Howto: Play World of Warcraft for Free

Written by rob on March 7, 2008 – 10:42 pm -

The following guide tells you how to acquire the World of Warcraft client for free (legally, of course!), setup your own private server, and then connect to a private server. It also examines some of the cool things you can do within your server. Please note that this is free because you are not going to be using Blizzard’s servers. That means you won’t be able to play with your friends who play on the Blizzard servers. However, you could invite your friends to play on the same private server as you. For all intents and purposes, this free method isn’t a great replacement for the real thing. There’s bugs, lag, and many other problems, but when it comes down to it… you are in fact playing WOW for free.

Step One: Getting, Installing, and Updating the World of Warcraft Client

Getting the World of Warcraft client is the easiest part of this tutorial, but it may also be the longest depending on your internet connection speed. I have Comcast that goes at roughly 8mbps, and the download still took me over three hours (granted, I wasn’t maxing out my connection — Blizzard’s web servers aren’t the fastest). The download is 3.15GB. To get the client, click here. What you download as a result from that link probably only took a second, but then when you double-click that file it will begin the true downloading process. I chose to save everything to a desktop folder called WOW.

Note: The WOW Client is the full game of World of Warcraft. It contains all the information the CDs contain when you buy the game in the store. Blizzard allows people to get this client for two reasons: 1) You can use it up to 10 days to connect to the Blizzard servers for free, so it acts as a trial version. 2) You may be downloading the client for Mac OSX or for Linux, and then using that to login to your existing account that is activated with a Windows access key (which comes with the retail version of the game). In our case, we aren’t getting it for either of these reasons, but keep in mind this is 100% legal. This is NOT a pirated copy of the game.

The next steps, however, can be considering illegal. It goes against the Terms of Service for the game, so if you are morally invested or otherwise opposed to breaking such agreements, please close your browser now and forget this ever happened. All instructions are provided for educational purposes only and I do not condone illegal activity in any way.

NOW that that’s taken care of, shall we get to the fun part?

With the client downloaded, open up whatever folder you chose to save it to. You will see a file called “installer.exe”. Double-click on that to begin the installation. In the splash screen that comes up, press “Install World of Warcraft”. They then force you to scroll to the bottom of the service agreement before pressing Accept. (Keep in mind, this is the service agreement you are breaking by using a private server). Finally, press OK to accept the default values for installation directory and to begin the process. The installer will copy all the files and tell you when it’s finished. This process took 7 minutes for me. VERY IMPORTANT! When it says the Installation is Complete, DO NOT press “Play World of Warcraft” or “Create a New Account”. This will attempt to connect you with the Blizzard servers, which, for the purpose of playing WOW for free, you NEVER want to do. Instead, press the X in the top right corner of the installer to quit the program.

The next step is to update the client to version 2.3.3. This is the latest version as of writing, and it is supported by the latest version of Reaper-X’s WOW Private Server, which is used in the next step to host your own private server. Keep in mind that if you intend to connect to a private server on the Internet, then you will need to have the right version for that specific server. Therefore, make sure you only upgrade to that version and NO FURTHER. However, most of the best ones nowadays support 2.3.3, so that is what we’ll do.

Click here to go to Blizzard’s official US Patch site. Download the following patches: Version 2.0.x to 2.3.0 Full Patch, Version 2.3.0 to 2.3.2 Upgrade Patch, and Version 2.3.2 to 2.3.3 Upgrade Patch. The Full Patch there is 692MB so that may also take some time on a slower Internet connection. The total download time for all three was 15 minutes for me. I recommend using FileShack. Even though you have to click through more than FileFront, they are super fast… it maxed out my connection.

Once they are all downloaded, run them in sequential order. Nothing special to note here, except that if you are using Vista you should run these updates as an Administrator. Once you have the WOW client 2.3.3, then you are ready to continue by either hosting your own private server or connecting to an existing one on the Internet.

Step Two: Running your own Private Server

Private servers are servers that emulate the Blizzard servers. They do not equal the Blizzard servers in reliability or functionality, but they come pretty close. They are a necessity to bypass the monthly fee of WOW. Most private servers available to the public are rather buggy and laggy, but again, you get what you (don’t) pay for.

Click here for a rather detailed comparison between private servers and official (Blizzard, monthly-payment) servers. I try to explain it in my own way below.

