The Making of World of Warcraft

The guys at Eurogamer have put together a five-page history of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft, from its announcement in 2001 to its modern day juggernaut status. There's some developer commentary within, too, so it's well worth a read:
For Metzen, who oversees the fiction of all of Blizzard's worlds, the focus on quests was the solution to a problem he'd grappled with since the start of the project - how to tell stories in the static, restrictive world of an MMORPG. "It was a bit frustrating early on," he confesses. "We were so far out of our comfort zone, constructing something we'd never attempted before - this idea of having to create a static world. It was constraining, not being able to chase a more organic, player-specific story."

"At the end of the day, we concluded that if it does have to be more static, then we sure as hell better input as much heart and character and humour and flavour into the quest experience as we possibly can. It's frustrating as a story guy, sure, because the broad player experience is essentially on a track - but what games like this allow for is the sheer scope of the world, the breadth of the kingdoms and the races, with their own internal strife and their own internal stories, the overarching villains as well as the regional conflicts...

"It was such a big project that needed so much story - so I always felt even if we couldn't get there in terms of unique player experiences, we certainly built something that has tidal waves of story. We felt pretty good about the sheer scope."


Other big decisions were more contentious with the rest of team. The large-scale dungeon raids that characterise an MMO endgame were the topic of many discussions, with everything from the cap on the number of players (figures from 20 to 100 were batted around, with 40 being eventually settled upon) to the question of instancing being argued about passionately.

Instancing - separating the dungeons from the world itself, so that teams of players could work through them without interruption from other players - turned out to be especially controversial. "Oh yeah, that was a really hot topic," Chilton says. "At some points we even had the idea that some raids wouldn't be instanced and others would be. We were really torn - we wanted to capture the magic of guilds racing towards server firsts, and that sort of thing."

The decision, in the end, went back to WOW's core philosophy of accessibility. "As we thought about it more and more, we really felt like people had an expectation of being able to do the content," he explains. "We would still be able to get some of that feeling of people getting server firsts - they didn't necessarily have to be denying each other access to content in order to be able to do that."