Growing up in the early 2000s as part of a relatively large, relatively poor family provided a unique experience for me when it came to gaming. Whilst my friends at school were whiling away the hours on their Xbox 360s and PS3s, ranking up in Call of Duty Modern Warfare or taking on the Covenant in Halo, my hours were spent with an old PC the size of a suitcase, a hand me down from my grandfather that ran on Windows 95. Nowadays, that PC wouldn’t even run the simplest of indie games, but for the duration of my childhood, that chunky off-white box that I couldn’t even lift was home to a collection of the finest games the 90s had to offer. While my friends spent their days bragging about what new gun they’d unlocked in their favourite shooter, I was commanding armies in Command and Conquer. Long before the destructible environment was made popular by shooters like Battlefield and sandbox games like Minecraft, I was destroying famous American monuments in the Soviet campaign of Red Alert 2.
Real Time Strategy games shaped my gaming experience throughout my childhood, and to this day RTS remains one of my top genres. For the generation before mine, RTS games were the quintessential gaming experience. And none more so than Warcraft. Most of you reading this will see the name Warcraft and think of the massive MMORPG that single-handedly built its genre into the goliath it is, and continues to be the biggest MMORPG to this day, 14 years after its initial release. What many don’t know is that World of Warcraft was initially intended to be a spin-off, a side project for what, at the time, was Blizzard’s largest franchise, Warcraft.
Whilst my friends at school were whiling away the hours on their Xbox 360s and PS3s, my hours were spent with an old PC the size of a suitcase, a hand me down from my grandfather that ran on Windows 95.
Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, and its sequels, Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness and Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos, give you the role of commander of either The Human Alliance or The Orcish Horde, and pit you against the other faction in a large, top-down map filled with resources, enemies, and capture points, and tasks you with either destroying the enemy faction, capturing a building, or rescuing hostages. Whilst somewhat simple in its gameplay, the resource system and ability to randomly generate maps gave the series charm and longevity which made it an instant hit with audiences when the series launched in 1994, with the first game selling 100,000 copies in its first year and over 300,000 copies total. Warcraft 2 built on this success, selling 500,000 copies in just 3 months and surpassing 1 million sales in less than a year, and Warcraft 3 was even more successful, surpassing 1 million sales within 1 month of its release in July 2002. The Warcraft franchise seemed set to dominate the gaming landscape for years to come, and cement Blizzard as one of the powerhouse game developers of the 21st century.
And yet, Warcraft 4 was never released.
So what happened to this juggernaut series, the franchise that seemed set to conquer the games industry? In September 2001, Blizzard Entertainment announced what at the time was intended as a spinoff game set in the Warcraft Universe, World of Warcraft. Whilst certainly not the first MMORPG title (indeed, the genre had existed for almost as long as the Warcraft series itself) when World of Warcraft was eventually released in 2004 it was met with unprecedented success, selling nearly a quarter of a million units in 24 hours. To this date the game has grossed $9.3 Billion dollars in revenue, making it one of the highest-grossing video games of all time, and its success continues to make Blizzard money, with the 2016 expansion Legion selling 3.3 million copies in its first day, and the 2018 expansion Battle for Azeroth expected to do just as well when its sales figures are released.
The Warcraft franchise seemed set to dominate the gaming landscape for years to come. And yet, Warcraft 4 was never released.
Far from the small spin-off title Blizzard was expecting, World of Warcraft became the juggernaut dominator of the games industry that everyone expected the Warcraft RTS franchise to become. With the success of the MMORPG, the hype for a sequel to Warcraft 3 died, and with it the embers of RTS gaming. The genre lived on, with the Command and Conquer series continuing to release installments until 2010, before branching off into third-person shooters and mobile games, but the success of Warcraft 3 is yet to be rivaled, and with a fourth RTS Warcraft looking increasingly unlikely, that record may never be beaten.
- Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness are now considered to be abandonware, and are available to play in browser and download by clicking their names in this sentence.