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How Warcraft Was Almost a Warhammer Game (and how That Saved WoW)

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Ever since the first Warcraft game was released in 1994, fans of the series have been saying, some with kinder words than others, that the series feels similar to Games Workshop's Warhammer universe. It's a sentiment that only intensified after the release of World of Warcraft, ushering in millions of new fans to Blizzard's games who may not have been aware of Warhammer's existence.

This has led to all kinds of allegations and whispers, ranging from Blizzard directly ripping off Games Workshop's fantasy universe (which was created in 1983) to the original Warcraft starting life as a Warhammer game.


The truth, as it often is, lies somewhere in between.

Patrick Wyatt, the Producer on Warcraft, explains in a lengthy "making of" feature that some at Blizzard had wanted to make a Warhammer game, but things just didn't work out.


"[Blizzard co-founder] Allen Adham hoped to obtain a license to the Warhammer universe to try to increase sales by brand recognition", Wyatt says. "Warhammer was a huge inspiration for the art-style of Warcraft, but a combination of factors, including a lack of traction on business terms and a fervent desire on the part of virtually everyone else on the development team (myself included) to control our own universe nixed any potential for a deal. We had already had terrible experiences working with DC Comics on "Death and Return of Superman" and "Justice League Task Force", and wanted no similar issues for our new game."

"It's surprising now to think what might have happened had Blizzard not controlled the intellectual property rights for the Warcraft universe - it's highly unlikely Blizzard would be such a dominant player in the game industry today."

That may sound dramatic, but it's also probably true. Blizzard's status as one of the giants of the industry (as opposed to being just a really good developer) is built almost solely on the money and fanbase World of Warcraft has generated over the years. Had Blizzard not been in control of Warcraft's fiction, it's attempts to spin a strategy game into a role-playing title - one popular with the mainstream, not just tabletop gaming fans - may have gone nowhere.


The similarities have, though, led to a few awkward moments, as Wyatt explains.

"Years after the launch of Warcraft my dad, upon returning from a trip to Asia, gave me a present of a set of Warhammer miniatures in the form of a skeleton charioteer and horses with the comment: 'I found these cool toys on my trip and they reminded me a lot of your game; you might want to have your legal department contact them because I think they're ripping you off'"


The Making of Warcraft, Part 1 [Kotaku]