no doubt that the game is changing the scene, and since its launch
in 2004, the industry has taken many drastic turns. There are players
who are utterly frustrated with today’s games, and yearn for
earlier days, when playing solo through the entire level range was not
an option, and players were forced to group if they wanted to progress.
Forced grouping and slow leveling created a strong community, and many
of these players now feel that that community feeling has been lost
in today’s titles. Read our article, ' href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/44181" target="_blank">Bringing
Back the Community through WAR' for more thoughts on the
evolution of community and online gaming.
The bottom line though, is that massively multiplayer games need to be
massively multiplayer, that is, they need subscribers, and lots of them.
Blizzard recognized this early with style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft,
and in an attempt to maximize their subscribers, they made the game
accessible. Accessibility not only meant it could run on virtually any
home computer, but it also meant the game had to be an option for
players who didn’t have hours at a time to commit to look for
a group, or camp a rare spawn in order to get a quest item or equipment
that they were after. Blizzard gave players the option of being able to
play solo through the game, offering something for everyone, whether
they had all day to play, or just a sporadic hour here and there.
While that model did prove to be extraordinarily successful, and the
game quickly soaked up a lot of players from older games, as well as
lure in millions of new players. But some of the older gamers resented
that. Suddenly their thriving communities began to dwindle, and the
only options they had left were to play the more popular game of style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
or continue to play another game, where, like ugly people in Hollywood,
the community was slowly thinning in numbers.
There is a divide in player’s thoughts of the changes, and
Game Designer, Andrew Krausnick, recognizes it.
“The community growth and WoW's game play shift has been so
pronounced that there has been a push back from the original MMO
denizens,” states Krausnick. “Most non-WoW MMOs
often require a higher degree of commitment or learned expertise and
are therefore generally considered more 'hardcore.' These MMOs
frequently have vocal community members who respond defensively to any
perceived movement towards 'WoWification' with the cry of 'go back to
WoW, noob' (or some facsimile thereof). And while a general example, it
is endemic of an unfortunate divide in the community at large. If the
new people that WoW has brought to our slice of the gaming world are
going to be a genre-wide boom, then both our MMOs and our communities
must grow to cater to a wide spectrum of users.”
The player boom is large, make no mistake. Sony Online Entertainment
(SOE) was behind EverQuest,
which was widely accepted as one of the largest subscriber-based games
at the beginning of the millennium. In early 2004, SOE divulged an
approximate subscriber number of 430,000 players in their href="http://championsofnorrath.station.sony.com/headset.jsp"
target="_blank"> press release of Champions of
Today, World of Warcraft has reached in excess of href="http://eu.blizzard.com/en/press/081223.html"
target="_blank">11.5 million subscribers. That’s
a pretty clear indication of the sheer size of growth the market has
seen in the past five years, and it’s had its
Krausnick continues, “MMO players were once a relatively
niche segment of the game playing population (much less the general
population), but with the launch and general acceptance of WoW, our
hobby has begun a full court press on popular culture. What we're going
to see is a generation of MMO players not limited to what would be
considered 'traditional' gamers, but covering a much larger
demographic. These MMOers are perpetuating and expanding the acceptance
of the concept of participating in an MMO as a hobby - freely spending
their leisure time simultaneously for digital entertainment and as a
social outlet, and that is a powerful thing. WoW has simply, in terms
of both growth and cultural mind share, had an impressive impact on the
So, with all of these new players in the market, and more coming in,
the effect on designing games from the core greatly changes, as
Krausnick points out. Developers not only need to recognize there are
players from different schools of thought, but they need to develop a
firm plan from the get go.
Jørgen Tharaldsen, Creative Producer of Funcom states that
“it also means that the bar is raised for the other MMO
companies, and I don’t envy any newcomers entering parts of
this market for the first time. Whatever is made is compared to the
current feature set of World of Warcraft, and that is no easy thing to
match. So I guess the game is on now, how to out-blizzard
really is what the game has become. As much creativity goes into these
games, at the core, they are still a business, and need to do smart
business in order to keep the games running, or none of us would have
any games to play at all. So, from a business standpoint, what is the
key to making a successful MMOG? Tharaldsen answers.
