Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The WoW Killer

There seems to be a lot of unrest going around the WoW community right now. Perhaps it's just some pre-patch blues, but I think there's more to it than that. I feel like a lot of the player WoW player base are ready for a new challenge, and, lets face it, WoW is an old game. Blizz can tweak classes and other things all they want, but the bottom line is that, as a community, we've pretty much figured out their game. I mean, after every patch it takes what, a week, for new strategies to be posted and new rotations to be ironed out. (Maybe less with the number of people getting in on the PTR and such).

The time is ripe for the fabled "WoW Killer". It's been talked about for years now... what game is going to come along and dethrone WoW from it's dominating perch atop the MMO genre? Several have tried, none have really succeeded.

Now, before y'all go fatalistic on me, I want to point out three common misconceptions about what may or may not happen at the end of the WoW era, and what we really should expect to see:

A mass exodus of players will occur.
People seem to expect that some new game is going to pop up, and then all 11-12 million WoW players are just going to migrate en masse to this new game. I have news for you: not gonna happen. That's just not how people work. We gravitated to WoW over time because it had something for everyone. 11 million people didn't just wake up one morning and say: "hey, I think I'd like to integrate an MMO into my life and this WoW just came out..."

It's far more likely that we've all learned something over the years about what we enjoy in an MMO. A lot of people were introduced to MMO's through WoW. Therefore, before people are willing to jump ship on what, for many, is the only MMO world they've ever known, they're going to want to make damn sure their needs are covered by the new game. 11 million people just aren't going to jump ship and go to some new, shiny, unproven game.

This leads one to believe that it may not be just one "WoW Killer", but dozens of small, collective WoW killers that attract a certain sect of the player base. Thus, it is more likely to happen gradually as new games are introduced. We're not going to go from vibrant community one day to ghost town the next.

Yet, last I checked, WoW subscriptions are still growing. Why is that if there is such unrest in the community? Let's look at misconceptions two and three to shed some light on this.

Due to aforementioned "mass exodus", WoW will die.
There seems to be this common belief that, some day (perhaps sooner rather than later), WoW is going to die. Now, I guess all good things must come to an end at some point, but I think it's a lot further out than fatalists would have you believe. People have invested years of their lives into this game. We're not just going to bail on all that "work" because of some unfavorable changes or whatever.

Besides, many of us have friends that we play with. Don't underestimate the value of relationships on gaming. Whole families play together. You're not just going to ditch your family. I'd argue that the first people to go will be the people with the fewest ties in-game. For the rest of us, leaving WoW would be a big change in our lives, similar to moving to a different location. It would mean starting over on many of the relationships we've worked hard cultivate, and that's not something to be taken lightly.

Notice, I'm focusing on relationships and NOT gear/items. Sure the "things" we've accumulated may have sentimental value and may contribute to hanging on mentality, but I don't think that's the main reason people will stick it out. When it comes down to it, we can weather a lot of crazy Blizz changes if we're stuck here because of our friends and family. If you think about it that way, it's sort of easy to be Blizz since they can really do nothing wrong. You've already hooked the people we care about, nerf us to the ground and we'll stick around if only just to chat. Granted there's a limit to this, but I think its a big reason why we hang around in the face of unfavorable patches.

So, as long as WoW remains a family and friend place, I don't think it will ever really die. People may greatly decrease their play time and pick up other games to explore and get involved in, but until they are able to generate a new circle of trust in the new games, there will always be a reason to come back to WoW, even if you're just stopping by. Realistically, to re-create these circles of trust, it'll probably take a year or two. That's a year or two where 11 million people are playing WoW AND another game. It's not one or the other, and Blizz is sort of facilitating this by making things more "casual".

And since we've said that everyone isn't just going to up and leave at once, we're looking at at least a few more years of a healthy WoW community. It may fade, but it's going to be over the course of years, not days or even months. Which brings us to misconception 3...

