Getting Started

Getting Started

If you decide that you're going to allow your child to venture forth into the World of Warcraft, the next step is to see if you have what is needed. It's probably obvious that they'll need a computer, an Internet connection, and the WoW software. There are also a few things not mentioned in the boxed product that your child will/may need at some point. This section will delve into all the items I found I used and that I know others used.

Hardware Requirements

Blizzard did very well in this area. They want as many people to be able to play World of Warcraft as possible so the computer hardware requirements are modest by current standards. If (your or) your child's computer is able to play most recent game titles fairly well then it's likely that it will play WoW just as well. The official hardware requirements from Blizzard are available on their site. For the most part, what they list there is honestly sufficient to play the game with low to moderate graphics options selected. If you have any doubts about the ability of the computer in question to be able to play World of Warcraft, browse to the Can You Run It website from that machine. Let the site examine the computer to see if it has what it takes. Start typing "World of Warcraft" into the text box and choose whatever the latest expansion pack's name is after that. The site offers several ways to check your system and match it against the requirements. The method I chose will temporarily install a small application that scans the machine to see if it meets the minimum and recommended requirements.

Most people play WoW on desktop computers. Laptops can be used to play WoW, but they should have a discrete graphics chip (aka GPU) rather than an integrated graphics chip, which most do not have. An easy way to tell is that if the laptop mentions having with dedicated (or dedicated and shared) graphics memory, it almost certainly has a discrete graphics chip; if it mentions only shared memory for graphics, it is almost certainly using an integrated graphics chip. Some laptops are designed for playing games and will do fine with WoW. I have played WoW on a fairly old, low-end laptop (with 2GB of RAM using Windows XP and with a dedicated graphics chip). With the graphics settings all set to low, the game played decently and still looked pretty good. In general, it's best to stick with a desktop machine.

After reading the official requirements, I would recommend doubling the suggested amount of RAM. When playing WoW, it's very handy to have other programs open like Internet Explorer or Firefox. That way, if one gets stuck or needs to look up an item, hitting ALT-Tab switches between the game and the browser. If you have only the recommended amount of memory, there may not be room for anything else once the game is loaded. One number on there that might be a bit low is the one for the amount of disk space needed, which Blizzard lists as 35 GB. That's a lot of disk space, but even so, the reality grows too much worse than that. However, as I mentioned above, Blizzard patches the game quite often. Some of those patches are hundreds of megabytes. On my computer, the folder into which WoW was installed had grown to over 40GB of space. That was a couple years ago, now, but they were advertising the requirement at that time as 25 GB. For newer computers with 500GB drives and up, this isn't a problem, but might be on an older PC with a smaller drive or a newer PC with a smallish SSD.

Blizzard offers physical Blizzard Authenticators in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America as one way to add a second level of security to your account. For $6.50, it's a steal. Blizzard also offers a free mobile authenticator application for Apple iOS and Android devices. Both add a good amount of protection to the account for very little or no money. This is the proverbial "no-brainer;" get one of them. It may take several weeks for the Blizzard Authenticator to arrive, but that should not be an issue. Account hackers aren't interested in the 1 gold, 57 silver that you or your child's level 12 character has or in the one or two rare items of armor they are wearing. Your child is relatively safe until they reach the higher levels where they have a large amount of gold and valuable items.

When your child reaches the point where they are doing instances (or right away if they are joining WoW with a group of friends), they will want to get a headset with a microphone. This is especially true in the higher levels or when and if they join a guild. The Ventrilo software, discussed below, is used to allow players to talk to each other over the Internet. It's much more efficient than typing messages into the party chat window (and doesn't require that the player stop playing in order to type messages). I do recommend getting a decent quality headset. A $10 headset sounds like a $10 headset to the other players who may not even be able to understand what your child is saying. Expect to pay more like $20-$50. Make sure to get a stereo, not mono (single-ear) headset.

High-speed Internet Connection

This is one unyielding truism about World of Warcraft (and all online games, really): dial-up connections need not apply. Satellite Internet connections need not apply either because their inherent latency (the time for data to travel up to the satellite and back down to the earth to a hardwired receiver) is just too high for gaming. Wireless broadband (actual wide-area coverage wireless broadband as opposed to the wireless Internet inside a house or building) may work depending on the contention and speed in your local area. Just having a high-speed Internet connection alone is not sufficient. It has to be a continuous and reliable connection as well.