You may want to run your own private server. This server will have almost zero lag, since you are communicating with your own computer instead of over the Internet. The biggest drawback to this is obvious: you will essentially be playing by yourself. If you just want to play WOW for the questing and the role-playing experience, this isn’t necessarily a problem. However, keep in mind that half of a MMORPG is the MMO part — the part where you interact in an online world full of other people. With your own private server, that element will be nonexistent, so you will certainly be missing out on a lot of the experience. The best reason to run your own server, besides the no lag factor, is that you can modify the world to your liking. This means making a Level 70 character in an instant, creating hacked items that make you unstoppable, instantly kill the biggest bosses, etc. Or you can do things that aren’t such outright cheating, such as creating custom bosses or vendors. Think of your private server as a sandbox, where you can experience the world of WOW however you want. If you’re the type of person that can have fun alone in a sandbox, then that’s what this method is for.

If you don’t like the idea of hosting your own private server, then you can join one of the private servers available online. Most of these are still free, meaning there’s no monthly fee. However, there are other people on there. There are usually only a hundred or so people on at any one time, though, which can never give you the same experience as the Blizzard servers where there’s thousands on at a time. If you would prefer to join an existing server because you don’t want to go through the work to host your own or you want the benefit of having others to interact with, you can skip this step and proceed to Step 3.

Those of you still reading this section are here because you want to learn how to host your own private server. In order to do this, we will take advantage of Reaper-X’s hard work. Normally, you would have to acquire the Mangos MMORPG Server and then do a lot of difficult things in order to make it WOW-compatible. Reaper-X has created a package that makes all of this much easier, essentially taking all the hard work out while still giving you full control of the server. He has also made my job easier by providing a very good tutorial on how to install his private server. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I will simply link to his guide. You can follow his guide word for word. Step 6 of his guide is the same thing I will cover below in Step Three, so you can skip that for now if you don’t understand how he explains it.

Just a few notes to supplement Reaper-X’s own guide. For Vista users, MySQL’s configuration wizard may not start cleanly. You will get an error complaining about a “side-by-side configuration”. The solution is steps 4-10 at this forum post.

Another ugly Vista note… all of the BAT (batch) files that are used to extract the maps, vmaps, and dbc content from the WOW data folder need to be run as Administrator. Unfortunately, simply right-clicking them and choosing “Run as Administrator” doesn’t do it. You instead have to do it from an Administrative Command Prompt. To do this, press the Start button, and then type “cmd” in the search box. Instead of pressing Enter to simply launch the program, press SHIFT+CTRL+ENTER. This will launch it with admin prefs. Of course, you have to “Allow” that action. Once you have that up, type “cd C:\” to get to the root of the C directory. Then type “cd Pro” and press TAB… it will automatically fill in “Program Files”. Now you can press Enter. Then type “cd World” and press TAB… it will fill in “World of Warcraft”, so press Enter. Once there, now you can type “extract-map.bat”, “makevmaps_SIMPLE.bat”, or “extract.bat” depending on what you are extracting. Also, you will get an error during the extract maps step about expansion.MPQ, since we don’t have the expansion pack, but you can safely ignore that.

During the Reaper Mangos configuration step, make sure you set the Expansion variable to 0 if you followed the first part of this guide, since the client you got does not include The Burning Crusade.

Step Three: Connecting to a Private Server

Whether you have created your own private server in Step 2 or want to connect to a Private Server on the Internet, the process is simple. You have to edit the file called “realmlist.wtf”, which is located in the directory C:/Program Files/World of Warcraft/. (If you installed WOW to another folder, it will be there instead. If you have trouble finding it goto Start->Search and type in “realmlist.wtf” and make sure it is searching All Files and Folders in Local Hard Drives.) Right-click the file and select Open With. Choose to open it in Notepad. There will be lines for the official Blizzard servers. Delete those.

Now you can put your new entry. If you have created your own private server, you would put a line with “set realmlist 127.0.0.1″. If you are using an Internet public server, you will use their URL instead. For example, a popular one is ToxicWow, which you would set to “set realmlist logon.toxic-wow.net”. Speaking of ToxicWow, they have a great picture tutorial of this process in case you are lost. Just click the “Change your realmlist” link and there will be a nice tutorial.

Keep in mind you can only use one at a time. If you want to use both ToxicWow’s server and your own private server, you will have to edit the realmlist.wtf file before you open the game to contain only the one you need at that moment. I am thinking about creating a program that will make switching this very easy, but right now it’s not a priority. I’m going to be too busy enjoying my private server.

If you have followed all the steps so far, you should be ready. Start up World of Warcraft, agree to the service agreements (which you have broken by using a private server), and then login using the GM account you setup. You can then create your new character and start playing WOW (by yourself or with the few people on the private Internet server). All for free !


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One Comment to “Howto: Play World of Warcraft for Free”

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