In 2004, Blizzard Entertainment revolutionized the games industry by releasing World of Warcraft, the insanely popular MMO that would quickly become one of the most successful interactive products ever created. At the time, there was certainly a niche market for MMOs, but WoW was the first game that proved a massively multiplayer online game could land mainstream success. The game skyrocketed to victory and became the biggest (paid) MMO in the world.
Nearly eight years later, World of Warcraft is still the top dog, with an estimated 10 million players and a brand new expansion on the way. Thanks to a thriving player community, a mellow learning curve and plenty of casual-friendly content, WoW has managed to hang onto the lead almost entirely unchallenged. World of Warcraft’s success is the benchmark for all future MMO products.
In the world of MMOs, we’ve taken to asking this simple question about new online releases: “Is this aWoW killer?” In other words, “Is this the game that will snatch millions subscribers from WoW’sgauntleted hands?” So far, the answer has been “No,” as no game has managed to topple World of Warcraft from its throne.
However, we’re looking at the question from the wrong angle. No one game is ever going to kill World of Warcraft. Like an enormous raid boss, WoW simply cannot be downed by a single entity.
No, the real WoW killer is time—and every MMO that has come out since WoW’s original date of release.
A Field of Competitors
It’s worth noting that plenty of people (myself included) play more than one MMO. For instance, I’m currently playing WoW, RIFT, EVE Online and TERA, while sneaking in other titles when I can. So the success of one game doesn’t necessarily mean the failure of another. However, it’s impossible to ignore the strong slate of competitors that have hit retail markets since WoW’s launch in 2004.
Here’s a quick list of big-name MMOs that have landed and (mostly) succeeded since then:
- Guild Wars
- Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
- The Lord of the Ring Online
- Warhammer Online
- Star Wars: The Old Republic
That’s just off the top of my head, and leaves out dozens of other titles that have seen release between 2004 and today. True, no single title has managed to do much damage to WoW; the most popular game on that list is likely SWTOR, which is headed towards an estimated player cap of 1.7 million. But taken as a whole, these games have pulled countless of players out of World of Warcraftand into their open arms—even if only temporarily.
It’s not that people are canceling their WoW subscriptions; in fact, most people aren’t. But each new game that hits the market diversifies the choices we have as gamers and shows us features that other titles may not have. World of Warcraft can’t compete with RIFT’s dynamic world events, or Star Wars: The Old Republic’s epic story arcs. WoW isn’t free-to-play like Aion and Lord of the Rings Online, and it’s not as pretty as newer titles like TERA and the upcoming Guild Wars 2.
The longer WoW exists, the more competition it will have to face. More competition is good, since it keeps Blizzard on its toes and forced innovation into what can often become a stagnant genre, but as gamers split their attention from one game to the next, it’s inevitable that World of Warcraft will eventually fall by the wayside. No king can reign forever.
We’re seeing hints of this trend now—coverage of the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion is lukewarm at best, especially when compared to the glowing reviews and previews of Guild Wars 2. Even the official promotional material for MoP has the faint feeling of triage, as if Blizzard is desperately trying to save a hemorrhaging patient before all hope is lost.
MMOs don’t shut down in the blink of an eye. People still play the original EverQuest(EverQuest, often shortened to EQ, is a 3D fantasy-themed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that was released on the 16th of March, 1999. Many of the elements from EverQuest have been drawn from text-based MUD (multi-user dungeon) games,which in turn were inspired by traditional role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons. In EverQuest, players create a character (also known as an avatar, or colloquially as char or toon) by selecting one of 16 “races” in the game, which range from elves, dwarves and ogres of fantasy, to cat-people (Vah Shir), lizard-people (Iksar), and dragon-people (Drakkin). At creation, players select each characters adventuring occupation (such as a wizard, ranger, or cleric – called a class–see below for particulars), a patron deity, and starting city. Customization to the character facial appearance is available at creation (hair, hair color, face style, facial hair, facial hair color, eye color, etc).). However, as an MMO ages, players lose interest in the worlds they once loved, and venture off to find new challenges and stories. Much like the flailing MMOs of the modern day, a certain subset of gamers will always play World of Warcraft. But the surging popularity it has seen for almost a decade is sure to fade away, thanks in large part to high quality competition using its innovations as guideposts.
We can stop looking for a WoW killer now—they’re already here.