We celebrated Blizzard's 20th anniversary with a massive cover story in our April issue that analyzed just how far-reaching their impact on gamers across the globe has been. In part one of our Blizzard story, we put our collective minds together to put together a list of the many and varied ways that Blizzard has affected the "real-world" through their games. Here they are presented for your viewing pleasure: the 20 ways that Blizzard Entertainment has altered the very fabric of life.
You'll find commercials for console games stuffed into just about every 30-second nook and cranny in primetime TV. After all, the audience is sitting in front of the TV for entertainment, and if you're a console game developer or publisher, these are your people.
So when Blizzard announced that it would air an advertisement for World of Warcraft: Cataclysm during a nationally televised Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings game, it was unprecedented. WoW has become such a staggeringly big and widly accepted entertainment product that broadcasting the opening cinematic for Cataclysm to an audience traditionally more interested in lime-flavored beer and Madden games doesn't sound crazy. In the PC gaming ecosystem, only Blizzard has the clout to pull that off.
The genres and games you find in the constellation of PC gaming—from Bejeweled and Peggle to Minecraft and Train Simulator—are unmatched by any other platform. Yet it's ultimately Blizzard's games—World of Warcraft in particular—that have become the de facto face of PC gaming around the world. Not just for their undeniable popularity, but for the imprint they've left on our societies, from Time Magazine and New Yorker profile stories to StarCraft II ads plastered on the side of a Korean Air Boeing 747.
It's not email and FarmVille that's driving the popularity of internet cafes around the world, and throughout Asia and South America in particular. Instead, you'll most likely find customers paying by the hour to play StarCraft, StarCraft II and WoW. If you've any doubt about the impact of these joints, consider that internet cafes employ over a million people in China alone.
Long before The Shattering, 2005 saw a cataclysm of its own with WoW patch 1.7.0. When adventurers surfaced from Zul'Gurub, it wasn't just fresh gear they were toting. A bug allowed hunter pets to carry the Corrupted Blood plague they had contracted from Hakkar the Soulflayer out into the main world, turning Ironforge into a boneyard. As the plague made corpses of those coming in proximity to the infected, disease researchers seized an opportunity to study the spread of a virus among millions of independently thinking individuals. Their findings have proven useful to scientists who research pandemics—not to mention overall zombie apocalypse preparedness.
Before StarCraft, most factions in RTS games played alike. They had different units and abilities, but they all gathered resources, constructed buildings and did war in similar ways. In 1998, StarCraft introduced a system where the three races operate with unique game mechanics. Protoss Probes summon structures into existence and walk away; Zerg Drones sacrifice themselves to mutate into a facility. Blizzard's execution of these bits of balance aren't insignificant—they fundamentally distinguish SC's races, and they're the foundation of the sports team-like fanaticism and intense, emotional connection players feel for their favorite faction.
Following North Korea's artillery bombardment of the South in 2010, the South Korean Defense Minister told the public “the actual situation is not StarCraft” to explain why the real-world response was slightly slower than a Zerg rush. Blizzard games have so penetrated the cultural spheres external to gaming, the acronym WoW has been heard on the sidelines of soccer games, China's banishment of gold farming warranted CNN and Fox News stories and “FTW,” “mobs,” and “fail” have bled from the forums onto the front page. It's a fact: the language of Blizzard has coalesced with the language of life. GG.
By the time World of Warcraft was launched in 2004, there had been a few MMORPGs that helped make gamers more comfortable with monthly subscription fees. But it was WoW's breakaway success that brought the subscription model well into the mainstream—making it easier for other virtual worlds to do the same while simultaneously neutralizing the problem of piracy. WoW's success was no doubt also taken into account when services including Netflix and Xbox Live considered their own subscriptions models. It's a system that continues to work well for Blizzard—even in the face of the burgeoning market of free-to-play games.
New digital economies beget new laws to regulate them. According to InformationWeek.com, the Chinese government recently passed a law prohibiting the use of in-game money or items to purchase real goods and services—perhaps out of concern that in-game money could supplant official currency and undermine economic stability. There's a long way to go before that's a possibility, but you can't blame China for being prepared.
Would you ever travel to meet a stranger you met on the internet? It isn't necessarily the best of ideas—but WoW's powerful social elements have spawned friendships strong enough to cross over into the real world. Its players have been known to traverse continents to come together for increasingly popular guild meetups, and there are even cases of romance being forged in the fires of WoW—where else can you find a gnome who fell in love with a goblin?
