Map of World of Warcraft Online Communities

Michael Zenke’s MMO Blogipelago map [via Tobold], based on the famous xkcd map of online communities, inspired me to create a map for World of Warcraft (WoW) online communities. Click on the map for a larger image with links:

WoW Online Community Map.

This article explains the logic behind the map.

Mapping Communities

The map shows internet-based communities whose primary interest is the game World of Warcraft.

What’s a community? Community may be the wrong word to use. For the purpose of this map, it is a group of website (fansite) users. That does not imply that each player is restricted to one website. Rather, certain players will gravitate towards certain clusters of sites.

The map only shows communities that are sufficiently large to be visible to people outside the community. Many WoW communities, such as (most) individual guilds or server-specific groups of players, are not shown for this reason.

The RPG-style map seems to be the most appropriate method of visualising the relationships between online communities. The map has been divided into territories and islands, each of which is occupied by a large community or fansite.

Places towards the left (west) tend to be “nice” – closely follow Blizzard’s Terms of Use and EULA. Those towards the right (east) tend to be “naughty” – more likely to be breaking those agreements. Locations towards the top (north) are “popularist”, appealing to the mainstream, mass-market of players. Territories towards the bottom (south) are more specialist (and in some cases elitist).

The largest websites have been named. For smaller clusters of sites, I’ve picked a few sample sites: Apologies to anyone that feels “missed out”. I have added a few semi-humorous area names, as well as the location of famous battles. The battles are generally legal actions between Blizzard and specific websites.

The size of territories approximates to the size of communities, as I perceive them. Not particularly scientific or accurate.

Blizzard

Blizzard and their game do not appear on the map, which may seem strange. In reality Blizzard cover the entire map.

Most of their web-content and forums is strongly biased towards the top-left (north-west) quadrant of the map.

Blizzard’s public involvement with “fansites” is also limited to this corner of the map. That is not entirely irrational: They are targeting the mass-market that “plays nice”. However, Blizzard’s designers often frequent some of the places along the bottom of the map. And there legal team spends a lot of time in the east…

Entering from the North-West Fringe

In the north-west corner of the map, beyond the “Game’s Edge River”, we find the “network” sites (large commercial enterprises covering many video games), as well as BlizzPlanet, a site covering all of Blizzard’s games. These sites tend to act as gateways through which players find WoW, or places that they lurk after they have left the game. Most active players will gravitate south-east in search of game-specific content.

Social networking sites based around WoW are growing, but none yet dominates. Rupture is best known (if only for being sold for $30 million, even though it is not widely used by WoW players). I don’t consider licensed products as part of the WoW map, however the WoW Trading Card Game is so popular with WoW players, it has been included on the fringe.

Into the Bay of Mods

Clustered around the Bay of Mods are the 3 large commercial web empires to have primarily emerged from WoW: Curse, IncGamers, and ZAM. All 3 offer “mod” (addon/interface) download sites, as well as databases of game items/quests/etc, and varying levels of news coverage. Players will typically start using one or more of these sites shortly after they start playing.

Curse morphed from a guild around the start of 2007. It has been expanding aggressively into the “other games”/social territory to the north-west, and has developed strong ties with Arena Junkies and World of Raids to the south. The humorous name, “Cursed Sea”, is a reference to the apparent lack of common ground between these more southerly communities and the “other games”/social territory to the north. World of Raids’ twin (both sites tend to mirror one another), MMO-Champion remains more independent (but may be drifting slowly towards Wowhead).

The ZAM Peninsula contains the 3 most popular database sites (Allakhazam, Thottbot and Wowhead), plus WoW Interface. The suspended boat link to Gold Sellers’ Cove in the east, is a reference to ZAM’s owners formerly being involved in IGE, a virtual-goods business. Allakhazam has broad coverage of many games. Wowhead is now home to veteran knowledge-centric WoW players. Thott sits somewhere in between.

IncGamers formed out of one of the first true WoW fansites, WorldofWar.net. IncGamers expanded heavily into the general video games territory to the north. Arguably to the detriment of its WoW services, which are generally now bettered by Curse, ZAM or WoW Insider.

South of the Bay of Mods lies WoWWiki, a popular human-edited reference/guide website, now part of Wikia. It is located here mostly because in the early years it was a key source of mod developer information.

Superstar Guilds

Few player guilds are well known away from their local server/realm communities. 2007 saw Nihilum emerge as WoW’s superstars. Superstar guilds are defined by the popular “fanclub” they attract – akin to that of a football (soccer) team. Superstars differ from guilds which are simply highly respected by their immediate peers (such as Elitist Jerks) and build a community among those peers. Those are found in the Hidden Isles, far to the south. That’s not to say Nihilum are not capable (I’ve played against them – they know what they are doing) – merely that they attract a broad fan-base from outside their immediate peer group.

The only other guild to come close in 2008 (and so be named on the map) is SK Gaming. SK contains several members formerly in Curse’s guild, hence their position next to Curse on the map.

Southern Islands

The south-west of the map is dominated by the “Blog-o-sphere”. Projects such as Blog Azeroth show just how extensive WoW-related blogging is, although most blogs are read by very few people. Only one ‘blog is named, WoW Insider – and arguably that’s an online newspaper that merely uses blogging software. The position of WoW Insider is slightly wrong: It should be much more towards the center of the map. Blogging mostly remains the preserve of experienced players, although Curse (in particular) have started to popularise blogging for the masses.

The “Niche Class and Topic Arcepelago” is a collection of small, highly specialised websites. They provide a mix of discussion and game-play guides on one very specific aspect of the game. From fishing, through warlocks, to mini-pets. Most of these sites are frighteningly definitive, with communities that totally understand one small niche of the game. Players generally only find these sites once they have exhausted the broader, more generalist information on sites such as WoWWiki.

At the northern end of the Arcepelago are the “Tools”. This island contains a plethora of sites that manipulate or analyse data. Raiding-related sites such as WoWJutsu or WoW Web stats are probably the best known, but you’ll find everything here from signature generators to auction house price trends. Why is the island so small? Few of these tools attract a tangible community in their own right.

L2P Isle

L2P (Learn2Play) Isle contains sites which sell paid guides that teach players to play WoW. Most guides are sold via affiliates. Highlander has been included here, because although he isn’t selling anything himself, his professions leveling guides are heavily plagiarized. I have named the water to the east of L2P Isle, the “Channel of Copyright Woes”. Blizzard attempted to take legal action against Brian Kopp in 2005, but have since allowed the trade to continue. Copyright issues in this area remain unclear. Machinima artists did gain some security following the release of Blizzard’s machinima policy.

The island may be drawn too large: Each of these sites has a relatively small community. However, many guides are stolen and made available to a wider group.

It’s Art, Mate

Fan-made comics and artwork occupy the center of the top of the map. Machinima Isle can be found to the south-east.

The proximity of Machinima to “The Evil East” might seem alarming. However, many Machinima artists use private/sandbox servers, and routinely hacks models and other files. At the extremes, the Machinima, model-edit (currently lurking on “GM Island”, a location in the game world historically used by those operating the game) and “Noggaholic” communities merge into one.

Nogg-a-what? The Noggaholics can be described as explorers. Specifically explorers of whatever part of the game world WoW’s developers haven’t finished properly. (The name comes form Noggenfogger Elixir, a WoW item that alters the form of player characters.) Blizzard’s frustration with unreleased content being previewed by the Noggaholics, ultimately contributed to the break-up of the group (I have labelled this the battle of TBC Alpha, but that over-simplifies the situation). Several small communities and individuals continue to release material under the banner of “Noggaholics”, but you will struggle to find a “Noggaholic website” – hence the “Sunken Nogg Reef”.

The Evil East

This continent is occupied by those who tend to disregard the official Terms of Use and EULA, and consequently are characterised as an “evil empire” by those who do. That does not imply these communities are doing anything illegal.

The Private Server Wasteland (so named because private servers tend to be empty when compared to official servers) is made up of many privately operated, unlicensed, emulated WoW servers. To the south is the “Pirate Coast”, occupied by interesting collection of “outcasts” (in Blizzard’s eyes): From private server programmers (MaNGOS is just one) to hack/exploit sites (such as MMOwned). On the eastern side of the Pirate Coast are the ‘bot writers: Programmers who write software that either automates game-play or outright exploits design flaws and software bugs for financial gain. Glider is the best known, and currently the subject of a protracted legal battle with Blizzard.