“I don’t think there are any easy answers to that
if you are playing within the traditional fantasy MMO field, but there
are so many other approaches opening up now. As such, I think Blizzard
has shown the way for the ‘early’ mass-market
potential of the genre, and as the MMO genre grows it evolves into
countless other, successful variations.”
Mr. Tharaldsen is not alone in his thoughts that Blizzard has set a
high standard. Company after company has tried to figure out the
“secret formula” to make a successful MMOG. Some
have failed, and some have done quite well. So what’s in the style="font-style: italic;">secret sauce? Is it
a Blizzard secret that they keep heavily guarded in an effort to ruin
the market for any heavyweight contenders? Hermann Peterscheck,
Producer of NetDevil, currently developing the highly anticipated href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/306"
Evolution, doesn’t think so.
“Is Coke destroying the soft-drink landscape?" he asks. "Is
Pixar destroying animated films? I think people like to target the big
winner and right now WoW is the big winner. As a developer I think
it’s much more important to focus on why companies like
Blizzard dominate in the arenas they compete in. People talk about the
'secret sauce' of companies that produce hit after hit. I
don’t think it’s a secret at all. Hits are the
result of lots of dedication and focus. style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
is successful because it’s an incredibly well made game.
Blizzard will tell anyone that the 'secret sauce' is working hard,
testing and getting all the details right. In fact, entertainment
companies that dominate in their industries follow that same pattern,
as do professional sports teams and music groups. I honestly feel that
Blizzard earned their success with WoW. Sure, maybe they had good
timing, maybe they were lucky… but at the end of the day
they made an awesome product. I would rather try and compete by making
an awesome product as well.”
Competition is the name of the game, as Peterscheck points out. And
with so many competing products now, players can really start to see
some unexpected advantages. One gamer from our Ten Ton Hammer
community, Anacche, recognizes this fact, and appreciates it for what
“By raising the bars so high, it has definitely made the
industry a tougher one to crack. If a game does not offer something
amazing, everybody goes crawling back to WoW or worse still, the
project fails either at, or even before launch. Those games that do
manage to keep up however leave their followers in absolute awe.
has seen its fair share of competitors rise and fall, some have stuck
around in the shadows, but in the end none of them have toppled WoW.
The reason being that now you have to come up with more than just one
new fantastic innovation (RvR,
PQs, or Sex and Violence anyone?) to draw lasting
attention. You have to match, or better WoW on each of its grounds -
PvP, PvE Casual, PvE normal, PvE Hardcore, and then come up with your
own innovations to top it and get the initial attention.
“After four solid years, WoW has shown that you also have to
design your content with longevity in mind.
“In some ways, WoW's quality has made it unfairly hard on
other developers. Some might call that a great wake-up call, some would
call it monopolizing the market; everyone would agree, it's going to
take something big to even nudge WoW.”
Whether unfair or not, the competition is there, and as Anacche
explains, we are starting to see more and more innovative ideas come to
our games. The competition and the massive subscriber base have pushed
the evolution of online gaming forward at a staggering pace. We can
take great satisfaction in knowing that the evolution is moving
forward, which can only lead to good places in the end.
This growth is not unlike any other growth spurts either. While we face
the puberty of massively online gaming, we can expect more bruises and
pains along the way. These pains come in various forms, from incomplete
rushed games trying to compete, to the afore-mentioned divide in the
community at large.
“In short, the extreme success of WoW has both expanded and
also divided the MMOG community, and the growth is certainly positive
but the transition is not complete. It is up to both our community
members and our developers to create spaces which are welcoming to
broad audiences. It is imperative that we both promote a myriad of play
styles as well as accept social atmospheres if we're going to make the
most of this opportunity and deliver MMOGs to their birthright as truly
massive entertainment,” Krausnick concludes.
So will we ever see a return of the old style of game? Probably not.
Like childhood, it’s something we cannot experience again no
matter how alluring it may be. But has style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
ruined MMOGs? It’s pushed us into a bit of a pimply, hormonal
stage with plenty of conflict, personal and peer, but the question can
only be answered by the individual player.
The direction of the future, though, is up to all of us as a community
of gamers, developers and publishers to decide.