Apart from the occasional pinball wizard or world's record holder for the high score in Donkey Kong, the concept of the professional gamer began to coalesce in the late 1990s around fledgling leagues and increasingly popular tournaments of games such as Quake III and Counter-Strike. But it was StarCraft's uniquely balanced RTS gameplay, combined with Battle.net's ladder ranking system, that gave professional competitive PC gameplay the foundation it needed for a boom. Not only that, but it spawned an entire side-community of commentators on whom spectators rely to provide insight to the professional games.
There's no better place to get a sense of the mark Blizzard has made on the world than at BlizzCon, the annual convention it holds each year in Anaheim, California. A Mecca for WoW, SC2 and Diablo-aholics alike, Blizzcon is the only place in the (real) world where your epic loot and dominating win/loss ratio will make others cower before you in fear. It's also the only place where you'll find the world's top StarCraft pros and WoW arena teams battling it out on stage with live professional commentary, developers talking about their plans for the future, and a man dancing in a giant bear suit—all under the same roof. It's no wonder that the tickets sell out seconds after going on sale.
What began as a simple mod for Warcraft III bloomed into a phenomenon in its own right, and has now grown into a full-blown genre. Using only the world editor, players crafted a map focused on champion arena battles that's become a mainstay at professional gaming tournaments around the world; and professional players are winning big bucks with their expertise at the free mod. There've already been several commercial spinoffs, such as Demigod, League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, and high-profile companies like Valve and Blizzard itself are working on modern iterations of DotA's gameplay.
Consoles have created online networks such as Xbox Live, and Valve created Steam, but no single developer has created a such a successful network solely for its own games. Battle.net has been around for years, but only recently has Blizzard begun to transform Bnet into something it sees as the future: a network of constant connectivity. Why must I lose contact with my friends just because I want to play SC2 instead of WoW or Diablo III? Who says you can't talk to your friends in cross-game chatrooms? Using a single network gives the players a new sense of community, where they'll never game alone again.
On a forest stroll, Norwegian 12-year-old Hans Jørgen Olsen and his sister crossed paths with a cantankerous moose. Fearing for his sister's life, the little hero taunted the wild beast to distract it from his more lightly-armored sister, just as he had learned, he explained later, in WoW. As the moose fixed its fuzzy antlers upon him, Hans employed another WoW tactic: he feigned death. The moose quickly lost interest in the limp boy and went on its way, leaving Hans without a scratch, and with a renewed confidence in his daily training—uh, playing.
Every cultural phenomenon inserts new words into our language, or expands the meaning of existing terms, and the sheer popularity of Blizzard's games virtually guaranteed that we'd be talking its language—shout “for the Horde!” in any crowded restaurant, for example, and somebody's sure to snap to attention. But we're also seeing certain terms seep out into general popular culture as well, such as StarCraft's gracious “gg” to acknowledge a well-played round, “gank” for unsportsmanlike slaying, and “ding!” to celebrate skill advancement (upon the discovery, say, of In-N-Out Burger's off-the-record menu items).
Love is a beautiful thing, and Blizzard has proven astute in both the arts of giving and taking. While still a rarity, in-game weddings do occur (mostly on roleplaying servers), and the game's even been the initial meeting place for a surprising number of real-world newlyweds! Of course, the darker side of things is that WoW's been blamed for many a ruined relationship as well. Blizzard can only
be held responsible for making great games, however—how we choose to play them is
up to us.
Thanks to its unparalleled successes with StarCraft, Warcraft and Diablo, Blizzard has donated millions to various charities over the years. It's auctioned off artwork to raise funds for Child's Play, and recently donated over a million dollars to the Make-a-Wish foundation simply by selling vanity pets—a gesture that has helped lift the spirits of young people living with terminal illnesses.
In a nation where 95 percent of citizens have broadband internet access, it's perhaps not surprising that e-Sports have permeated the culture to the point where you'll find Zerglings on Doritos bags and public service announcements that feature the Overmind warning commuters not to leave trash on the subway. E-Sports in South Korea have spawned an entire generation of professional players, as well as millions of hardcore spectators who watch them play live in stadiums and over cable television broadcasts of the tournaments. And what games are you most likely to find the pros honing their skills at for 60 hours each week? StarCraft and StarCraft II, of course.
In the same way that Pixar and Dreamworks have redefined animated filmmaking in the past decade, Blizzard has become the world's leader in animated cutscene quality, thanks to one of the industry's only in-house animation studios. Would the characters of StarCraft or Warcraft have had the same memorable impact if we hadn't seen them brought to life in theater-quality animations between missions and quests? The passion of fans is evidence enough of Blizzard's legendary prowess—many have even purchased the Blizzard Entertainment DVD Collection featuring the complete cutscene libraries of Diablo II, Warcraft III and StarCraft.