Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This is really a subject I have mixed views on.  On one hand I think super successful games inhibit growth and innovation in the market thanks to the trend for them to "cloned" by competition, and on the other I think games like WoW show the real strength of the MMO genre.

One thing I'm not conflicted in saying though is I think WoW limits the room for alternative games to grow, and this is why.  If you go to sites like and look through their charts you see a sharp decline in most games right at the point where WoW hits the scene in the second half of 2004, and since it's release only one game they track that was released after WoW has hit the 1 million subscriber mark.  There are others that were released prior that maintained over a million subs, and in the case of Runescape grew to over a million subs but as we can see with around 11.5 million subscriptions WoW has redefined what is a success.

Look at games like Lineage that are closing their North American and European servers, they still have well over 1 million subscribers, yet their parent companies don't feel it is successful enough and is closing down servers to focus on higher concentration markets in Asia.  This is an absolutely frightening trend, games are consolidating servers, cutting back on support, and in some cases closing shop because they don't have millions of subscriptions.  You see it across the board, and it drives companies to try and include as many elements of games like WoW into their own titles in order to try and cut into the market share.

This brings to mind one very big question.. What makes WoW so special?

Let me point out a few things first as I go to answer this and fill you in a bit on my own MMO background.  I started playing MMO's in the later part of 1999, with Ultima Online a game I still maintain subscriptions for and actively play to this day.  I've played EverQuest, WoW, Atlantica Online, dabbled in Dungeon's and Dragons Online and Champions Online, I actively play Lord of the Rings Online, and I'm active in several Gaming Community sites.  In other words I keep up with what's going on in MMO's either through experimentation or through reading.  I have a good memory on top of everything and a bad habit of continually reflecting on topics that interest me.  Basically I'm a Gaming Geek.

Now with that said I feel I can start.   In my opinion WoW isn't anything special in an of itself, Blizzard borrowed and built on the successful elements, and mechanics in game play that SOE introduced with EverQuest and EQII while wrapping them around their already popular Warcraft universe all while taking advantage of new technology in graphics capability.  Blizzards greatest success hasn't been from adding innovative new experiences, it's been in their ability to drastically re-invent their game world through their expansions.  Instead of simply adding new areas, monsters, quests, classes and races, Blizzard has taken the time to really take their expansions beyond all those elements and reshaped and evolved their game world over time.  Let me give you an example using Ultima Online.

The First image is the famous assassination of Lord British during launch festivities in 1997.  The second picture is the same location 14 years later taken about 15 minutes ago by me.


As you can see EA has released a new client, but that's just a minor improvement. A new UI and some higher resolution graphics, but nothing has really changed on a large scale in the game world itself, out side of it getting bigger with the addition of new areas (facets).  This is true especially when you see how Blizzard evolves their world in images like the following pre-Cataclysm and post-Cataclysm images of the same location.


What has happened is Blizzard has given their world more "life" it's world is actually changing over time not just getting bigger and more complicated.  This is the Special property that Blizzard imbues into WoW, their game world evolves with the game not just by adding new areas but by major updating and overhauling of existing areas to enrich the game experience.  It's how Blizzard treats the game world that is special not the game mechanics and systems themselves.  It helps breach that gap between same old and wow this is new!, it makes the game come alive in a way that keeps the attention of players far more than static worlds will.

Now I know someone could argue that UO obliterated a city and rebuilt it, reshaped an Island (Haven/New Haven vs Ocllo) etc. but nothing on the scale of what Blizzard does with WoW is done by anyone who manages a large persistent world MMO.  The additions of races, classes, skills, new land masses etc. are important, don't get me wrong but other games simply do not put the effort into revamping and keeping existing areas fresh that Blizzard does.  WoW is their Flagship title and they treat it as such.

So do I think we need a WoW killer?  Yes, yes I do, because of the financial and social success of WoW (You don't see Ozzy and Mr. T doing LOTRO Commercials do ya?), there has been a stagnation in innovation and growth in the MMORPG genre.  What we need to push gaming to that next level is a new game, with a world that evolves, grows and ages with the players.  A new experience in not only content but mechanics and how players view their position in the game world.  A game that can draw players in, and hold them by always showing them a new face.

The Bottom Line:

Until a game comes along that can change how we view playing MMORPGs, in a fashion that not only keeps us drawn into the game world, but consistently gives us a reason to immerse ourselves into the entire world and not just a desire to rush towards "End Game" WoW will be considered the pinnacle of success and everyone else will continue making "WoW Clones", and through doing so retard the advancement of innovation and game play in the MMORPG genre. 


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