50 MMOs in 50 Days #49: World of Warcraft

Last played: 2013
Experience: Extensive

[I know I originally said this would be last. Had a change of plans, decided that one of the MMOs on my list wasn’t sufficiently MMO enough while another that I’d forgotten about was MMO enough to be included. Don’t worry, I’m preserving the alphabetical order!]

There was a bit on ESPN several years ago, that said baseball in America and soccer in Brazil were the same: slow-paced, older sports that, if they didn’t already exist, would have a hard time catching on with today’s fast-paced, action-first sports fans. Seriously, think about it: Would baseball stand a chance against football, auto racing, basketball – not to mention a host of other entertainment options – if it were introduced today? Probably not.

World of Warcraft is the baseball of the MMO world. It continues to thrive not so much because of its quality but because it’s just there – and, for people who started their MMO careers with it, it always has been.

I’m not saying it’s a bad game, no more than I’d say that of baseball or soccer. And I’ve never reached endgame, so I can’t really judge it based on that. Having played other WoW-like games’ versions of high-level play, though, I’d assume it’s pretty similar.

WoWScrnShot_111913_215535As I mentioned in my LOTRO piece, I played that game first and when I got to WoW, it felt like a “LOTRO clone.” It was fine for what it was, and I have no doubt it was innovative and spectacular when it launched, but six years later, it just felt like any of a number of other games out there. Of course, those other games wouldn’t be out there if not for WoW, and many of them copied and refined Blizzard’s game to various degrees, improving upon the original formula in a number of ways. But this was the strongest indicator to me that, taken on its own merits, without the weight of history or a single person’s years of experience, World of Warcraft was just “OK.” If aliens who’d never seen an MMO came down and had to pick one to play based on nothing but their own personal opinions, they’d be just as likely to pick WoW as they would to pick any other game.

A tenet I’ve learned to live by is that the objective quality of a product is just one – and sometimes not the most important – factor in determining how successful it is. Justin Bieber and Honey Boo-Boo are both wildly successful, but I don’t think we’d say that’s because they’re among the most skillful and talented entertainers in the world today. Even if WoW is average, gameplay-wise, by today’s standards, it came out at just the right time and did just what it needed to do to draw a huge population – and the population of an MMO can be just as important as its gameplay mechanics in determining whether it’ll get new players.

I don’t hate WoW or wish it would die or go F2P or whatever. But you’ll also have a hard time convincing me it’s the best MMO – or represents the only way to do an MMO – simply because it has the most players.

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One Response to 50 MMOs in 50 Days #49: World of Warcraft

  1. Despite being an avid WoW player, I am inclined to agree with your assessment of it. It’s a solid game, but not a brilliant one, and its massive and continued success is likely as much a function of good timing and inertia as it is of quality. I enjoy WoW, but I recognize there is little — if anything — that it does that other games don’t do as well or better.

    For my part, the appeal of WoW is found almost entirely in nostalgia for the previous games in the series and my investment in the world and its lore. I have always said that I am a Warcraft fan first, and a WoW fan a distant second.

    What draws so many other people to it is not something I’ve ever fully understood.

    Although there are some truly awesome experiences I’ve had in WoW, the truth is in my heart of hearts I’d rather have just gotten more strategy games instead. But it did introduce me to the world of MMOs, which has had a pretty major influence on my life and career, so I suppose I can’t complain too much.

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