Grab your chair pads and Big Gulps and get ready to hide from your spouses or drag them with you, the second expansion pack to World of Warcraft, Wrath of the Lich King, finally comes out tomorrow. For many of you, that means exhilarating weeks and sleepless nights, missed classes and late homework, "sick" days from work, stacks of pizza boxes, soda-can mountains, and telling your spouse you'll be down to dinner in "just a few more minutes!" while remaining inert in your desk chair until supper's just a collection of refrigerated tupperware containers.
In case you hadn't heard, World of Warcraft is the biggest massively online multiplayer game in the world. Its monthly subscriber base numbers more than 11 million, each one paying around $15 a month to pilot virtual elves and dwarves and other high fantasy types around a gigantic interlocking collection of stylish countries and continents, battling the forces of good, evil, or simply each other.
"GameStop expects World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King to be one of the biggest launches of the holiday season," said Bob McKenzie, senior vice president of merchandising for GameStop earlier this week. "In fact, nationwide we are celebrating the release with GameStop 'Lunar Fests' at over 3,000 of our stores at midnight on November 13, so players can purchase the expansion and start exploring the new content right away."
Lunar fests? Seriously?
Seriously. Hundreds if not thousands of gamers are expected to line up tonight to get their hands on early copies. These people are hardcore. Dedicated. Grizzled. They tend to own specialty gear like those funky keyboards with the World of Warcraft logo etched into the colorful overlay above painted pictures of voluptuous elves and surly, jut-jawed orcs. They read the novels, collect the comic books, and pore over the strategy and atlas guides relishing the typos and out-and-out errors for talking points on the publisher's massively trafficked forums.
If you're not a WoW player, of course, Wrath of the Lich King is not for you. It's not a place to learn the game's ins and outs. Most of it's not even accessible, truth be told, just in case you've been eyeing the cool cover art with the undead Arthas/Ner'zhul hybrid (the Lich King himself -- long story) and thinking it might be spooky enough to nudge you into picking up a copy to see what all the fuss is about. Like the last expansion, Lich King's most important new features (a new character class, more dungeons, a new profession, epic siege warfare, the option to level up to 80) are pro-player only.
For the rest of you -- that is, the over 11 million of you who make up an astonishing two-third of the total MMO market -- if you're tripping the almost-live fantastic about now, you're in good company. According to The Daily Telegraph, gamers in the UK have been queuing up for "more than 40 hours" prior to the game's midnight launch, while others are making special trips to London from all over the country. In the U.S., gamers are planning all-nighters with friends, and in at least one case, using the upside of being jobless to not do "anything that isn't a necessity" until reaching the expansion's level 80 cap.
Analysts say the expansion could sell up to five million copies in the first month alone. And it's for Mac and PC only. Take that, all you "death of PC gaming" naysayers.