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Consider this comment:

I've been playing WoW(an online multiplayer game) since vanilla. I'm an older white male, my first toon was female, created with my wife coaching me. We did it just for fun.

What does vanilla mean here?

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"with my wife coaching me"... someone didn't want their husband marrying a random person online :') –  Adsy Jul 7 at 10:07

8 Answers 8

up vote 49 down vote accepted

I've never encountered this use, but I'll hazard a guess.

"Vanilla" in the computer world means a basic version of something, without any special features or customisations (from its use for no-flavour ice cream).

I presume this means "since there was only one kind of WoW".

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@FumbleFingers I can feel the burning eyes of a thousand AD&D players wondering what WoW has to do with their game. –  Oli Jul 6 at 16:54
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Actually, @Colin, I suddenly feel I must take issue with vanilla = no-flavour ice cream. Obviously it is a flavour - very different to ice-cream without even vanilla flavouring, which probably wouldn't be rated at all highly by most people. –  FumbleFingers Jul 6 at 17:03
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@FumbleFingers: obviously you are right. But when I was a child I knew that "vanilla" meant "no-flavour", because that's what the ice cream that just tasted of ice cream was called; and it seems to me that the bright spark who appropriated the word for the bog-standard version of a piece of software had the same intuition. It was much later that I discovered vanilla actually tasted of something (in fact, I knew and liked cream soda, but nobody ever said that that flavour was vanilla). –  Colin Fine Jul 6 at 22:27
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@ Colin: If that's how you understand literal "vanilla ice-cream" I can hardly tell you you don't. But to me, figurative vanilla = bog-standard, not exotic, extended from the sense of ordinary, original, standard rather than flavourless. –  FumbleFingers Jul 7 at 2:54
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If it helps, I tend to think of "vanilla" in this context as meaning the most basic, cheapest, no-frills "flavour" of a product, rather than indicating a lack of "flavour" altogether. –  Rupe Jul 7 at 9:35

In this specific case, vanilla stands for the base version of WoW, that is before the first expansion pack (World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade) was released.

sources:

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Battlegrounds was the first expansion pack. –  Sparr Jul 7 at 1:34
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@Sparr: Incorrect. Battlegrounds was not an expansion pack. "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (aka TBC), the first expansion for World of Warcraft" wowwiki.com/World_of_Warcraft:_The_Burning_Crusade –  bigbadonk420 Jul 7 at 7:38
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Functionality that is available automatically to everyone is still considered "Vanilla" in software. Only additional, OPTIONAL items are considered "non-vanilla" –  David Wilkins Jul 7 at 15:21
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@Sparr I am guessing because nobody had to buy it to have it. I never personally considered it an expansion, only a major update. –  Tim Seguine Jul 7 at 17:02
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In WoW circles, "vanilla" is the term for any point of the game prior to the launch of The Burning Crusade. Patch 1.12 is generally considered a lead-in patch. Each of the expansions come with a lead-in patch that brings some of the more intrusive changes that are required for everyone to have, regardless of whether they choose to buy the expansion (in the case of 1.12, cross-realm battlegrounds was the big one). These lead-in patches are often considered by the community to be part of the related expansion and may or may not be included when referring to a particular expansion era. –  Shauna Jul 8 at 19:36

As Colin mentioned, "vanilla" generally means the original version of something, before extra features/complications were added.

I would just like to add that the usage is not just restricted to the computer world. For example, when speaking about financial derivatives you have options, binary options, exotic options, etc. and sometimes for disambiguation the normal options are referred to as vanilla options.

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I thought in those cases "plain vanilla" was more prevalent. –  Mr Lister Jul 6 at 17:46
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And then there's a whole 'nother world where the term vanilla effectively means 'boring'. –  mcalex Jul 7 at 6:40

I read somewhere several years ago that the term vanilla, in this usage, was coined after the release of the game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, due to the colour of the original box. I now know this to be wrong*.

In searching for a viable reference to my theory, I discovered that the term was referenced in The New Hacker's Dictionary, first edition circa late 1996 (Oblivion was released in 2006). However, this usage of the word is possibly as old as 1975, as it is also referenced in the original jargon.txt file that forms the basis for Raymond's dictionary.

The earliest recorded version of jargon.txt is v1.0.3, which includes the following definition of vanilla:

VANILLA adj. Ordinary flavor, standard. See FLAVOR.

This is put into context by the accompanying definition of FLAVOR:

FLAVOR n. 1. Variety, type, kind. "DDT commands come in two flavors." 2. The attribute of causing something to be FLAVORFUL. "This convention yields additional flavor by allowing one to ..."

Hence vanilla software is the ordinary, standard version, or original version.

As mentioned by others, this translates as the version that precedes any expansion packs, or the base game without mods.

Although the OED does refer to the adjective "vanilla", below, there does not seem to be a reference to this usage in the online etymology dictionary etymonline.com, which further suggests that it's a recent development.

adjective informal: vanilla

  1. having no special or extra features; ordinary or standard. "choosing plain vanilla technology wherever you can will save you money"

*I considered that it is possible that Oblivion box's colour choice of vanilla was, instead, influenced in some way by the term "vanilla" used as discussed, especially when considering the focus on mods and the free TES Construction Kit for the game. However, I was not able to find the original reference to this claim and must conclude that the colour of Oblivion's box is not related in any way.

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To expand upon the many right answers here. Vanilla, in gaming, 99% of the time means the basic/release version of said game.

That is if a game was released 2010 and now it's 2014 and then somebody comes and says "Man, I miss Vanilla [Insert Game's Name]." They mean the game version as it was released in 2010.

However, Vanilla can also mean a set version that's pretty much decided by the community, but that's a more rare occurrence.

Say for instance Game B was released 2000, it was so bugged that it was unplayable. Now the developers patched it up and made it playable only by 2002 for example. The community might decide that the game's version from 2002 is the actual "vanilla" game.

But usually it just means the game like it was on its release day.

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Vanilla can also have the meaning of playing a game without any extra / community created moderations.

World of warcraft can be extended with a lot of mods and addons, and if you want to be in a somewhat serious guild, they will require that you install a number of mods.

Another example is Minecraft, that can be played with a lot of different plugins and mods. But the "Vanilla" version is the version that Mojang, the creator of Minecraft, is releasing. Here is not 1.0 version that is vanilla, but Mojangs current Minecraft version that is vanilla. But as soon you add a mod or a plugin(server) its not vanilla anymore.

So as I understand the world, a game is vanilla until you add something to it. That something is either an expansion or a mod.

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In this context, "Vanilla" refers to the moment that the software went live before any expansions or updates were released, or before any modifications to the basic operation and function of the software have been installed.

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In games that are commonly modified (modded), such as Minecraft or Skyrim, "vanilla" may refer to a version without any user modifications. It is what was released by the developer, and no more.

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