The "new WoW" will be WoW-like.
I'm not talking about game mechanics here. I think people generally agree that any WoW-killer would have to bring something special to the table. I'm talking about the feeling of community, the craze, the newness of it all. This sort of goes back to misconceptions #1 and #2. It seems to me like people assume everyone is going to move to some new game leaving WoW playerless, and set up shop in this new game as if nothing ever happened.

It may be that this sort of community and world-wide appeal is a one time thing. Perhaps we'll all go our separate ways, finding games that do what we've enjoyed in the game well. All the PvP folks will go to one game, while the raiders go to another, while the explorers go to yet a third. It's so rare to have a game where so many different kinds of players and meet in one world, why do we assume it even IS going to happen again? Isn't it just as likely that we just find games that cater to us better as individuals or groups, and that those might be different games?

There are so many different types of communities out there, who's to say it's all going to happen in this way again? Well, it's not. Things very rarely work like that. We can never unlearn what we've learned with WoW as individuals, groups, and gamers. Why would we even want to? Therefore, whatever we build next will start a lot further down the road than we did with WoW. Sure, there will be new trails to blaze, but they're going to be different.

Let's wrap this up...
Okay, so I've babbled enough today, trying to quell the feeling of unrest that's in me. Writing is a cathartic process, right, but what is the point in sharing it? Well, I'm hoping that we stop looking for "the end" as a community. Stop looking at things in black and white, and start seeing that we'll be just fine in shades of gray. WoW isn't just going to up and end, surprising us all and leaving us lonely and empty feeling. On the other hand, we don't have to force ourselves to do things that we don't enjoy just to "keep it alive". People are going to come and go as situations change. The game is evolving, not dying, and even if it was, it wouldn't overnight.

We need to be flexible with it, and not so fatalistic. Patches aren't the end of the world... of warcraft. They're just different. Don't be afraid to try other games, it doesn't mean you have to choose one or the other. Focus on your relationships and get back to basics. Take breaks. But most of all... stop bitching! Stop trying to force WoW into your square box of understanding. Change is scary, but lets try to discuss this constructively as a community and take the good with the bad in stride. All this fatalistic crap is getting on my nerves and sucking the fun out of it. :-(

(Aside: Personally, I'm focusing on getting married... less than a month to go. Plus I play a bit of EvE and I'm looking forward to Aion as described by Samoden and the new Star Wars MMO that's in the works. I've been getting outside and playing some sports, plus football season is coming up, so coaching responsibilities are cropping up. I should probably pick up a console game some time soon too or my thumbs will begin to get jealous of my other fingers. There's plenty to do!)


  1. Well said. I fully support playing other games too. Even though WoW has continued to be my "main game," I like checking out what else is available... some I like, some not so much. Granted, once upon a time WoW was the only MMO I knew, but not so anymore... it's just the only one I've stuck with for years.

  2. WoW will never die. Many MMOs (like FFXI) have carried on for years after they should have "died."

    Additionally, Blizzard has shown that they are willing to support games AGES after their shelf lives expire. As long as people keep playing, they'll keep working.

    A small, vocal part of the community may be growing tired of the game (myself included). However, Blizzard seems to be making the right moves for the bulk of the playerbase. My malaise is not based on a single event, but rather a long, slow process of changes that have moved the game away from what entertains me.

    Very well written, Fulg. I think this is what the community needs right now.

  3. That's a great supporting point about FFXI, Samo. That game didn't have near the community that WoW does (and was rather easy to hate in its grindiness), yet it has hung in well past it's prime.

    Even if WoW peaks in players tomorrow (which it doesn't look like its plateaued off yet), we probably have a good 5 years or more of game.

  4. And here I thought this was going to be a post about Star Wars the Old Republic. . .Very well thought out and although mostly common sense, thats what the best analyses usually are.

  5. Ha, thanks. I am QUITE anxious to try the new Star Wars MMO as well as Aion at this point, but I do it with the realization that I'll still be hopping on WoW to chat with friends, raid, and generally do what I enjoy there.

    I wanted to write this to let people that you CAN have you cake and eat it too. Sure you won't have every achievement ever, but is that what's fun for you anyways?