WoW now generates over $1bn revenue for Activision-Blizzard. That’s the equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie and then some. Warcraft is a brand with global recognition, and while not as pervasive as Star Trek or Star Wars, it’s a significant piece of pop culture. Brands like this don’t want to remain stuck in a niche corner of the gaming market. They want to expand by taking their IP into different mediums. And for Warcraft, its cinema.

We’ve seen videogames made into movies (Resident Evil), and franchised video games based on movie IP (Golden Eye). And as most WoW players know, Sam Riami of Spiderman and Evil Dead fame is making a Warcraft movie. Now, as a player I’m excited. Very excited. But I bet the shareholders of Activision-Blizzard are even more excited.

There’s a very strong possibility that Warcraft the movie will be a blockbuster film generating hundreds of millions of dollars. It will spark even greater interest in the Warcraft franchise.

Think collectibles, figurines, boxed sets of the Warcraft games, novels, trading cards, merchandising deals with fast food companies… we’re talking freak’n monster huge.

Goodbye MMORPG niche

Lets say “Warcraft: the movie” (WTM) is a hit. If you think the game has already been taken over by the hordes of great unwashed, wait until the additional millions of customers flock to the Warcraft MMORPG after seeing Riami’s film. These players will be excited, desperate to experience the content and immerse themselves in all things Warcraft.

But as it stands, WoW has several barriers to their enjoyment. The levelling process is notably smoother now, but it’s still an enormous shock to many players when they reached the fabled “endgame” when WoW switches from casual-friendly to raiding game.

WoW’s success – and the potential growth in even more customers after WTM – posses a challenge to the traditional levelling-raiding model that most MMORPGs have followed. WoW owes it’s heritage to the MMORPG world, but it’s already transcended it.

After “Warcraft the Movie” WoW will be an extension of the film experience. But that can only happen if you make the game accessible to the broadest possible audience.

So goodbye uber-l337 raiding game, and hello “Your World of Warcraft Experience (TM)”.

“You’ve seen the film, now enter the World of Warcraft!”

Imagine WoW with 20 or 30 million players. Absurd? Maybe. But after a huge movie, not inconceivable.

If Blizzards numbers grow beyond the current 11 million – on the back of a successful film – it’s hard to see how the traditional levelling-raiding endgame paradigm will work. It’s unlikely they’ll want to spend six months levelling a character if they can only play a few hours a week. They don’t want to spend week after week patiently collecting Tier 10 gear, endlessly tweaking their talent tree and spending hours researching boss fights on WoWWiki. Players will want to act out parts of the movie.

They’ll see Stormwind or Orgimar in the film, log into the game and expect to walk the streets of Stormwind. And they will want the magic swords, flashy armour and drake mounts too. Sure, there will always be content for dedicated “raiders”, but the game no longer revolves around them.

Whildwhine, a blogger I admire, notes that Blizzard is herding everyone into the endgame for the Arthas fight:

“Blizzard want everyone to run Icecrown Citadel when it comes out. They want everyone to kill Arthas – the big bad guy of the expansions like Illidan was for TBC – and they don’t care if they have to push them kicking and screaming into the instance to get them there…”

He/she is right. Blizzards want’s everyone there. Blizzard is giving away gear. The endgame is not as *hard* as it used to be. But the game has transcended the old levelling-raiding model.

WoW is but one piece of the Warcraft franchise that includes strategy games, an MMORPG, comics, trading cards and very shortly a film.

As a consequence WoW is being smoothed out, rebuilt, tweaked and made accessible in order to cope with it’s future growth as a piece of franchised property. So this means faster levelling and reducing the barriers to endgame content. It means rebuilding the old world – via the Cataclysm expansion – to support the demands of casual players.

WoW is ever so slowly, but surely, morphing into a “Warcraft experience”.