How the World of Warcraft Movie Can Save the Game

Den of Geek's MMO expert talks about why the Warcraft movie is a really good thing for the video game.

If you were lucky, you might have caught a glimpse of the leaked Warcraft movie trailer that debuted at SDCC earlier this summer. It’s too late now, of course, since Legendary had the trailer taken down. Despite the fact that the trailer caused some debate regarding the effect major leaks often have, the Warcraft leak in particular did result in one thing both Blizzard and Legendary potentially benefit from: hype.

Hype is an interesting part of today’s Internet-based geek culture. It gives us all something to dream, think, theorycraft, and speculate about. Without hype, what would we do during the weeks, months, years of waiting between announcement and release? It’s kind of like what happens when a new expansion for a certain multi-million player MMORPG is announced. Forums and social media explode with hype and speculation.

Blizzard announced World of Warcraft’s next expansion—entitled Legion—earlier this month during Gamescom. Fans have speculated about the expansion ever since Blizzard’s announced goal to lessen the amount of time between expansion releases. The much-debated current state of Warlords of Draenor undoubtedly expedited the process. The short version of that debate? WoD hasn’t been the strongest of expansions (despite a strong start and enjoyable raids), especially in the aftermath of slim post-launch patches, the debacle over flying, rehashed dungeons, and the non-immersive garrisons. Many fans feel Blizzard wants to move on from WoD ASAP. It’s hard to form a rebuttal to that argument since the Legion’s announcement, frankly, especially considering the allure of new zones to explore, Demon Hunters, and shiny artifact weapons.

In light of both the expansion and movie hype, what does a new expansion mean for the movie? What does the movie mean for the game? After 10+ long years of World of Warcraft, can one movie possibly breathe life back into the franchise?

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The answer to that question is a big, fat “yes.” Despite the fact that Warlords of Draenor hasn’t been the strongest expansion to date, the terms “World of Warcraft” and “WoW” are household names in families where folks embrace anything geek and/or gamer-related. Every gamer knows about WoW, but not all gamers have tried WoW. Due to the game’s obvious aging status and a lot of negative opinions floating around, there’s actually a sort of stigma against WoW players. WoW players are often seen as the no-lifers or the super-casuals. Rarely ever anything in between.

For this reason, there are a surprising amount of gamers and science fiction/fantasy fans who haven’t played WoW. A whole lot more may have tried it once or twice way back in the early days or are part of the rose-tinted veteran crew who once loved the game but feel Blizzard lost its vision somewhere along the way. It’s these groups of people that Blizzard is hoping to entice back into WoW with the help of the Warcraft movie.

Fresh, new faces may add a lot to World of Warcraft. Movie fans completely new to the MMORPG genre will approach WoW differently than an MMO vet will, breathing new life into the community. MMORPG veterans often have a tendency to hop between games and expansions restlessly, approaching content like it’s a race that leads to a stagnate pool of “been there, done that” (I’m guilty of this myself at times). Completely fresh players may liven up the waters a bit while ideally showing folks that it’s 100% okay to be friendly while having fun in WoW. Not to mention cross-media fans tend to stay (e.g. Marvel movie fans who decided to give the comics a shot). By introducing fans to WoW in a movie theater, Blizzard hopes to attract the kind of people who come for the movie and stay for the actual game. 

Of course, these new fans could be driven away by the established playerbase. It’s no secret that the WoW community is often seen as “toxic” and just a wee bit troll-ish. There’s a reason running pick-up groups with randoms is often seen as an act of bravery in WoW. This type of negativity often causes potential newcomers to shy away, unfortunately, but fresh faces and fresh community spokespeople may help dilute the negativity with pure excitement for the franchise.

Is it possible that the community may become worse after the arrival of the movie? Sure, there is something to be said about newcomers who claim a game as their own because they saw a movie or read a book. It’s like anything involves fandom: the veteran fanbase get annoyed at the surge of new players who feel they can spew all of their opinions regardless of how much time they’ve spent with the actual game. There will definitely be tons of players who judge the actual game by what they saw in the movie, when it should probably be the other way around. But I find this darker future a bit unlikely. I’ve been playing on PvP servers for years now, jumping from one MMO to another as a veteran and a newcomer. The playerbase almost always benefits from fresh gamers, if only for the energy they put into a game they’re just starting to fall in love with. 

It’s similarly not likely for Blizzard to dramatically change their development goals based on a new influx of players. Development is currently skewed towards making the most amount of players as happy as possible and that philosophy seems unlikely to change. Even the highest raid difficulties in WoW give players goals to shoot for and thus increase the game’s longevity.

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But the movie won’t just attract new fans. Naturally, veteran WoW players or returning players are likely to see the Warcraft movie, as well. Many returning players will come back to the game with renewed interest, just like they did when Blizzard announced Warlords of Draenor. Fans who have even a tinge of love for a franchise usually return when there’s a new development. Veteran players may rethink the game and approach it differently. A casual RPer may try out some of the raids that feature Warcraft characters. A hardcore Alliance player may roll a Hordie. A PvPer might become a lore hound. A new outlook can do a world of good for curing those “been there, done that” blues. Fun sometimes requires an alternate outlook.

When players approach a game like WoW in a different light, this also gives Blizzard a unique opportunity to mix things up a bit and make the game better. Expansions provide a similar opportunity, but with the arrival of the movie, players will expect some sort of tie-in to fit the movie. While it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Legion is released around the opening date for the movie, it’s safe to say that at the very least, we’ll see some sort of tie-in event that fits the movie thematically. More content is never a bad thing. 

Speaking thematically, there’s one integral theme the Warcraft story shares with players of WoW, players of any game based off Warcraft lore, and future movie goers: anyone can become a hero. For years now, MMORPGs have largely been seen as sanctuaries and safe havens where we’re free to pretend we’re heroes. When an MMORPG debuts on the big screen, it’s a huge moment for anyone who’s swung a sword or hurled a fireball in any game.

WoW players don’t need to obsess over lore to appreciate and relate to the heroes we’ll see in theaters. It’s our game up on that huge screen. Those are our heroes and villains rendered in glorious CGI magic. Relatable heroes matter. When I think about the Warcraft movie, I can’t help but be reminded of the first time I saw a World of Warcraft commercial on primetime TV many years ago. That was my game on television—the one my family teased me about.

The Warcraft movie may not become critically acclaimed, and it may not do the Warcraft universe 100% justice. It may not even be loved by all fans. But it will have a positive impact overall on World of Warcraft whether we’re science fiction/fantasy lovers, gamers, or WoW no-lifers/super casuals (take your pick and wear the badge proudly!).

Gaming and gaming media are becoming more and more mainstream every day. As a result, we’re given more games to choose from, more ways to enjoy gaming with our friends, and movies like Warcraft where we can relate to that big dude with gigantic, Hellfire Peninsula-inspired shouderpads. It’s a good time to be a gamer.

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Laura Hardgrave is a staff writer.