A marketing decision by Blizzard almost changed the fate of several genres.
It's no secret that Blizzard's colossal Warcraft franchise was heavily inspired by Warhammer, the tabletop wargame created by Games Workshop. A number of ideas from Warhammer have spread to other fantasy settings (green-skinned orcs, anyone?) but the number of similarities between it and Blizzard's fantasy universe borders on the uncanny. As it turns out, this is no coincidence - Blizzard very nearly made a licensed Warhammer game instead of starting its own IP.
"[Blizzard co-founder] Allen Adham hoped to obtain a license to the Warhammer universe to try to increase sales by brand recognition," said Warcraft producer Patrick Wyatt. "Warhammer was a huge inspiration for the art-style of Warcraft, but a combination of factors, including a lack of traction on business terms and a fervent desire on the part of virtually everyone else on the development team (myself included) to control our own universe nixed any potential for a deal. We had already had terrible experiences working with DC Comics on Death and Return of Superman and Justice League Task Force, and wanted no similar issues for our new game."
The developers' concerns may have been valid. While Warcraft's original plot was pretty simplistic, part of the series' continued success comes from its rapidly evolving lore. That probably wouldn't have been possible without the developers having full creative license with the setting they created. "It's surprising now to think what might have happened had Blizzard not controlled the intellectual property rights for the Warcraft universe," Wyatt said. "It's highly unlikely Blizzard would be such a dominant player in the game industry today."
Could a simple change of setting really have crippled a company that would later become a titan of the industry? Well, yes. Without total control of its flagship series, Blizzard might not have found the success it did with its line of real-time strategy games. Ignoring the impact that those games had on the RTS genre, even Warcraft spinoffs went on to change the gaming landscape. Forget World of Warcraft; turning a strategy game into a rich RPG wouldn't have been possible without Blizzard's substantial resources from their earlier successes. Lacking WoW's popularity and the rush of MMOs that followed, online gaming would certainly look a lot different. And without Warcraft III, the MOBA genre may never have gotten off the ground (meaning no DotA and no League of Legends).
So maybe the failure to work things out with Games Workshop wasn't such a bad thing. Still, the similarities remain as a reminder of what could have been - leading to more than a few mix-ups later on. "Years after the launch of Warcraft," said Wyatt, "my dad, upon returning from a trip to Asia, gave me a present of a set of Warhammer miniatures in the form of a skeleton charioteer and horses with the comment: 'I found these cool toys on my trip and they reminded me a lot of your game; you might want to have your legal department contact them because I think they're ripping you off.'"