This Friday, writer/director Duncan Jones’s $160 million epic Warcraft hits theaters. Set in a complicated fantasy world of mages, knights, and orcs, Warcraft attempts to bring the intricate lore of its video game source material to the big screen after a decade in development.
It was a slog, but Blizzard Entertainment, the developer behind the video game series, was right to be patient. Warcraft has an intensely loyal following, and there’s no doubt that a bad adaptation would have caused them a whole lot of trouble. In its heyday the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) had up to 12 million users playing out the game’s battles and storylines — and most were fiercely protective of the fantasy world they inhabited.
Theres been a mass exodus over the past few years, culminating with a steep 44 percent drop in the last quarter of 2015, bringing it down to 5.6 million users at that point. That’s the last update we’ve received; the numbers are now so low that Blizzard no longer publicly provides a user count. The movie may have taken so long to make that it missed the opportunity to capitalize on peak Warcraft playing, but despite the public perception, there are millions still loyal Warcraft gamers.
I have never played Warcraft. A massive multiplayer game about orcs and magic and all that just never really interested me. Weirdly enough, the movie adaptation of the same magical realm does interest me, mostly because of Jones’s innate talent as a filmmaker. But general audiences will no doubt experience something along the same lines. They haven’t spent countless hours in front of a computer screen battling orcs in fictional kingdoms; it’s likely that most of the audience will have wandered in looking for some escapist summer blockbuster entertainment.
So to get a better sense of the other side of Warcraft fandom, I reached out to a handful of regular gamers who have been deep into the game series for at least a decade.
“There’s a sense of investment in the game that creates an attachment to the characters,” said Enrique Cancel, a gamer who told me he started out playing a version of Warcraft ten years ago as an enforcer character known as a “tank”. “The end game for Warcraft isn’t something that can be completed by a single person, so there’s a lot of teamwork and responsibility that’s expected of everyone.”
It was a sentiment shared by Mike DeQuatro, another decade-long loyal gamer. “I mainly play because of the community,” he said in an email. “Being in a close guild, where we help each other and bring the best out of each other is the key for me.”
That sense of community and the interconnected universe tied to one property is like manna from heaven for Hollywood studios itching for franchises. But taking a huge, long-running MMORPG that features such personalized experiences played out over that extended period of time and distilling that into a two-hour movie is a thankless, almost impossible task. Maybe that’s why it’s taken so long to turn the unwieldy storylines of Warcraft into a cohesive movie.
Dwindling user numbers in the game and the challenges of adaptation are perfect talking points for journalists trying to put the movie’s box office fate in context, but the challenge doesn’t seem to concern for gamers who have a broader understanding of Warcraft lore. They trust in Jones, who himself is an avid gamer.
“It’s rare to see a film director so charismatic and passionate, and a gamer himself,” said Tomas Hernandez, the owner and editor of the officially registered Blizzard fansite Blizzplanet. Cancel agreed: “It’s great being able to finally see something on screen that you’ve only been able to experience through a computer monitor or through the pages in a book.” DeQuatro also concurred: “I got really emotional about the movie because it’s something I’ve spent so much time in being brought to life.”
But Jones’s Warcraft is not the end of the line for gamers. The big multi-million dollar franchise starter is but a small part of a larger multi-media entity. The movie won’t hurt the game, even if it ends up being a box office bomb because World of Warcraft is not dependent on its success.
“The game and all its stories [have existed for 22 years]https://www.inverse.com/article/16333-before-world-of-warcraft-there-was-simply-warcraft), and it was just a matter of choosing which story to tell and how to convert it into a film,” Hernandez (who goes by the username Medievaldragon) said, “But the story doesn’t end there — not by a long shot.”
Cancel was a bit more cautious: “For people who are familiar with the games it was easy to look at the trailer, fill in the gaps, and get excited for the story,” he said, “but for a lot of people who don’t know the background lore in Warcraft, I think the trailers came off as just another generic fantasy romp.”
Still, he seemed pragmatic about seeing his favorite game turned into a movie: “I don’t think it will really have an impact on the game to be honest,” he said. “ I’m not expecting the movie to win any Oscars or be the next Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I’m still going into it fully expecting to have fun seeing characters like Durotan and Gul’dan on the big-screen.”
And that’s what’s important. Regardless of whether the movie is a hit or a bomb, Warcraft — even as it sheds casual gamers — will live on because of the devoted players that have spent their time immersed in the storyline they love. No number of bad reviews or harsh headlines can spell game over.