Fans are used to find World of Warcraft and Warcraft related products on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. Some book products are licensed by Blizzard Entertainment to White Wolf Publishing—who develop Warcraft RPG Books; Simons and Schuster (Pocketbooks) who publishes Warcraft books written by known D&D writers such as Richard A. Knaak, Jeff Grubb or Star Trek writers Christie Golden and Keith R.A. DeCandido; and Tokyopop who developed the Warcraft Manga. All those licensed books are canon lore—with direct participation of Chris Metzen, Creative Director of Blizzard Entertainment.

However, The Battle of Azeroth book itched my curiousity since I first found it listed in Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The question came upon my mind instantly. Is this sanctioned or licensed by Blizzard? I had not seen any press release confirming so. The only description I had was the publisher note available at Barnes and Noble:

“Aimed at dedicated fans of the role playing game World of Warcraft, this dynamic collection of essays explores the undying fascination with a game that is a welcome escape from reality for millions of people around the world. Gaming experts, developers, and bestselling sci-fi authors examine the overwhelming success of the game and the underlying motivations for gamers to spend, on average, the time equivalent to working a part-time job battling in the world of Azeroth, and address issues ranging from economics and psychology to addiction and game ethics. The outstanding design of the game and the histories of several main characters are also discussed. “

The book is not endorsed nor licensed by Blizzard Entertainment, which means Chris Metzen—Blizzard Entertainment Creative Director, or simply known as the Warcraft Lore creator—is not involved in the project. This is the disclaimer offered by the book in its publisher page:

This publication has not been prepared, approved or licensed by any entity that created or produced the well-known video-game World of Warcraft.

Recently, I received my proof copy of The Battle for Azeroth: Adventure, Alliance and Addiction in the World of Warcraft for review. This way I could wrap my brain around its content to let fans know what the book is about in advance, to rise hype, awareness, and enthusiasm; or to warn you of its content in case you get misled expecting a lore source, quests analysis or strategy guide.  This is not a Brady Games or nor a Richard A. Knaak novel type of book.  The Battle for Azeroth will be published this Summer – on July 2006 – by BenBella Books; and it was edited by Bill Fawcett. So I browsed through the table of content and decided to read the book to find out what it is about. At first, before getting my review copy I thought this was a book written by an Everquest hardcore player that fell in love of World of Warcraft and wanted to get some cash by writing an Unofficial Strategy guide. However, as I started reading through the manuscript proof I found out the book is actually written by various professional authors. And not just any wannabe. To simplify what The Battle for Azeroth is about, in a nutshell, it is an in-depth analysis of what has made World of Warcraft successful and a phenomena—from the point of view of Mass media writers, video makers, Advertising Managers, Public Relations Directors and other professionals—who were gathered by BenBella Books and Bill Fawcett to write sections of The Battle for Azeroth. Now … that makes this book a tidbit more attractive and appealing. What do the game industry and media gurus think about World of Warcraft? That’s The Battle for Azeroth book all about.

Elegant Game Design or Fishing for those Missing Hours

This section was written by Scott Cuthbertson, detailing what makes World of Warcraft compelling to players in America, Europe and Asia. From quests to tradeskills. When I reached the final page of this section, I was surprised to find out the wide expertise of the author:

Scott Cuthbertson – video game producer and writer since 1990 who has worked for Nintendo, AOL, Disney, Universal and Warner Bros. He founded Northlake Studios, LLC in Los Angeles. Specialist on writing and design for games, film, television and graphic novels.

Hardly a wannabe, eh? I wish I had a quarter of that experience. Actually, it now makes sense how he knew enough about Blizzard and its parent Vivendi Universal.

The book starts off describing the massive popularity of World of Warcraft, and the force behind its success: the game developers, publishers, and distributors. And the interaction, and relationship between Blizzard and its parent Vivendi. It was a good analysis to read, especially the TCQ triangle analogy: Quality, Time and Cost—reference from Business School, to explain the intricacies within Blizzard’s mantra: “We won’t ship the game until it meets our quality standards”.

It is not usual to see a developer-publisher relationship in which the developer is given freedom to develop a game without a deadline. Far more astonishing is to see the Blizzard logo on the loading screen of games with no mention of Vivendi/Universal. Get one of those fancy games and you get smacked on the face by Microsoft and EA logos, and a series of other logos before even getting to see the game menu. That doesn’t happen with Blizzard games.

The Book author proceeds to talk about Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and his personal experience meeting the developers at E3 1994 in Las Vegas, and what makes the Warcraft franchise and World of Warcraft to be an addictive and pleasant game.

Underworld of Warcraft

This section goes on about the harm done to the in-game economy by inescrupulous gold sellers and inflation; and how Blizzard deals with this threat to the MMORPG balance. Analysis of Account Closure Notification emails issued by Blizzard, Game Master (GM) in-game whispers and procedures before suspending accounts. Description of Warden Client—the software ran by six million players worldwide when they launch World of Warcraft—which detects the use of hacks or third party software—element that has axed most of the cheating off World of Warcraft and responsible for the banning of over 10,000 accounts. The scandal of Sony BMG copy-protected CDs ( XCP) rootkits that affected the operation of Warden Client. A deep analysis and even testimony and interviews of how gold farmers and companies operate in China and Canada. This section basically explores the underworld market of cheaters, gold farmers and Blizzard’s efforts to counter them.