A case in point: one of my guild members had cable Internet service with an advertised speed of 8+Mbps incoming/down to his house and 512Kbps outgoing/up from his house. Theoretically, that is more than enough bandwidth for the game. However, every few hours - almost like clockwork - his connection would drop for about 20 seconds, which had the effect of logging him out of the game. It was extremely annoying to him and everyone grouped with him in the game. As it turned out (with much investigating on his part), the culprit was the way the dynamic IP service was implemented by the cable company. With dynamic IP service, which is the most common type of Internet service offered to residences, the cable company assigns an IP address to their cable modem when it first connects and periodically thereafter. The IP address is how the cable modem (and through the modem, his computer) is located on the Internet. He discovered that this particular cable company assigned new IPs to the modem every three hours. Most services only change the IP addresses every one to three days.

The company's explanation for this was that they did so to combat residential users from offering game and file sharing servers. Since his IP address actually changed, his connections to WoW were dropped. Pleading with the cable company got him nowhere. His solution was to add DSL service - at a much slower speed of 768Kbps/384Kbps incoming/outgoing - with the local phone company for about $20/month. From that point forward, he rarely had interruptions even though the service was much slower. The DSL connection still used dynamic IP service, but the IP address renewal period was much longer and when the IP address was renewed, his DSL provider generally assigned him the same IP address for weeks at a time. He kept the cable Internet for the rest of the house but used the DSL connection exclusively for playing WoW. Suffice it to say, if you have a high-speed connection, but it's not reliable or bogs down at particular times of the day, it may not be good enough for an enjoying online game-playing experience. If you don't even have a high-speed Internet connection: cable, DSL, FiOS or otherwise, playing WoW is not an option.

Software

Software

World of Warcraft can be purchased either as a boxed copy or digital download. The game and expansion packs can be purchased from the Blizzard store, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and just about any other place that sells PC game software. The table below summarizes the purchasing options. The links in the table below are to the Blizzard store, but they are not always the cheapest.

Version
Description
Cost (USD)
Software Costs for World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft Includes the original World of Warcraft and all the expansion packs up to and including the Warlords of Draenor expansion pack, as well as the first month of play time. The physical boxed copy includes a beginner's guide from BradyGames. A PDF version (for those that buy the digital download) can be downloaded from here. Create the hero you want to be from one of 13 player races and 10 different classes. The level cap is 100 (out of 110). $20
World of Warcraft: Legion The latest expansion pack that introduces a new world and zones. Level cap raised to 110. $50
Total
 
$70

The last time I played a character, Blizzard had made the initial download and the game free to play for the first 20 levels. That is enough to decide if there's any interest in going further, but lots of good stuff happens at level 20. Most that make it that far will go on from there, so at the very least, the game is going to cost $20. There is no advantage to buying the expansion(s) right from the start.

I prefer digital downloads to boxed copies anymore. The nice thing is if you ever have to reinstall WoW and have lost or damaged your DVDs (if you ever had any), the entire game can be installed from online downloads (assuming you have a fast Internet connection). A word of caution about the installation process itself: it takes at least an hour to install WoW plus the expansion(s). The base game is first installed like any other game. Next, the game downloads any patches and updates released since the version installed was created. A physical copy can get way behind in the number of patches needed. These can take quite a while and require more than one download. If the expansions are purchased, they must also be installed. I have spent as long as three hours installing everything from DVD.

One or two pieces of free software are needed in order to talk with other players over the Internet using a headset. These are Ventrilo and TeamSpeak. Most guilds will have their own Ventrilo or TeamSpeak server, but sometimes you may run a combined guild event or with a pick-up group using the other type of server. Since both are free, it makes sense to have both installed. Ventrilo seems to be the more popular of the two.

WoW add-ons are programs - usually made by a third party, but not always - that are installed into WoW to add some sort of functionality the game didn't provide originally. I already mentioned Auctioneer earlier in this article, but there are thousands of others. Some are specific to a certain class such as Hunter or Mage. Others are specific to a certain specialty such as healing or a profession such as herbalism. Still others help during group combat and with managing a raid group. I used about a dozen such add-ons during my time playing WoW. Although there's no need for them for a beginning player, they quickly become very helpful. I don't recall ever seeing an add-on that requires any sort of payment, but I recall a few that allow for donations. In order to avoid viruses and Trojan horses hidden in add-ons, it's important to download them from a known site. A good site to start with is Curse Gaming. I downloaded more than ¾ of the add-ons I used from there.

