Legacy of Gaming: Blizzard Entertainment
With the release of Diablo III for consoles looming over us with a giant PC shadow. I thought it was about the right time to take an in-depth look at one of the most dominant companies in the gaming world. Blizzard Entertainment have completely cornered the PC gaming market, so much so that up until recently, almost no MMORPG could get a foothold on even a corner of the market. With Warcraft, World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo, they’ve changed the online gaming world, the competitive gaming scene and the dungeon crawling genre…forever.
Synapse Studios was formed shortly after Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham and Frank Pearce completed their bachelor degrees in February of 1991. At the start of the company, the group focused on developing ports of other games for varying consoles, including The Lost Vikings and Rock and Roll Racing. In 1994, they were acquired by Davidson and Associates and decided to change their name to mark the change. They decided upon Chaos Studios, but after this name proved to be taken they moved on to Blizzard Entertainment. The Blizzard name has been attributed to a varying number of titles throughout their stay at Vivendi Studios and now Activision, but there are three main franchises in which they really made a mark. In late 1994, the company released Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. This top down real-time strategy title was widely received and loved. It created a cult following that led to the release of many more expansions, most namely, World of Warcraft, Blizzard’s first tumble down the MMO rabbit hole. Set in the Warcraft Universe, World of Warcraft (released in 2004) let players play as one of eight races, in an expansive environment filled with battle arenas, quests, raids and dungeons. The game has been expanded four times and has recently gone free to play.
Blizzard’s second key franchise came in the form of Diablo, the dungeon crawler, which defined dungeon crawling. Released in 1996, Diablo quickly became the staple for dungeon crawling, setting up random spawns, loot collection and online play that would influence follows up’s to the genre for years. Diablo II was released in 2000 and was similarly praised, while Diablo III, (the first of the franchise to be ported to console) did not quite feature the same rave reviews as the first two. The last of Blizzard’s monopoly of franchises quickly swept up the competitive gaming scene, creating ‘professional athletes’ in a number of Asian countries. StarCraft is a top down real-time strategy game, similar to the companies first title, Warcraft: Orcs and Men. Set in a sci-fi universe, StarCraft tells the story of a war between three neighbouring races for control over the Koprulu Sector of the Milky Way in he 26th Century. Allowing players to battle it out in intense, down to the wire field campaigns, StarCraft became a haven for the competitive gamer. Released 15 years after the first in 2013, StarCraft II was quickly accepted by many players as a worthy sequel, while some criticised the games episodic format. When looking at the companies’ history, it’s hard not to notice the genre defining effect they have had upon gaming.
World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is an interesting game in regard to it’s legacy. It has and still is completely redefining the Massively Multiplayer genre. With 10 million subscribers to date it is the most popular subscribed online game. Questing, raids, PVP, and faction battles grew exponentially from the release of this game. However, the key effect World of Warcraft had upon gaming can be seen vicariously. Many games have been released attempting to emulate the success of WoW, but fall short of the required amount of users, because of Wow’s dominance over the market. This was the case with almost every one of these titles until recently when games such as League of Legends and Smite brought free-to-play to the industry. These games were forced to take this path, due to the subscriber shadow that World of Warcraft cast over the online scene. Now those games in turn have forced WoW to reluctantly follow suit, opening up the first few levels of the game to a free audience.
As well as turning the online market to a free-to-play model. World of Warcraft dramatically changed the online privacy rules and played a large role in planting video game addiction in the DSM list of mental disorders. Negative press may have erupted from this game, but the legacy, which came with it, has ultimately proven to be positive. Account protection and parental controls have been prioritised, and sufferers of game addiction now have an amount of understanding in the gaming community.
So much has been said already of the impact Diablo had upon its audience. Those health jars in the bottom corners of the screen, the inventory system, random enemy spawning and large varieties of dungeons with each reload…they all lay their roots in this franchise. While the story of Diablo can seem convoluted at times, the gameplay remains fresh time and time again on runs alone or with friends.
As we move onto new consoles, it’s been made clear that Diablo III will be making the jump. Though the impacts of this cannot quite be measured yet, it is clear that this is the beginning of possible many great PC titles jumping to console. Along with the Elder Scrolls: Online, maybe we are about to see a change in the ways PC’s are used, and a struggle to retain their foothold on a genre they have held for so long.
StarCraft is competition. If we are here to talk about what it gives to the industry, that’s it. StarCraft has created the competitive culture we see in professional gaming today. It’s still the most played on the scene, and in Korea especially, entire television channels broadcast nothing but StarCraft tournaments. It’s helped break gaming out into popular culture, growing it’s fan base and giving it new meaning as a sport. Though this movement is still in it’s early days, when we have massive tournaments and E-Sports stadiums, we’ll have this game to thank for that.
Many of the games or companies I have studied across the history of this feature hold their legacies in the roots of gameplay, or clone games. Blizzard however is slightly different. I think as we move into the next generation, and their games begin to land on a variety of platforms we will really see how Blizzard haven’t just changed the industry, but how the industry is socially perceived as well.
If you liked this piece, please let us know in the comments. We really love to get feedback on how we’re doing. “The Legacy of Gaming” will be running weekly on Fridays here on GamR Mag, let us know if you have any suggestions for titles, companies or people that have given back to gaming over the years.