For years we have seen the release of highly anticipated games set to topple the reign of World of Warcraft as the next generation massively multiplayer fantasy experience. After recently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, you’d think that interest would start to sway towards a change. The game continues to boast a subscriber count of around 10 million in 2015 after the release of The Elder Scrolls Online and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Within this, I’ll give my opinion as to why.
World of Warcraft was a title stemming from the Warcraft universe, which itself recently celebrated 20 years of service to gaming and literature. The back story to this immersive and enriched fantasy world has only developed and strengthened thanks to the excellent works of writers attached to Blizzard. Not only is it hailed by the gaming community, but the lore novels that surround the many eras of its universe are also commended within the realm of literature. With such an archive of history and content to work with, Blizzard have never struggled to provide for their community.
Community is a big part of MMO Gaming. For the game to be successful, it requires numbers. Numbers to fund, complete and ultimately inspire new content. This community has remained strong in numbers throughout Warcraft’s legacy and continues to enjoy fresh content in the present. Game developers should take this into account before going ahead with their masterplan to become the WoW Killer. As we’ve seen with countless other titles, a fancy new engine just won’t cut it.
So what do new developers really have to compete with? It’s just an old game on an outdated engine, right? When you base a game around a community, no. In that sense, the game is going to be around for as long as its players are. Players go away though, don’t they? It’s true that players will find something better and head off with their friends to a new chapter of gaming, but only when a strong competitor offers them something fresh, new and ultimately better. Now in Warcraft’s case, that would mean a game that can compete with its subscriber base, content releases, its franchise as a whole and the 20 years of lore that has been developed by its team. Not all of us are lore buffs, I agree. What we do love to see in a game, however, is a fresh experience in new content. Blizzard seem to have a bottomless archive of history to delve into when creating that.
Assuming a company decides they can provide that and more in order to finally best Blizzard, how are they going to fund it? The gaming community is becoming more and more reluctant to agree to a monthly subscription to a game they initially have to purchase. Many subscribers to games such as The Elder Scrolls Online drop off after the first couple of months as the experience doesn’t seem to be worth giving money to a fresh player in the scene. Again, this is answered by a strong community who are happy to put their money into a company they trust to bring them new content. Warcraft’s community is secured by the reasons outlined above, ergo the delivery of expansions and features is assured. Can other developers boast the same?
Over the space of 10 years, my own opinion is that the game which stood the greatest chance of competing with the titan that is Blizzard’s World of Warcraft was The Elder Scrolls Online. Unfortunately, this was slashed by its poor delivery. The Elder Scrolls is a universe of a similar nature. It has been developed and nurtured over time and the single player experience of its games has remained consistent. Oblivion remains one of my personal favourites to this day. The title has a strong fan base and seemed a perfect contender. Perhaps not an equal one, but definitely the best choice. There were bold promises made and the game became highly anticipated. Then, we got to try it. