Quality assurance is an aspect of software development that often receives the least attention. The lack of adequate testing within the IT sector has led to numerous tragic, expensive and at times hilarious consequences. For this reason, Testbirds has decided to investigate some of history’s most interesting and devastating software issues in a series of blog posts known as History’s Biggest Software Fails. Today, we take a look into a bug that caused havoc to nearly four million video game enthusiasts, which is now infamously known as:
Blizzard, the producers of the ever popular massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, are responsible for what might be the world’s first virtual epidemic. In 2005 they introduced a new boss known as Hakkar the Soul Flayer, which was a part of the Zul’Gurub raid. The raid boss had the ability to infect players with a hit-point draining and contagious spell that mimics a disease. The spell was meant to only be active in the specific raid area but due to a bug players’ pets managed to bring the disease out of its intended confines. This in turn transmitted the affliction to other players and non-playing characters alike. The plague had a one hundred percent transfer rate based on proximity allowing it to spread like wildfire through the overcrowded cities of the World of Warcraft. The effect was devastating as it killed lower level characters at an astounding rate and severely annoyed the higher level ones.
“Every major city like Stormwind and even some of the smaller ones were littered with dead bodies. I remember contracting it myself from a Werewolf… it was horrifying” – Johan Lundqvist, an ex-World of Warcraft player.
Interestingly, players of World of Warcraft began to act as one would during a real-life epidemic. People with high level characters began to set up healing camps in an altruistic attempt to save lower level players who were certain to die sometimes within seconds of contracting the disease. Other more sinister gamers began to wield the infection as a tool of biological terrorism by intentionally facilitating its spread. People were forced to flee the major virtual cities due to the extremely high risk of contraction and moved into the somewhat safer countryside in hopes of surviving. Blizzard even attempted to set up voluntary quarantine zones; however, they were unsuccessful due to more disruptive gamers taking advantage of them.
In fact, the corrupted blood incidence gained such infamy that even the CDC and various anti-terrorism groups began to study the events in order to better understand how people would act in a real-life outbreak. Finally, after one week of the disease running rampant through the virtual world the ordeal was put to a sudden end through hard server resets and quick fixes. Today, players still remember the corrupted blood incidence as the MMORPG’s first worldwide event, hence granting World of Warcraft with perhaps the most interesting bug in video game history.