Christmas came early for World of Warcraft fans tonight, with the second expansion for the game, Wrath of the Lich King, launching worldwide. In North America, GameStop held midnight "Lunar Game Fests" at some 3,500 locations nationwide to release the game at 12:01 a.m. In San Francisco, the retailer held a street fair at its Powell Street location, where around 600 people--and only about a dozen cosplayers--gathered.
With the evening's weather being atypically mild, GameStop employees and a retinue of temps entertained Lich King purchasers complete with goblets of energy drinks and Northrend-blue cotton candy. While some attendees received orc features from face-painting stations, others had photo ops with a pointy-eared spokesmodel on a mock Frozen Throne. Perplexingly, a disco-dancing competition was also held, offering the sight of tattooed WOW-lovers boogeying to the Bee Gees as a heavyset spectator with Hello Kitty face paint looked on sternly.
Revelry aside, the night was about the next installment in the World of Warcraft saga, which will add a new realm, raise the level cap to 80, and devour millions of hours in its first week. "I got here at 4 o'clock," said Jeff Poole, 37, who had already taken the next five days off to literally take his dwarf priest to the next level. "My boss is totally cool, he's aware of what's going on."
Waiting in the line with those who had paid for the game before midnight, Poole was already salivating over the next 120 hours. "I'm a big quester, I love questing, and I heard the expansion really upped the storyline," he said, appearing giddy yet restrained at the same time. "I'm an awful PvP player, and I avoid it whenever I can."
Poole's companion, 30-year-old Catherine Aquino, takes the complete opposite tack with her geared-out undead mage. For about 20 hours a week, she's a player-versus-player machine. "That's all I do," she said, laughing. "I gank people like Jeff. I'm like the guy on South Park. I don't care about the big raids, and I hate questing, so I'm dreading getting to 80. But I want to get to 80 so I can actually gank people. That's my only motivation."
Having the benefit of an acquaintance in line, Aquino was able to jump into the front third of the prepaid line by around 10 o'clock. Lucky for her. As the clock stroked midnight through each of the continental US's four time zones, reports began to spread that GameStop's DSL-based credit-card system had collapsed. Fan site WOW Insider was riddled with reports that employees were forced to use 1970s-era analog credit-card slide machines when scanners became unresponsive in many states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Nevada, and North Carolina. Even the Caribbean colony of Puerto Rico reported issues.
The San Francisco launch had its own unique problem. An unknown neighbor, apparently miffed that his or her Union Square residence was being disturbed by the thumping bass from the WOW pants-on dance-off, called the police around 11 p.m. to file a noise complaint about the GameStop revels. Luckily, nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the fans on hand, which ranged in age from septuagenarian to preteen (curfew violations nonwithstanding).
The United States wasn't the only place to get in on the launch-party action; the UK saw a gathering of thousands of eager Warcraft players in London as well as hundreds of midnight openings up and down the country. Head over to London Calling, the GameSpot UK blog for full coverage and photos of the main event on Oxford Street, hosted by Blizzard's chief operating officer Paul Sams.