Monthly Cost

This is the part where your children tell you how much they love you. Assuming your children want to go beyond level 20, World of Warcraft costs $15/month (in the US) on a month-to-month basis. There are lower monthly terms for paying for 3 or 6 months at a time, but they are not refunded if the account is closed (by you or by Blizzard). You will need to either use Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express or PayPal to sign up for an account. Thereafter, the account can be paid with any of the above or with a World of Warcraft Prepaid Game Card (after canceling the other payment method manually). The prepaid game cards are $30 for a 60-day subscription. Paying via a checking account is only possible if using a PayPal account that is tied to a checking account. Additionally, in some states, state tax is charged.

Apart from the software and monthly fee, there shouldn't be any other costs required for playing the game. However, Blizzard has made a number of "services" available for a one-time fee. For example, characters can be transferred from one server to another for $25 (USD) per character. The name of a character can be changed for $10. A character's race (e.g., Dwarf, Gnome) or faction (Alliance or Horde) can be changed for $25 and $30, respectively. As these can add up (especially if moving 3 or 4 characters from one faction or server to another), you should encourage your child to take care when they start their characters. Visit Blizzard's support site and click on Character Services for a list of the services available.

Picking a Server

Picking a Server

You've helped your child with their first steps, first book and occasionally first aid. Now you can help them pick their first WoW server. Tell them to treat it as their first quest. Finding a server should be done in concert with your child picking their first character. If they are joining with friends who are also just starting out, they all need to choose the same server and faction (Alliance or Horde) in order to play together. If their friends have already started, the choice of server and faction may have been made. If your child's friends aren't too far along and another server looks more promising, encourage them to all join that one. For a group of friends playing the game together, it's best if they all start out together at the same level and stay at nearly the same level as much as possible.

The very first thing that needs to be decided is if your child wants to play on a Player versus Player (pvp or PvP) server or a Player versus Environment (pve or PvE) server. These two basic types of servers were discussed in the section, More Than Just Questing, but a synopsis is that on a PvE server, players from the other faction can only be engaged in certain areas or only if both factions specifically flag themselves for battle. The only things that can attack them at any time are computer controlled characters in the environment - hence the name. On PvP servers, any player can attack the other faction's players just about anywhere in the world (with some restrictions in neutral cities and areas). I would encourage most players to start out on a PvE server until they are certain they plan to play for a while and have a good feel for how to play the game. The very lowest level areas where new characters start are fairly well-guarded against the opposing faction even on PvP servers, but those only cover the first 10-12 levels. There will be characters 60-80 levels higher that have fun just "skinning newbies" for hours at a time. It's not against Blizzard policy on PvP servers. My recommendation is that your child's very first character should be made on a PvE server. Once they gain experience, they can start a new character on a PvP server to see if they like it.

Additionally, your child needs to decide if they want to play on a normal or "roleplaying" server. On a roleplaying server, they are generally expected to stay in character at all times in anything they type in-game. Also, the name of their character is also expected to reflect a roleplaying one. If I am to give some advice here, which can be happily ignored, it would be that unless your child is already well-versed in the World of Warcraft lore through the other Blizzard games and books, they should probably stick to a normal server for their first character.

There are some tricks to picking a good server. As mentioned in the Economics of WoW section, each server or "realm" as it is called in WoW is housed in one of Blizzard's (or Blizzard's partner's) data centers scattered around the world. Knowing this, one can use the wowwiki.com Realms List  (unofficial list of existing realms and the data centers they are housed in) to pick a geographically close server. For US players, the US Realm Server List by Datacenter is the list to use. If you live the state of Pennsylvania, for example, a New York-based server (or maybe even a Chicago-based server) makes the most sense. The responsiveness of the game is often pretty good even for those players geographically far from the actual server, but typically, the closer the server is to the player, the better that response is and the more consistent it is. On some days and nights, Internet traffic is such that those closest to the datacenters have a noticeably better playing experience than those who aren't. It's not the end of the world if a player located in Maine chooses a Arizona-based server, but there will be days when their play becomes sluggish. It may be momentary or last for several hours. You will probably also want to pick a server with the same time zone as the player, but it's not mandatory. (There are servers located in Los Angeles that run with an Eastern Time Zone setting and New York servers that have a Pacific Time Zone setting.)

