Ten years is a long time to be on top, and Blizzard's World of Warcraft has managed to stay there by constantly evolving. Art has always been a huge part of its draw, as a new book "The Art of World of Warcraft" is published by Insight Editions highlights. The book's available now in hardcover for $45 (about £28, AU$58).
The image of a dwarf astride a gryphon (by Roman Kenney, Bill Petras, Justin Thavirat and Chris Robinson) that graces the cover was among the earliest pieces ever created for the game.
The far-reaching horizon definitely set the tone for the sheer size of Azeroth and the lands beyond. And the perpetual gryphon flight was but a small taste of the in-game taxi system players will remember from the early days of the game.
heyday, World of Warcraft boasted 12 million subscribers. If you've ever visited
Teldrassil, home of the Night Elves, you'd know that roughly half of this number is made up of low-level Night Elf archers all called some variation of Legolas.
The tree itself (shown above in concept art by Bill Petras) is big enough to contain an entire city, along with surrounding mountains, rivers and forests.
There are hundreds of different kinds of monsters prowling World of Warcraft, and the astronomical variety of creatures really makes the world feel alive. The jungle is teeming with wildcats and gorillas, enormous insects roam the desert wasteland, and the gibberish-spewing diminutive fishmen known as Murlocs are absolutely everywhere. In great numbers. They're like the Tusken raiders of Warcraft.
As an added bonus, it may look like most of them have eyeballs. But as anyone who's ever been on a quest to collect Murloc eyes will tell you, it's far from a sure thing.
Shown above are concept pieces for as small slice of Warcraft's bestiary by Samwise Didier, Carlo Arellano and Bill Petras.
The first expansion for World of Warcraft came out in 2007. Players began The Burning Crusade in earnest by stepping through the Dark Portal and teleporting to the demon-ravaged Outland, shown above in art by Peter Lee.
From the very first taste of Outland, it was clear players weren't in Kansas anymore. Skies were alive with strange constellations and planets, and it felt truly alien after spending so much time in Azeroth.
The Burning Crusade brought with it two new playable races -- the Blood Elves, fey creatures wracked with addictions to magic itself, and the Draenei, who are, erm, space goats. It's a term of endearment.
Seriously though, the Draenei story begins with the Exodar, their inter-dimensional spaceship, crash-landing on the game's main world of Azeroth.
Concept art for the Draenei (examples above by Peter Lee, Jimmy Lo and Wei Wang) was crucial in building a fantasy race up from scratch, both in terms of appearance and the values of their people.
Wrath of the Lich King was released in 2008, and this was the one fans were waiting for. Shown above is Arthas, the Lich King himself, by Glenn Rane with Justin Thavirat.
Following on from the ending of the 2003 strategy game Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, this expansion had it all. Warring factions mounting beachheads in a wild, frozen north. Cursed swords and fallen heroes. Zombie dragons. Time travel. (It gets weird.)
Turns out we were prepared to fight Illidan at the end of Burning Crusade, and we managed to dethrone Arthas in Wrath of the Lich King. So what was next for our intrepid heroes?
A dragon so big it literally tore the world apart.
The arrival of Deathwing (above, in art by Steve Hui) in the fourth expansion, Cataclysm, was an excuse to totally reshape a game world that was starting to feel a little dated.
Sure, there was a lot of molten lava and flooding and mass property destruction, but the most impressive part of the redesign was a total reworking of the base continent to finally let players ride their flying mounts (almost) everywhere.
Cataclysm also added another pair of playable races. While they'd been present in the game for a while, players could now step into the comically oversized shoes of Goblins.
Shown above in a piece by John Polidora, a Goblin rogue wears one of the most recognizable armour sets from the game. It was this piece of art that inspired the choice to make Goblins a playable race in World of Warcraft.
The fifth and most recent Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, again sends players through the Dark Portal. Except this time around, they also travel back through time and get to take part in the epic historical events that shaped the Warcraft universe. It's best not to think too hard about how it all works.
Pictured above is concept art by Jimmy Lo for the rebuilt Shattrath City. Players would have first come across the city in an incredibly laggy walking tour in The Burning Crusade but, thanks to the magic of time travel, they can see it now in its original splendour.