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Taking Back Control of the Merchandise That Orbits WoW

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All good franchises - and, letÂ’s be honest, thatÂ’s what World of Warcraft is - have one thing in common. They have one core product - the game - and a host of complimentary products which orbit it like the moon does the Earth, or, indeed, as the White Lady and Blue Child do Azeroth.

WoW is not just a game, itÂ’s a universe and as a result players are always going to want to interact with Azeroth in ways which donÂ’t always mean being chained to their PCs for hours on end. From a lore perspective, this means novels and manga as well as the official magazine. For the tabletop gaming fans, this means an RPG, a board game, the Trading Card Game and the short-lived miniatures game as well.

This week the latest novel by Christie Golden - Thrall: Twilight of the Aspects - comes out and IÂ’ve been reading a sample on my iPad over the weekend. The novels - and, to a smaller extent, the manga - are where the lore is formulated before it hits the game, primarily written by Richard Knaak and Christie Golden. So, if we want to see where Cataclysm is going, we need to read the novels and the lore it reveals is sometimes shocking.

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Digital publishing is keeping the manga dream alive.

Spoilers for the book are already on the internet and theyÂ’re not hard to find either. The book continues to delve into the complex inner workings of the various Dragonflights as well as the tumultuous life of GoÂ’el, son of Durotan (aka the Poster-Orc and Ex-Warchief of the Horde Formally Known as Thrall). The road it goes down is not pretty but then neither is the current expansion. These are dark days for Azeroth and theyÂ’re going to get darker.

The manga set this trend of introducing new characters and lore during the Sunwell Trilogy, a storyline which concluded, at least partially, during Fury of the Sunwell. Kalecgos now finds himself with a much larger role in AzerothÂ’s destiny as the successor to Malygos as leader of the Blue Dragonflight. The same can be said for other characters like Rhonin (yes him) and Trag Highmountain. The comics also did this with MedÂ’an and the long-debated lore behind the disappearance of Varian Wrynn.

To go off on a tangent for a moment, in 2008 I attended San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest convention for lovers of movies, games and comics on the west coast. This particular year was huge for Blizzard: Upper Deck was showing the TCG and their short-lived miniatures game and, in one of the halls, Blizzard were talking about their lines of manga with TOKYOPOP. The Blizzard panel was packed with fanboys and girls keen to share oxygen with lore legend Chris Metzen. In fact, Blizzard's primary appearance at SDCC this year will be a panel - again hosted by Metzen - wholly focused on licensed merchandise as well.

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Yes, this is the most AWESOME thing to ever come out of the short-lived World of Warcraft Miniatures game.

Three years later and Upper Deck Entertainment no longer has the license for the TCG and the miniatures game has faded into nothingness. TOKYOPOP didnÂ’t survive the recession, even if the manga lives on in digital format under the auspices of Cryptozoic Entertainment, who also handle the TCG. The comics continue successfully, as do other items like statues from DC Unlimited but both are produced in collaboration with Blizzard.

In a way, Blizzard has pulled all its licensed products closer to its chest. While an independent company, Cryptozoic began after the demise of Upper Deck and was started by former Blizzard employee Cory Jones, along with former staffers from Upper Deck and DC Unlimited. Oh and it just happens to be based in Irvine, CA, the same town Blizzard calls its home. Hmmm. Granted, the TCG isnÂ’t CryptozoicÂ’s only product as theyÂ’re making quite a name for themselves in digital publishing and products which donÂ’t just involve Azeroth.

The Official World of Warcraft Magazine has a similarly interesting, and chequered, history. Originally announced in 2009, the publication is on itÂ’s fourth issue and umpteenth editor. Yes itÂ’s gorgeous and filled with amazing art and interesting articles but it feels like it is floundering, with a strange publishing schedule which hasnÂ’t yet found itÂ’s rhythm. But, in this age of fan sites and the WoW community site, is it even needed or is it just an expensive indulgence which separates poor geeks from richer geeks?

These items all make Blizzard money, and they all enhance the Warcraft franchise. While, once upon a blue moon, the company was happy to outsource and let third parties handle the nuts and bolts, the company is now reclaiming it's bestsellers. Some are an extension of the game which do enrich it while others are just moneyspinners with the odd in-game perk. You shouldnÂ’t need to read a book, buy a magazine or play a game to continue to enjoy WoW but sometimes it does give the game that extra dimension Â… and part you from your cold, hard-earned gold. Blizzard is on a winning streak with this strategy, not only is it going to reap the financial rewards but we should also see even more synergy between the game and merchandise like the novels.

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