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Strange Parallel - Is MMOG History Repeating Itself?

Posted Tue, May 31, 2011 by Sardu

As Xerin pointed out in his article, Nostalgia Syndrome: A Playerbase Stuck in the Past, we've been witnessing a new trend on the official World of Warcraft forums. To summarize, there is a growing sentiment among World of Warcraft players that perhaps Cataclysm is too radical a departure from what many describe as the game's "golden era". Having been an MMOG fan since the earliest days of the industry, I couldn't help but think that this sounds eerily familiar, like I've heard it all before.

In fact, this is the exact same thing many original EverQuest players began proclaiming with the release of Scars of Velious. Even more interesting to me are the strange parallels that can be drawn between the two IPs once you factor in that the cries for a return to the "classic" days are focused on the release of their third expansion. Is this just a coincidence, or is MMOG history repeating itself?

Before attempting to answer that question, first let's take a little walk down memory lane, shall we?


EverQuest World of Warcraft General Information
EverQuest Cover Art
March 1999
World of Warcraft Cover Art
November 2004

Much like the original EQ before it, WoW helped usher in a new era for massively multiplayer online gaming when it was released in 2004. Before that point, EQ was at the height of its popularity despite the many cries for "classic" servers.

EverQuest - Ruins of Kunark Cover Art
March 2000
World of Warcraft The Burning Crusade Cover Art
January 2007

Kunark and TBC introduced the first sizable new landmass for players to explore, and both are largely considered to be part of the "classic" experience for their respective games by those fans clamoring for a return to the "golden era".

EverQuest Scars of Velious Cover Art
December 2000
World of Warcraft Wrath of the Lich King Cover Art
November 2008

For their second expansions, both EQ and WoW introduced players to much colder climates, streamlined the use of a faction-based reward system, and prominently featured dragons in their storylines.

EverQuest Shadows of Luclin Cover Art
December 2001
World of Warcraft Cataclysm Cover Art
December 2010

Much like Luclin before it, a certain segment of WoW players mark Cataclysm as the expansion that denotes a radical departure from the "golden era" - a period they are now claiming a desire to return to.


As the handy chart above helps illustrate, the idea that Cataclysm marks the turning point away from WoW's "golden era" is not a new concept in the MMOG industry. Ever since the release of EQ's third expansion, fans of that game have gone to great lengths to vocalize their desire for "classic" servers. Some fans even went so far as to host their own emulated servers that capped game content at the second expansion. Eventually, in 2007 SOE released the first Progression Servers for the game, and while they proved to be incredibly popular, for many the progression happened far too quickly for them to truly bask in the warm glow of the "golden era".

The concept was revisited earlier this year with the launch of the Fippy Darkpaw server. Only this time the progression is much slower, allowing the "classic EQ" fanatics a better chance to relive what they consider to be the game's glory days.

However, the question still remains: is MMOG history bound to repeat itself with World of Warcraft?

Fantasy vs Reality

A recent article on Kill Ten Rats might point us towards one part of the answer. You see, we humans have a tendency to glamorize our past experiences and recall their memories in a way that paints them in the best light possible. It's not so much a case that we intentionally only choose to remember the best bits of our past, that's just the way our brains function.

Applied to the desire for a return to the "classic days" of an MMOG, many of us unintentionally tend to sugarcoat our memories so that only the sweet stuff filters through. I don't know about you, but when I think about returning to the days of bat rides that took so long I could make a sandwich, eat it, wash the dishes and still not be at my in-game destination, all I can say is "no thanks". I'm sure each of us have elements from classic WoW that we are more than happy to have remain safely in the past.

Breaking the Camel's Virtual Back

Another reason why I chose to use EQ as a major point of reference above is the fact that, while doomsayers may have emerged with the launch of the third expansion, the game peaked in popularity after Luclin's release. In fact, it wasn't until EQ2 and WoW ushered in an entirely new era for the industry in 2004 that EQ's upward momentum was brought to a halt, notably a good 3 years after the launch of the expansion that supposedly spelled doom for the then reigning king of MMOGs in North America.

Call me crazy, but just like the EQ doomsayers before them, I honestly don't think the current vocal minority represents the reality of the situation for WoW, not by a long shot. Notice that the EQ servers are still up and running even 7 years after WoW hit the scene. Even if it's true that upcoming titles Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 will usher in the next major era for the industry, WoW has built up far too much momentum and held the title of King of MMOGs for too long for that to bring the game down for good.

Conclusion

In some ways, MMOG history is indeed repeating itself, at least in terms of the third expansion turning point where players have begun clamoring for a return to the "classic" days of WoW. By this time next year we should know whether or not TOR and GW2 will change the course of the industry to the degree that WoW did back in 2004. But even if they do, I have no doubts that WoW will keep going strong long into the future. And who knows; maybe in 2018 I'll even run into you on the first WoW Progression Server. But for now I'm more than happy to bask in the warm glow of the here and now, and enjoy Cataclysm today just as much as I enjoyed Luclin back in 2001. Doomsayers be damned I say.


As always, your comments are more than welcome. Bonus points for the first person to correctly point out the two Elliott Smith references used in this article.

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