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:
The article below explains the logic behind the map.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 (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
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.
Similiar writings: Community, El, Identity, Learn2Play, Machinima, Social Networking, Video Games, WoW, Games.