Many ‘bot writers provide tools to Gold Farmers. Farmers are people that play the game simply to generate in-game currency (Gold), which they sell on for real currency (Dollars). It increasingly includes other services where a wealthy player might be prepared to pay someone else to complete mundane aspects of the game, such as power-leveling.

The Hidden Isles

Most of these islands are so small and hard to find you won’t see them unless you are shown their location by someone else. They contain often small, sometimes specialist, groups of people who wish to discuss aspects of the game away from the noise of the mainstream player-base. Personally, I still lurk in the Azerothian Trade Union, which in its heyday collectively knew more about the art of making money than anyone else: 95% of its content is member-only.

Groups can be found hanging on the edge of communities such as Something Awful, or lurking in unexpected guild forums, such as Fire of Heaven.

The most extreme example is Elitist Jerks, a high-end raid-orientated discussion forum (with a nice guild attached). I have included it in the Hidden Isles, even though Elitist Jerks is read by almost half a million people each month. Yet Elitist Jerks remains the type of site that someone refers you to. It does not, for example, appear in WoWWiki’s Fansite list.

Apologies if I missed you! Inevitably, I cannot include everyone. Feel free to highlight key communities that you think are missing, or clarify the relationships between communities.

32 comments on "Map of World of Warcraft Online Communities"

  1. On June 25th, 2008 at 4:18 am Chad wrote:

    Nice map, great idea! I was thinking of doing one of these maps as well. You didn’t include spelldamage.com on there! I guess I need to market the site better. I’m working on building some core, pillar content to add to the tools I provide.

    Anyway… great article. It’s not often that wow blog posts pull my attention. Thanks!

  2. On June 25th, 2008 at 8:56 am alvin smith wrote:

    well nice to read this articles !!!!!!!

  3. On June 25th, 2008 at 5:20 pm Mania’s Arcania » We Got an Island! wrote:

    […] better known to us as the person behind El’s Extreme Anglin’, has constructed a map of WoW communities — and we got an […]

  4. On June 25th, 2008 at 6:49 pm PRIESTYTUTE wrote:

    Great job this thing is awsome. I Think ima blow it up an frame it on my wall.
    I think on the southern isles you should add http://www.shadowpriest.com as it is one of the top web sites that I an alot of others goto. Also http://petopia.brashendeavors.net/ the petopia web is one of the best around. An of coarse http://www.bosskillers.com/ .

  5. On June 25th, 2008 at 7:07 pm Tim Howgego wrote:

    @PRIESTYTUTE: You’re reading my mind! In a quite spooky way. ShadowPriest and Bosskillers occupied the 2 empty islands in the Arcepelago. Then I realised that if I filled all the islands, the Arcepelago would look complete. That wasn’t the intention, so I took them out…

    Thanks for all the great comments (here and elsewhere). It seems to have captured the imagination. I might yet re-draw it.

  6. On June 25th, 2008 at 7:12 pm Mike wrote:

    Neat idea, but nothing about WoW podcasts?

  7. On June 25th, 2008 at 7:30 pm The geography of WoW space | Warcraft-News.com wrote:

    […] of news sources, fan sites, and web-bases resources to stay on top of new developments in the game. Tim Howgego has created a map of the virtual WoW community. In that image he has categorized some of the most popular spaces that […]

  8. On June 25th, 2008 at 7:30 pm Tim Howgego wrote:

    @Mike: Podcasters are lurking near WoW Radio. I admit they should be more prominent, since some are rather popular.

    I suspect I’m too focused on traditional websites. For example, much of Machinima Isle is actually “look at my boss kill video” (the core of services like WeGame), which is quite different from the polished art of people like Baron Soosdon.

  9. On June 25th, 2008 at 8:41 pm Ross wrote:

    omgphatloots should be the large unnamed island in the niche archipelago.

  10. On June 25th, 2008 at 8:44 pm BryGy wrote:

    Where is BRK?????

