One of the biggest video game franchises of all time, Warcraft got its start with the 1994 release of the MS-DOS game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. The game revitalized the genre of real-time strategy games, revolutionized the ability to play multiplayer games online, and launched what would become one of the most popular video game series ever.
Developed and originally published by Blizzard Entertainment, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was initially intended to be the first in a series of of war games based on fictional and real settings, such as Warcraft: Vietnam. They instead chose to stick with the classic fantasy setting of Orcs and Humans, laying the foundation for a vast world of content. And while later Warcraft games would become famous for their in depth story and world-building, the Orcs & Humans story lines were largely improvised in the recording studio by producer Bill Roper.
Upon release, Orcs & Humans marked the first time Blizzard had achieved financial security. The game sold over 100,000 copies in its first year, and ultimately sold over 300,000. It earned widespread praise for its design and gameplay, and won a slew of awards including PC Gamer’s Editors’ Choice, Computer Life’s Critics’ Pick, and the Innovations Award at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The success of Orcs & Humans led to Blizzard releasing a highly anticipated sequel. Warcraft II: Tide of Darkness came out in 1995, introducing naval and aerial warfare, better AI, and much improved graphics and sound. It was even more popular than its predecessor, winning almost every gaming award there was at the time, and selling over 3 million units worldwide by 2001. The gameplay was highly influential to the strategy genre, including Blizzard’s own release Starcraft which debuted in 1998 and took many elements from Warcraft II.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, released in 2002 and the first Warcraft game with 3D graphics, continued to empower Warcraft’s dominance of the RTS genre and PC gaming in general. It sold over a million copies in its first month alone, earning the title of fastest-selling PC video game in history at that time.
In 2004, Blizzard took the Warcraft genre outside of the strategy genre for the first time with the release of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Released on the 10th anniversary of the original release of Orcs & Humans, World of Warcraft soon became the most popular game in the world, hosting a player population of over 10 million people by 2009. By 2014, WoW had a total of over a hundred million registered accounts. By 2017 the game had grossed over $9.23 billion in revenue, cementing Warcraft as one of the highest-grossing video game franchises of all time.
Fifteen years later, WoW still hosts a player base of an estimated 3 million people. Testament to how beloved these original games still are, Blizzard just re-released WoW Classic as a way for players to relive 2004, and are remastering Warcraft III with new graphics and sound.