Some humor is introduced when the author makes references of Tristan at BlizzCon 2005, with his “Save the Murlocs” rant and references to some popular machinima movies and song samples; or Christian and religious groups in World of Warcraft realms. This section is very amusing as it tries to cover most of the underworld activity of players using the virtual world to implement real world ideals and behaviors. The author of this section is James John Bell—who has a long professional resume since 1992 from ABC News, documentary video-making, writer/director of non-profit public interest communications Sustain. His publications have been read at New York Times, Washington Post, Communication Arts and mainstream science and technology publication The Futurist. He co-founded SmartMeme (2003) and among his clients are Greenpeace, and Breast Cancer Fund.

World of Warcraft: Timesink of the gods

This section explores the rewarding, social and psychological aspects of World of Warcraft content and design. From landscape and weather to the psychology of character’s gender and race creation, to game type selection: Roleplaying, PvE, PvP. There are few references and comparisons with Doom and Civilization games. Analysis of real-life references such as Easter eggs. The psychological disassociation of mind and spirit from your real-life body as you immerse into the MMORPG, while you ignore or put on hold physical needs such as eat, drink, bathroom, responsibilities, etc.—timesink. The author of this section in Battle for Azeroth was Justina Robson—born in Leeds, Yorkshire in the north of England. She studied philosophy and linguistics before settling down to write in 1992. Her earlier novels, Silver Screen (1999), Mappa Mundi (2001), and Quantum Gravity (Book One) : Keeping It Real (2006).

LFG … And a little More

This section covers social interactions online such as flirting, cross-gender: males creating female characters, and how Blizzard adds interaction components to World of Warcraft, such as Valentine Day and other seasonal events, dance references such as Michael Jackson’s and Saturday Night Fever dance by John Travolta. Testimony samples from players interviewed by the writer. Marriages in roleplaying servers, and how roleplayers who did marry online, did marry later on in real life too.  The complexity of moral when a player separates roleplaying and real life—marrying with another player in the game, when you are married in real life; and what happens to your real life relationship when he/she finds out. Ouch! Online cheating or just roleplaying? How will your real life partner feel about it? The section also goes on on testimony of players who have divorced over exceeding time spent on games or having a secret online relationship. The section was written by Nancy Bermann—freelance writer and editor of forty video games and twenty roleplaying sourcebooks including Los Angeles by Night (Vampire: The Masquerade), Alderac Entertainment’s 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures line and co-authored several novelas for Microsoft Xbox’s Crimson Skies.

Reframed Relationships: MMORPGs and Societies

Written by Mel White, a sociologist, cartoonist, artist, game and fantasy writer—takes an in-depth look at the cultures and sub-cultures of World of Warcraft; the growth of a global culture, and social circles with people that live in different countries, sharing experiences and friendships impossible to meet under ordinary circumstances. Seemless interaction between underage and adults in-game.  The author also covers the hierarchy of game developers such as coders, hardware technicians and GMs. Terms of conduct implemented in-game to force control on players. Coding mistakes that affect the gameplay such as Hakkar the Soulflayer’s popular disease who would spread outside the instance into the major cities, affecting low level players.

The Economy of the World of Warcraft

Jerry Jackson—majored in Management Science and Service Bay 12 CEO—explains what World of Warcraft economy and the real-world economy have in common. Supply and demand. And how inflation, monopoly and farmers affect the economy negatively.

Ancestors and Competitors

This section goes on to various topics. From defining words such as graphics, persistent world, massive multiplayer, Online, roleplaying game and what World of Warcraft is; to a brief history of RPG starting with Paper Games such as the founder: Dungeons & Dragons in early 70s and Chainmail. Their influences coming from the 50s with Tolkien, Gray Mouser, Elric stories, Conan the Barbarian, Three Hearts and Three Lions. If you want to learn the history of roleplaying games and MMORPGs covering Warhammer by Games Workshop, MUDs, Ultima Online, Everquest, Asheron’s Call, Dark Age of Camelot, this is the place to read it. The author is Chris McCubbin who works at the Incan Monkey God Studios (IMGS)—early 90s publication department of Origin Systems and responsible for creating game guides of all Ultimas, Wing Commanders and Everquest: The Ruins of Kurnark among others.

Maps and Mapping

James M. Ward writes about World of Warcraft’s organized maps which help you interact with the wolrd and coordinate where you are and how to get from point A to point B. A brief history of board games and Fantasy RPGs. The history of mapping since Roman times and its difference to modern maps. The importance of Map legends such as those in BradyGames World of Warcraft Strategy Guide which offer further details of where in the map you may find NPCs, quests and other relevant info. The author of this section, James Ward, created the first science fiction RPG in Metamorphosis Alpha. He has written for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Bantam and game credits include licenses for Sesame Street, Dragonball Z, Marvel, DC, Wheel of Time, Indiana Jones, Conan, He-Man, Charlie Brown among many others.

This is only half the book.  Tomorrow we will publish the second part of the review which covers the following sections:

  • Should we sell World of Warcraft by Prescription Only?
  • Altaholics Not so Anonymous

  • I play like a Girl—by Nancy Bermann

  • Advice to the Wowlorn

Part II: World of Warcraft Classes

  • Paladin

  • Priest

  • Shaman

  • Druid

  • Rogue

  • Mage

  • Warrior

  • Warlock

  • Hunter