    Bigredkitty.net FTW

  11. On June 25th, 2008 at 10:46 pm Arena Gears Season 4 » The geography of WoW space wrote:

    […] of news sources, fan sites, and web-bases resources to stay on top of new developments in the game. Tim Howgego has created a map of the virtual WoW community. In this image he has categorized some of the most popular spaces that […]

  12. On June 25th, 2008 at 11:11 pm Geografía de WoW | WoW WinterDevil wrote:

    […] WinterDevil • June 25, 2008 Leo en WoW Insider que a su vez lo toman de Tim Howgego, un mapa donde se describe el planeta de WoW, cuando lo vi, me di cuenta que he visitado bastantes […]

  13. On June 26th, 2008 at 1:31 am G2arena WoW News Feeds » The geography of WoW space wrote:

    […] of news sources, fan sites, and web-bases resources to stay on top of new developments in the game. Tim Howgego has created a map of the virtual WoW community. In this image he has categorized some of the most popular spaces that […]

  14. On June 26th, 2008 at 2:35 am A Map to the World of Warcraft Web Community | Azeroth Metblogs wrote:

    […] didn’t either, but someone’s put a lot of time and energy into creating a very detailed map of the World of Warcraft virtual universe, and it’s worth taking a look. Of course the big names like WoWWiki, Thottbot, and WoWHead […]

  15. On June 26th, 2008 at 11:35 am Wolfington wrote:

    Awesome map — I like how sides are “Evil” and “nice”
    (and Mania being on there is just Uber!!!)
    Good job!

  16. On June 29th, 2008 at 3:37 pm Tiwuno wrote:

    Very creative map, well done! I lol’d at the “East to Organized Crime.” One thing I would change, however, is move the ZAM Peninsula closer to WoW Radio. The ZAM Network also includes Online Gaming Radio and MMO Interface, neither of which are on your map.

  17. On June 30th, 2008 at 6:06 pm Twisted Nether Blogcast » Blog Archive » Episode 6- Chicks Dig Kodos wrote:

    […] seen in a while. Mania from Mania’s  Acanica the mistress of Petopia put up a post about a certain map from the creator of El’s Extreme Anglin’,Tim Howgego made a relationship map of the wow […]

  18. On June 30th, 2008 at 10:49 pm Tim Howgego wrote:

    Tiwuno – Interest suggestions. MMO Interface appears as WoW Interface, because I’m focusing down on WoW-centric communities. Similar reason that Online Gaming Radio isn’t there: It covers a broad range of games, and (critically) I’m not personally aware that it has a large WoW community. But I also have a particular problem judging online radio and podcast audiences. (As an aside, Allakhazam is there because it’s a popular site, to which about 90% users view WoW content, so would be a major WoW community, even if it had no other content.)

    I should also clarify, because it isn’t explicitly stated, that the map in English-language only. I’m well aware that most players primarily speak other languages. There’s also a trend towards the large sites integrating content in multiple languages, although their community sizes differ hugely. For example Buffed seems rather popular among German-speakers, but they don’t rate a mention yet on the English map. I am somewhat aware of sites in European languages, but there will be many I don’t see. However Chinese (both flavours) and Korean are a complete mystery to me. I opted just to stick with what I know best, hence the English map.

  19. On July 1st, 2008 at 4:58 pm TotalBiscuit wrote:

    Haha, this is great. We’ll post this on the front-page. Good job with this, though I think WoW Insider might have been moving somewhat to the east with their recent NDA-violations :>

    TB – WoW Radio.

  20. On July 2nd, 2008 at 6:06 am Larísa wrote:

    This map is fascinating. I wrote a blog post about the Blogosphere part of it. Don’t know how to ping it, so I just give the link…

    http://pinkpigtailinn.blogspot.com/2008/07/importance-of-blogging-archipelago.html

  21. On July 2nd, 2008 at 8:19 pm Tim Howgego wrote:

    A comment here made me think about how I’ve drawn the map to reflect my personal cultural up-bringing, even though nothing on map is “physical”:

    How typical, the west is the “nice” and the east is the “naughty”. North is mainstream and south is special.

    An Icelandic perspective.

    I come from the culture that mapped the world with itself in the middle. My childhood was spent in a world where the East was a closed, unknown, but slightly scary place; while the West was where all the wonderful fun stuff came from.

