles (and that includes the expansions) was pre-release coverage of the game. It received glowing reviews from almost every critic, it sold more in it’s first day (240,000 copies) than any MMO prior to it, and as time went on the curve of subscription growth seemed only to expand. Blizzard had tried their game development ethic on an MMO and it had paid off… big-time. The first few months of the game were troubled by,what would now be called frequent, server stutters, leading to the Tuesday server maintenance still in place today. But players got past the server instability and within seven months of release 2 million WoW-heads were logging in every day. We all know the rest.

Beyond the Release:

Unlike Turbine, in my previous article, Blizzard’s content update system is of a different tone. The focus is less on adding new areas and stories for the players to explore, but implementing new game mechanics to the existing world while maintaining the usual standard of polish Blizzard offers. These include the Battlegrounds system, steady UI and graphical enhancements, and new raids. And it was just at the moment when people started feeling a little burnt out that Blizzard pulled an expansion out of their metaphorical bag-o-goodies. And that trend continues to this day. It’s little additions, like mounts being able to swim and being able to switch talent loadouts on the go, mixed with new raiding content that drive the patches seen in WoW. These are then followed by expansions of humongous size which add new areas, new game systems, raise the level cap, add classes, etc. In this manner Blizzard always keeps its player base hungry for more. It’s like putting a carrot in front of a donkey, except you occasionally let it eat the carrot as you have a few hundred more stashed away.


Say what you want about WoW and the way it plays, the reality is that Blizzard turned a popular RTS franchise into an enormous, globe-trotting MMO property. Since its first products, Blizzard has been known for the quality and polish they put into their games, and they are one of the few companies who can get away with saying they’ll release a game “when it’s done”. This polish translated so well to the MMO genre that it truly revolutionized the way people rated and enjoyed MMOs. We no longer stand for botched launches, failed “innovations”, and the like. The MMO gamers now want an experience where they can jump into the game and have fun no matter how long their play session is. Blizzard, for better or worse, tamed the MMO.

MMO Formula #2:

Polish+Steady Game Improvements+Hype = MMO success. Big gold sticker for Blizzard!

Come back next time for a deeper look into how MMOs used to play before the great taming of the genre. I’ll make sure to take a look at games like Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and Asheron’s Call.

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