The Impact of World of Warcraft on Online Gaming


Few games can match the longevity or cultural capital that World of Warcraft has accrued since its first release, almost 20 years ago. Since then, nine expansion packs have crafted and modernized the game’s mechanics and visuals. Today it retains a popular and committed player base across both the main title – and the vanilla reboot, WoW Classic.

At its peak around 2010, World of Warcraft was home to some 12 million subscribers, and for many of these, the game served as a potent introduction not only to MMORPGs, but online gaming in general.

In what ways has World of Warcraft influenced the way we think about online gaming today? Below we will explore this question, and seek to unpick what made this title so impactful when it first launched.


Took the MMORPG Mainstream

wow tauren warriorEven today, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) genre is indelibly linked with World of Warcraft – so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that Blizzard’s iconic game was its originator.

But this is far from the case – by the time WoW launched in 2004, there were already several well established and popular MMORPGs in circulation including 1997’s Ultima Online, 1999’s Everquest, and 2001’s RuneScape.

In fact, WoW’s early development was characterized by a commitment to make a more accessible, polished and entertaining game than Everquest – which was hitherto the most popular MMORPG.

With this in mind, World of Warcraft was designed to be more forgiving on new players, with crucial quality of life improvements such as softer penalties for player deaths being broadly praised.

WoW also pioneered solo play, giving players the tools they needed to explore and quest on their own. A large, persistent world full of optional adventures and encounters with other players was, at the time, a strong departure from the conventions of existing MMOs.

This made the game much more appealing to the average player who may have lacked the resources, time or interest in organizing and running large dungeon raids, or grinding incessantly.

Finally, the high production value and less mature-oriented aesthetics gave the game a broad appeal among the general player base, as did its association with an existing and well respected IP in the form of the WarCraft franchise. Players from the vanilla days are still so nostalgic about it that Blizzard ended up launching “classic” servers with the original game version, and it was a massive success. It’s currently going strong with the recent release of the WotLK classic expansion. There’s still penty of time to catch up, but if you want to do it quickly and efficienctly, you should follow Jame’s WoW Classic Leveling Guides.


Popularised Online Play

In many ways, World of Warcraft served as a vital proof of concept for the burgeoning online gaming sector. It launched right around the time that global internet infrastructure was moving away from classic dial-up modems and towards much faster broadband connections.

This made online play viable for many for the first time. This period also saw the advent of Xbox Live, the Microsoft home console’s pioneering online multiplayer service. While it would be some years before the likes of Xbox Live would gain significant traction among the average player, World of Warcraft was already making headlines for its millions of subscribers.

While crucial infrastructure was an essential step in giving rise to the modern online gaming community, were it not for WoW’s runaway success this may have taken longer to establish itself.

The implications of this for how we think about online gaming today can scarcely be overstated. For example, the global iGaming sector is now among the largest and most widely patronized gaming markets in the world today. While on the surface, such titles have little direct connection to the thematic content of WoW, their basic online-facing mechanics share much in common. iGaming platforms’ reliance on internet infrastructure to deliver quality gaming experiences means that online casinos such as those collated and listed on and other reputable online platforms owe an unexpected debt of gratitude to World of Warcraft and Blizzard.

The same can be said for mobile gaming, which has, since the early 2010s, grown to occupy the largest market share of revenue across the industry. Many of the most popular mobile games today actively incorporate light-MMO elements, walking the path initially blazed by WoW back in 2004.


Pioneered Subscription Model

While monthly subscriptions for games were not unheard of upon WoW’s release, especially within the realm of MMORPGs, there’s no escaping the fact that Blizzard’s RPG serves as a direct ancestor to every live service game in operation today.

The notion that a game can be a living thing, constantly updated with new content and features, was surprising and innovative then. Now, games as diverse as League of Legends, Call of Duty: Warzone and Roblox each make use of this format to generate income and retain player interest.



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