For my case study, I will critically evaluate World of Warcraft, an MMORPG (Massive multiplayer online role playing game) by Blizzard Entertainment. This game has been out since 2004, and still has large player base despite its age, it has also had six separate expansions released for it over the years, which is one of the reasons it is still successful today. This is a case study into how the game is marketed, advertised, and how it made its entry into the games industry.
Around the time World of Warcraft came out, it was one of the first MMORPG’s in the games industry. Back in 2004 this was a new genre in the gaming world, preceded only by a few previous titles such as Runescape (2001) and Everquest (1999). Both of these titles, although popular, were limited by the technology available in this time period. Due to the nature of an MMORPG being a large scale open world multiplayer game, these were so uncommon back in the early 2000’s due to a lack of hardware being able to run such an ambitious project. But since technology has been improving exponentially, when World of Warcraft was finally released in 2004, it was considered as a very large and aesthetically pleasing game that dominated the genre. This is likely down to 2 key factors. Firstly, Blizzard entertainment is a large company based in California with 13 years of game making experience prior to the game’s release. Secondly, the exponential improvement of hardware and its accessibility meant that blizzard could create a bigger, more ambitious title in terms of size, multiplayer capabilities, and graphics.
The game was distributed Via physical copies back when it was released.
The game was then later made available to purchase digitally, for convenience and ease of access. However, you could still purchase physical copies with collector’s edition extras.
Based on some discussion online, although there are no exact figures available, it seems that the majority of people prefer the digital purchase: https://us.battle.net/forums/en/wow/topic/20745655957
Audience and advertisement
At the time of the games release. Blizzard had a much smaller audience of gamers, this is because their previous titles Warcraft 3 (2002) and Starcraft (1998), although critically acclaimed, were both RTS (Real time strategy) games, the RTS genre was not as mainstream at this time since it was also a developing genre, meaning that blizzard had a small but dedicated group of fans. The fans that blizzard had gathered over the years however had a very strong connection with Blizzard’s universe and characters. This meant that they had a reason to be excited for World of Warcraft. However, Blizzard entertainment turned their attention to the mainstream in order to expand its audience. The way the game has been advertised over the years has been very widespread:
From TV spots with celebrities
To online banner adds
To promotional events such as recruit a friend, encouraging players to introduce their friends into the World of Warcraft for rewards
An episode of South Park dedicated to the game
World of Warcraft even had its own movie released in 2016, Directed by Duncan Jones, this film was an introduction into the Warcraft universe for many people who had never played or heard of it before.
Another way the game is advertised is through their cinematic trailers for each expansion, which are released on youtube and shown on TV, There have been seven of these cinematics created and played on Television and internet sources for over 10 years.
Blizzard have also created animated shorts to advertise and market their product, these usually revolve around a character, and tell a short story.
Over the years, the World of Warcraft became very popular through its addition of expansion packs and advertising strategies. In January 2014, Blizzard announced that more than 100 million accounts had been created over the game’s lifetime. This meant that they had a much more diverse audience, not only for World of Warcraft, but for their other ongoing titles such as Starcraft, Diablo, Heroes of the storm, Hearthstone, and Overwatch. These games all cover different genres such as MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) FPS (First person shooter) and RTS (Real time strategy).
Since 2005, Blizzard have held a live event in the united states where thousands of people could attend. This is where blizzard would talk about new announcements, features, and expansions for their titles. Blizzcon also has unique merchandise, and codes which can be exchanged for in game prizes. Celebrities and bands are usually invited to perform at Blizzcon also. Events such as costume contests and various panels where players can ask the developers questions are also a large event at Blizzcon. Overall, this is a key event which blizzard uses to communicate with its audience, as well as advertise new products to them.
Overall, blizzard’s audience has grown over the years due to its very mainstream and successful advertising techniques, but also due to the wide amount of game genre’s Blizzard covers with their various titles.
The World of Warcraft has always branded itself as a large fantasy product in order to appeal to a mass audience, since fantasy can interest a large amount of people due to the wide variety of possibilities within the genre. One way the Blizzard has chosen to present this universe is through its key characters, as well as its environments, the diversity in the color, atmosphere, and sound of each zone is often emphasised as a way to remind players of the sheer size of the Warcraft universe. These are usually represented through art as opposed to the in-game graphics however.
Notice how on the box art for every expansion, there is usually an important and threatening looking character in each image.
I think this is a key detail, since these are key characters that the fans will recognise, but new viewers may be curious about. Blizzard likes to present a new, large threat in each expansion for players to defeat, and this often seems to be a strategy they use to present their universe.
Here are audience theories applied to the World of Warcraft’s audience, one important thing to note is that Blizzard quite often communicate with their audience through things such as social media:
Q&A sessions via livestreams and blizzcon
And forum posts regarding certain subjects within the game
Passive (Hypodermic Needle Approach)
This audience theory suggests that the message of a media text is consumed without question and accept a dormant ideology on a certain subject. When it comes to the way Blizzard entertainment operate, I do not think this theory holds much value. Since the players have a very open avenue in which to communicate to blizzard game developers, this means that they are often criticised and challenged on some of their decisions and ideologies. Here are a few examples of player outrage and other various controversies when it comes to some of the decisions that blizzard have made.
Overall I do not believe that this theory makes sense in the context of Blizzard entertainment, since players are always discussing, debating, and criticising some of blizzards actions through social media and forums. Praising the good ideas, but rejecting the bad ones. Since video games as a media text are much more interactive, this can often mean that the audience are much more involved and vocal about how they want the product to be, since a game that you don’t enjoy for whatever reason can create some frustrating scenarios.
Active (Decode and make rational decision)
I think that this theory works much better when discussing Blizzard entertainment and mostly the games industry in general. As the most interactive form of media, video games are often a much more involved activity. Though not as relaxed as something like television or reading, the audience can have all sorts of different emotions when playing video games. Players might be excited or satisfied when they find a new item they wanted, or defeating a boss that they have failed to beat numerous times over. However, this can also come with negative, this often means that players are much more attached to games (especially world of Warcraft) and this means that when things go wrong they can get frustrated or upset, either with a decision a developer makes, a difficult hurdle, or something that subtracts from their enjoyment of a game. Video games such as World of Warcraft also require you to think much more than other forms of media, since players will often debate things such as what abilities to use, what items to equip, or what strategies to deploy to defeat certain bosses. This has even lead to some players making complicated calculations to maximise their efficiency.