With a list of potential servers in hand, the next investigation is into the health and population of those servers. This is where the World of Warcraft Census website is very handy as an aid. (The numbers in the census are only representative of the whole and not absolute, guaranteed numbers. The census is taken by users that have a census taking add-on running in their game and periodically upload the census data to the website.) First, look at the Quick Server Stats for either the US or European realms. (If you're handy with spreadsheets, the data from the table can be copied into a text (.txt) file where it becomes tab-separated. That file can then be imported into Excel. Just make sure to use Text rather than General cell format for the Online column.) Look at the reported population of the servers you are considering. I found that a good population range is from 12,000 to 22,000 players - give or take a thousand or so. Those with more players are overcrowded and tend to have mostly high-end server players. The cities are jammed with players causing the game to slow down in those areas and the dearth of lower-level players makes it hard to get groups for questing at those levels. On the other end of the scale, low-population servers may not have enough players to find groups for instances at any level. The economies of lower population servers can also be quite odd or severely broken.

Another aspect to look at is server age (looking at the "Online" column) versus population. That column lists the month and year that the server came online. New servers that have large populations are typically "free transfer" servers. That is, Blizzard offered free transfers to players from one or more overcrowded servers to that new server. Additionally, that server was likely the suggested server for any new player starting WoW for the first time. These servers can be odd in that while the population is in the right range in total population, it's made up of two discrete groups: those under level 30 who took Blizzard's suggestion to use that server for their first character and level 80 players whose whole guild(s) transferred to the new server. The economies on those servers tend to be quite broken for a while but balance out as the lower level players start to hit the middle and higher levels. It can be hard to get started on these servers as well. One last item is that if your child is going to try a PvP server, it's good to pick a server where the population is fairly balanced or favors the faction that your child has decided to play.

Hopefully by now, the list of potential servers is fairly short. With that list, go to the Census Data page and enter each of the servers into the server pull down and press the Go button. This displays a list of players by class and race for both factions. Ideally, whatever class your child chooses, it is best if there isn't a glut of that class on that server. If they've decided to be a mage, for example, they will find life easier on a server where there is a lower percentage of mages than that found on other servers. The list can also be filtered by faction so listing the Alliance mages versus all mages is the number to look at (if your child has chosen to start as an Alliance member). Do this for the other servers on the list. If the percentage is lower on one particular server then that might be the one to choose since that class should be in demand.

With the final list of (hopefully just a few) servers, a good thing to do is to check each realm's forum on worldofwarcraft.com web site (near the bottom of the linked page) to get a general feel for how the other players on that realm feel about it. There are always moaners and complainers on any server, but in general, it is good to see if the realm seems to be relatively drama-free. If you see a number of guilds recruiting, some congratulations to a guild's or player's latest achievement, and some good general banter, that is indicative of a healthy server.

The very first time a player logs onto WoW they are assigned a suggested server. Typically, these are low-population servers that are new as mentioned above. That realm is only a suggestion and there is a change realm button that lets a user pick the realm they wish. Check the short list of realms to see which of those, if any, are medium- to high-population at the "busy" hours of the evening  - generally about 8 pm to 12 am EST (5 pm to 9 pm PST). High population servers can reach their maximum number of players and begin queuing players over that number that attempt to log in. Waiting in the queue for other players to log off is never fun. If the list of potential servers can't be whittled down to one, your child can start "throw away" characters on each remaining realm to see how it plays. They can also hike their character to the nearest large city to get a feel for the chat in the general text chat and visit the auction house to peruse the list of items and prices. (Staring a dwarf and running to Ironforge on the Alliance side or an orc and running to Ogrimmar on the Horde faction tends to be the most direct.)

Your Child's First Character

If you're trying to stall for a little more time, tell your child that you won't set up the account until they have picked a faction (Alliance or Horde), a class (mage, rogue, hunter, etc.), their class specialty (or two), the primary professions (alchemist, weapon maker, tailor, etc.) they think they'll pursue and a short list of names they wish to call their character. They can use the WoW Community forum to check if that name is already taken on the server on which they'd like to play. Don't be surprised to hear your child complain that all the good names are taken. Blizzard has a strict naming policy against "offensive" names that your child should be aware of. Getting the answers to those questions could easily take another day or two (or at least long enough to get the game installed).

Your child really should be able to give you at least tentative answers to the above questions. Their choice of faction (alliance or horde) determines some quests they will be offered as does their choice of class. As for specialty, that's really something that can be chosen later for most classes, so don't be too insistent they have that figured out. As for professions, a player can choose to play any of the primary professions, but certain professions make more sense for certain classes. A mage, for example, may want to pick up tailoring so that they can make magical cloth items that help them as a mage. A warrior might want to take up mining and armor crafting.

Once they've decided all that, they should be ready to make their character on the server of their choice. Congratulations! You child has spawned - in a manner of speaking.