It seems that you're using an outdated browser. Some things may not work as they should (or don't work at all).
We suggest you upgrade newer and better browser like: Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Opera

Today, Azeroth is more than just a videogame setting. It's a living place with a mythic history that spans thousands of years of conflict and heroism. It features in novels, card games, genre-defining MMOs, and even feature films. But back in 1994, Azeroth wasn't nearly so grand or so solid.

A case in point: when Bill Roper – the man who would eventually become vice president of Blizzard North – turned up for his first day of work as a temporary voiceover artist on Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, his first instinct was to ask for a script.

I was told there were no scripts – nothing at all, Roper explains when we chat with him. So we sat there and I just wrote some stuff down, and I guess all those years of being a Dungeon Master in Dungeons & Dragons paid off because I just wrote out a script and we recorded it.

Once he'd recorded his lines, Roper's involvement with the game was supposed to end. Instead, I wrote a letter basically begging for a job. I just said, look I'll do anything. I'll run your bulletin board system. I'll wash the cars. I don't care – I just really want to work here. And so they hired me.

Origin story
Why was Roper so desperate to join this team? Well, the Warcraft story really begins with Westwood Studios' critically-acclaimed Dune II, which set the standard for the real-time strategy genre when it launched in 1992. It was a shared passion for this game – and frustration over the lack of any imminent sequel – that convinced a relatively unknown studio named Blizzard to start work on its own RTS.

Despite mostly being diehard Dune II fans, one thing the team at Blizzard was certain of was that they didn’t want to make a clone. The studio ditched the usual sci-fi themes of the time for a fantasy medieval setting, and even briefly considered a deal that would let them use Games Workshop's Warhammer license before dropping the idea in favor of total creative freedom (meaning we'd have to wait for Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat to get our Warhammer strategy fix).

By the time Bill Roper was brought on board, Warcraft's core gameplay was already in place, but the narrative was barebones, to say the least. Roper recalls that during his first meeting with Allen Adham, the Blizzard president explained that all we have for Warcraft is we know there are orcs and we know they're fighting humans. Oh, and the bad guy's name on the orc side is Blackhand. Everything else was up to Roper. So my first full-time job there was planting those seeds and creating the original lore for the Warcraft universe. Which is nuts, right?

Roper went on to shape the game’s tone and setting, drawing inspiration from Arthurian movie soundtracks and his old Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. It was one of these campaigns that inspired the trope-busting idea that orcs could be more than just mindless beasts. There’s a great quote that every villain is the hero of their own story, he explains. So that to me was the mindset for the orcs.

It takes two
Meanwhile, Blizzard was also determined to incorporate multiplayer, something that felt like an obvious and necessary addition to the genre, but one that proved challenging to implement. An early match between two developers left both convinced they’d won by a landslide – which really shouldn’t be a thing you have to argue about, Roper says, laughing. And then that’s when we realized there had been a sync error in the code, and their games had gotten decoupled. And then they finished basically single-player games, thinking they were still playing the other person because the AI took over.

Despite the bugs, this was the moment that the team knew they were onto something special. It’s this moment where you’re like, that’s a thing, Roper says. And I think at that moment, we knew multiplayer was a thing. And we felt like the game was going to be a thing.

But these bugs proved so challenging to fix that, for a while, it looked as though the game would be shipped without a multiplayer element at all. Still, the team’s persistence paid off, and it was the polished and accessible multiplayer, via local network or modem, that set Warcraft apart.

Numbers game
Warcraft: Orcs & Humans shipped in December 1994, but amazingly, the team initially didn’t realize the scale of what they’d created. Learning that their initial shipment figure was being upped to 100,000 units, Roper and his colleagues were astounded: We were all like, how are you ever going to sell that? That was a mindblowing number. That initial success set the stage for Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness to sell a staggering 1 million copies in its first year on store shelves.

Of course, Warcraft wasn’t the only RTS to come out of the 90s – Westwood Studios followed up Dune II with Command & Conquer in 1995, and games like Total Annihilation (1997) and Age of Empires (1997) also cemented their places as RTS icons, each with their own significant impact on the genre. As Roper puts it, I think that that genre grew because we kept standing on each other's shoulders to get there.

But Warcraft's legacy is arguably one of the most visible. As a franchise – this sounds weird – its influence is almost incalculable, Roper says. Without the success of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, there’d be no StarCraft, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, or Overwatch. Arguably, we'd have even missed out on Dota II and League of Legends, given that the original Dota started life as a Warcraft III mod.

At the end of the day, says Roper reflectively, we're making games, right? We're making something that's hopefully fun, that people have a good time interacting with. So when it has some kind of lasting impact like that, it's very humbling, and it's a little... I'm just so glad that people love it.
At least GOG gives you the option to download once and never touch the series of tubes again. I get what you're saying about so many kids not understanding that the PC game industry didn't suddenly spring into existence when Gaben discovered he can't count to three, though. Digital and physical should coexist, I say. Slitherine and its on-demand manufacturing partner Rimage have demonstrated that doing just a few DVDs is totally viable.

