Since I was a kid, my parents always wondered why I like “those silly video games” – as if they were incapable of not understanding something. I don’t blame them, it’s something that didn’t quite catch their generation. Nevertheless, it’s always irritated me – I’ve tried many times to explain reasons that I like them. I find them engaging and stimulating, they let me escape or relax when I need to, they can be co-operative or competitive or singleton, they can teach you so many things and ideas, they can help me understand the world, or they can just be cathartic. I even consider the well crafted ones to be a highly engaging form of art. They can help me in many ways, and as I commented in an article I wrote for charity recently they even make society a better place. But there is one other reason that I play games and – specifically – World of Warcraft, which I’ll expand on right now.
Blizzcon, the convention hosted by and dedicated to Blizzard Entertainment (the makers of World of Warcraft and several other games with large followings), happened over the 8th-9th of November this year. To say that the event is mind-blowing wouldn’t do it justice. There are millions of people the world over who play Blizzard’s games; many thousands converged on the convention centre, and over a hundred thousand tuned in across the world. That’s somewhere around the average viewing figures for any program on BBC2! It’s simply incredible that the fanbase for a single company can be so dedicated that they can run a convention entirely dedicated to it. For quite some time over the weekend, four of Twitter’s top-10 trends were Blizzard related.
But that’s just number of fans – the community is something else still. If we just talk about World of Warcraft for a while; there are uncountable numbers of blogs, sites, and programmes dedicated to all things WoW related. From pets to vanity items, databases to opinion polls, optimizers, guide sites, podcasts, organizations and twitter feeds. The variety and dedication of these places is phenomenal. This is user generated content on a crazy scale – the kind of thing that many companies would kill for. Now take a quick look at a little game known as StarCraft 2 and you can easily discover that it’s pretty much a national sport in Korea; with pro-leagues and an actual record for the most money ever accumulated from official tournaments (about half a million USD). StarCraft draws simply massive audiences both over there and here, with the popular and successful players being celebrities in their own right. We even have dedicated StarCraft commentators – it is their job to watch video games and talk.
But among all the ridiculous statistics about the Blizzard community, one thing stands out as a tour de force of community action. Naught but a little side-show organized by my friends and accomplices @HunniHM, @Pixellated, and @RC_Flapz (they run ReadyCheck, the podcast I linked earlier). It was originally meant to be just a small London meet-up of a few friends from WoW, in a pub with a few drinks. Then they told Blizzard about the event…
And the whole thing exploded.
Blizzard really got behind the idea of having a Blizzcon meet-up in London, and provided staff and resources to help it happen. They donated prizes to draw, posters to put up, freebies to give out, and an official stream to watch in the pub. And then came the publicity – Blizzard told people about the event as well!
But who would want to come to a crappy little pub to meet nerds who play WoW too much? Well… so many people that they had to book a bigger pub. One of those people (of course) was me. I attended “BarCraft-on-Thames” and was completely blown away by the response they got. We had hardcore raiders (among the best in the world, no less!), and we had community representatives from the official forums. Pet collectors sat down and made merry with prolific bloggers and Lore buffs. All were friendly, all were enthusiastic, and all were engaged and utterly dedicated to a “silly video game”. About 200 people made the event, and they continually surprised me.
I can only liken the atmosphere to a pub football evening. Team shirts, drink and discussion, speculation (and wagers), and a live feed of the latest events. During the live competition between two of the world’s top guilds, a huge roar went up as one caved in and was trounced by the other. When the main stage was occupied by a “The future of WoW” panel, another cheer roused the room when they announced the removal of some annoying features. The room went deathly silent as WoW’s lead game designer Greg ‘Ghostcrawler’ Street followed up immediately with the name of a game feature which most players have to deal with regularly. You could cut the tension with a knife, and when the bomb dropped the shock was palpable – two short words stunned nearly 200 merry nerds for several seconds; “Reforging gone“.
Say what you like, but a community which can connect so smoothly and feel so strongly, despite mostly never having met, is a true wonder. That’s the reason I like World of Warcraft – the community is not only second to none in the digital world, but it beats many in the real world too.