    I could have put the “naughty” side in the west, and called it the “Wild West”. But I didn’t. And I could have depopulated the north and filled the south. But I didn’t. And until now, I never even noticed what I’d done.

  22. On July 19th, 2008 at 8:00 pm Fansite awarded NPC honor | Warcraft-News.com wrote:

    […] Breanni is getting special recognition for her efforts in the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King Expansion. Breanni posted in the general forums that she will be getting an NPC Avatar in Dalaran. Care for all your pet needs with Breanni’s Pet supplies. This is not the first honorable mention that the site has won. Breanni has additionally been placed on the World of Warcraft map, as created by Tim Howego. […]

  23. On July 20th, 2008 at 2:00 am Warcraft Videos » Fansite awarded NPC honor wrote:

    […] Breanni is getting special recognition for her efforts in the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King Expansion. Breanni posted in the general forums that she will be getting an NPC Avatar in Dalaran. Care for all your pet needs with Breanni’s Pet supplies. This is not the first honorable mention that the site has won. Breanni has also been placed on the World of Warcraft map, as created by Tim Howego. […]

  24. On July 20th, 2008 at 7:02 am Gaming Blog » Blog Archive » Fansite awarded NPC honor wrote:

    […] Breanni is getting special recognition for her efforts in the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King Expansion. Breanni posted in the general forums that she will be getting an NPC Avatar in Dalaran. Care for all your pet needs with Breanni’s Pet supplies. This is not the first honorable mention that the site has won. Breanni has also been placed on the World of Warcraft map, as created by Tim Howego. […]

  25. On July 22nd, 2008 at 3:05 am Fansite awarded NPC honor | WarCraft Maniac wrote:

    […] Breanni is getting special recognition for her efforts in the upcoming Wrath of the Lich King Expansion. Breanni posted in the general forums that she will be getting an NPC Avatar in Dalaran. Care for all your pet needs with Breanni’s Pet supplies. This is not the first honorable mention that the site has won. Breanni has also been placed on the World of Warcraft map, as created by Tim Howego. […]

  26. On September 3rd, 2008 at 4:52 pm From Fishing to Cartography: Tim Howgego « steady shot wrote:

    […] of the blog-o-sphere is this very blog.  You can read more about the map by following this link to the designers site. WOW Online Communities map by Tim […]

  27. On September 17th, 2008 at 10:14 pm Fansite awarded NPC honor - WOW Insider - Curse wrote:

    […] that the site has won. Breanni has also been placed on the World of Warcraft map, as created by Tim Howego.Continue reading Fansite awarded NPC honor Read | Permalink | Email this | Comments Login to […]

  28. On September 17th, 2008 at 10:59 pm The geography of WoW space - WOW Insider - Curse wrote:

    […] of news sources, fan sites, and web-bases resources to stay on top of new developments in the game. Tim Howgego has created a map of the virtual WoW community. In this image he has categorized some of the most popular spaces that […]

  29. On November 21st, 2008 at 7:29 pm Episode 6- Chicks Dig Kodos | World of Warcraft wrote:

    […] I have seen in a while. Mania from Mania’s Acanica the mistress of Petopia put up a post about a certain map from the creator of El’s Extreme Anglin’,Tim Howgego made a relationship map of the wow […]

  30. On April 15th, 2010 at 8:17 pm Social Media – Bloggers and Blizzard « Pugnacious Priest's Warcraft Blog wrote:

    […] that Map of the World of Warcraft online communities Map by Tim Howgego this was done back in 2008 – so it may have changed by now – “The […]

  31. On May 10th, 2010 at 3:51 am A Strange Game - Tim Howgego wrote:

    […] players, that wanted to know more, disappeared into what I only half-jokingly called “the Evil East” – various cheat, exploit, and emulation fansites. Places where the “cease and […]

  32. On September 2nd, 2010 at 7:09 am Warlock's Den referenced in WoW Community Map - The Warlocks Den - WoW Warlock Discussions wrote:

    […] Guys, There was an interesting image over at wow.com that linked to a map found on this here page: Map of World of Warcraft Online Communities – Tim Howgego I find it interesting because this isn't just a map of WoW, its a map of the WoW community. On top […]