Anyway, interesting writeup. I personally managed to miss almost all of the Blizzard stuff for various reasons, but Warcraft is definitely one of if not the most influential video game franchises out there. So many other companies and even entire genres were taking their cues from Blizzard.
low rated
NovusBogus: Digital and physical should coexist
Digital is inherently hostile to physical and the physical copy environment. Once people are connected to a digital platform, including GOG, games are intentionally released needing a patch or update to be playable, DLC and mtx are encouraged and advertised through the platform, early access, digital will always be pushed harder because it is more profitable with far less effort, the excessively easy access means people that otherwise wouldn't play games play games which makes them the main demographic games are made for, etc etc. GOG is no different and encourages all those negatives as much as the others.
They could always release physical Complete editions after all DLC and updates are out, but most people are so weak willed, as proven by the "PC Master Race" accepting console wannabe platforms like Steam and GOG and being charged for a download, that even if they want a physical Complete edition that has the entire game on disc or USB drive and doesn't require any platform they will end up paying for digital because they can't wait. The physical Complete/Enhanced editions of the Witcher games are some of the very few modern games I bought, I bought them because they have the entire game on disc(s) and don't require any platform, but they didn't advertise them at all compared to digital. Vanilla physical release of Witcher 2 and 3 for PC had DRM, the "physical" version Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be a download code and probably won't even get a physical Complete/Enhanced edition after all DLC and updates are out like the Witcher games got.
I never had to touch the series of tubes even once to legally play games when physical copies were an option. (of course as long as they didn't have online DRM, but I boycotted those games)
Slitherine has proven it is viable, but don't advertise it at all and don't promote the entire industry adopt the practice the way GOG/CDPR and Valve used brainwashing esque tactics to push digital only.
Valve and to a lesser extent CDPR have certainly had a hand in conditioning people to treat digital distribution as the only way to go. Not gonna dispute that. The thing about worthless releases wasn't their doing, though. That is a consequence of the software industry's infatuation with Agile development, and it is an industry wide problem. Even I have to deal with it in embedded hardware land, where lead times are measured in months and stuff like rolling releases aren't even remotely a thing. To be fair, Waterfall Club did their utmost to prepare the field through years of setting unreasonable schedules and expecting the peons to work nights and weekends for no particularly good strategic reason, but that doesn't make Agile any less dysfunctional, it just means they're both dysfunctional orthodoxies and people are lazy and gullible and should build a process based on their specific business and customer needs rather than copying one from some consultant's generic business book.

A lot of the blame also falls on the social media, new media, and various other internet-only companies who built business models around doing questionable things with huge hordes of peasants and their data. And on old media and established companies who thought they could get away with cutting costs through lower standards because millennials are easily fooled. And on the customers themselves, who took the 75% seasonal discount thing as a license to never again pay the fair market price for a video game. It's a perfect storm of bad behavior, really. Hopefully enough people get wise before the software industry eats itself. The ongoing Facebook blowback is encouraging, at least.

I should also note that digital isn't all bad, either. I rather like having most of my game and music library on a single external hard drive, ready to be installed anywhere and proudly passing the Log Cabin Test. It's also convenient for people who live in places where there's no local stores worth caring about. There's some real benefits there, hence the why-not-both comment. People just need to be aware of what they are and aren't getting, and take ownership of their decisions.
Post edited November 24, 2019 by NovusBogus
DontPay4Digital: ... Once people are connected to a digital platform, including GOG, games are intentionally released needing a patch or update to be playable...
This is exactly same as old games from 90's. For example great Ultima Underworld have still bug which can prevent you from finishing game (you can lost irreversibly quest items), Lands of Lore allows you to play game, that you will not able to finish it, newer Divine Divinity had so many bugs, that players had to play it with walkthrough how to finish game after it broke (many time needed external help from OS) …

So what is better on box in comparison with digital platform? Here you have at least available patches (with some exceptions), so it is in best possible state, whereas old boxed games were unplayable… E.g. I have original Theme Hospital from 1997, there is even no posibility to game difficulty. although game was prepared for it since the beginning…

Moreover a lot of games got new patches years after release (remember Desperados?) and some even unofficial (have you tried vanilla Gothic 3?), so you can download installer run it and games is in best possible state to have game as intended.
Post edited November 24, 2019 by IXOXI
DontPay4Digital: I have physical copies of Warcraft 1, 2, and 3. If you want to play Warcraft 3 so bad then buy a physical copy of the battlechest, it doesn't require an account or online authorization to play the single player or LAN unlike GOG which requires an account and server authorization to download from their server.
How is that a bad thing? If you got your physical games without people authorization to to take them out of the store, it means you stole them.
Just waltzed into an amazing full-time job the first time. Unbelievable.
Maybe there's some lingering hope we'll see some more of the groundreaking RTS mentioned here (Command and Conquer series, Dune II, Age of Empires)? :P

Awesome article covering the basic history of Warcraft - very cool stuff!

Cheers to whoever idea it was to help sell old games with little write-ups like this. Would love to see these kinds of write-ups come out for some of the other more 'obscure'' games by tracking down people who were involved with these older games. A great way to provide marketing material for the older games, as well as get some retrospective on the older titles (especially for the younger crowd learning about these things for the first time).
FlamingFirewire: Cheers to whoever idea it was to help sell old games with little write-ups like this. Would love to see these kinds of write-ups come out for some of the other more 'obscure'' games.
Yup. Does seem likely that these articles were sponsored or as part of some partnership, considering the chosen games, in which case it's much less likely to see them for obscure titles, but it's just nice to see some decent articles about games again instead of the usual couple of lines.
Treehugger: Just waltzed into an amazing full-time job the first time. Unbelievable.
D-d-did they hurt you man? ;(
DontPay4Digital: This alone destroys the narrative created by the video game and digital distribution industries, including GOG/CDPR, that games didn't make money when sold physical only
Well that's a false premise if ever I heard one. I have never heard anyone or anything make the claim that games didn't make money back in the days when they were only sold physically.