Last played: 2012
Wizard101 is one of the most wildly successful MMOs you’ve probably never played. KingsIsle’s got 30 million registered players for the game, which dwarfs all but a few MMOs, As with most of the older F2P titles I’ve covered in this space, it has a somewhat older system, one with a lot of pay walls and a mild form of pay-to-win in its cash shop. It’s probably not a bad move for what it is. When you’re a parent, it’s relatively easy for you to toss $6/month (the price of a basic subscription) or more at your child to keep them entertained; that’s arguably harder when you’re trying to justify that same expenditure for yourself.
Going beyond the pay model, the gameplay itself is CCG-based in that your wizard builds a deck of spells that he or she uses in turn-based combat. The first thing that struck me about the game was that your basic deck contains a relatively small maximum number of cards; later decks increased that limit. As any good CCG player knows, the smaller your deck, the better, so you get the cards you want more quickly. And, as someone who’s played the “deck doctor” role for magazines dealing with CCGs aimed at younger folks, they often want to play “one of everything” decks that use as many of their cool cards as they can stuff in. I’d imagine that big decks are a huge draw to Wizard101 fans, even though they’re inferior gameplay pieces.
As for the spell cards themselves, damaging spells – which are the core of any deck – have a percentage chance of successfully being cast. Failure is called “fizzling.” This carries with it two problems. The first is the simple RNG aspect of things, which is sure to frustrate anyone. Even with a (fairly typical) 85% chance of success, you’ll occasionally get that fizzle at a crucial time or, worse, two fizzles in a row. And there’s nothing you can do about it except curse your luck.
Second, as I read in an interview once, KingsIsle basically admitted it was a mistake to use this system because of the lack of scalability. When you have 80-90% chances for success, you’re limiting how much better you can make spells and expand the game.
It may sounds like I’m nitpicking the game’s poor qualities, and maybe I am. I got into Wizard101 because it was heavily promoted in one of our Beckett magazines, and I liked it well enough, but the game designer in me noticed all these little flaws and couldn’t really love it. I’m not going to say I’m Captain Know-It-All when it comes to MMOs, but younger players, with their limited experience, probably don’t notice these issues and are just happy to live out their Harry Potter fantasies in a virtual world. It’s a well-made game that lets you live out those fantasies, and that can make up for a lot of gameplay quirks.