Strange Parallel - Is MMOG History Repeating Itself?
Is Cataclysm too radical a departure from what many describe as WoW's "golden era"? This sounds eerily familiar, like we've heard it all before...
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?
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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.
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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".
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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
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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
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.
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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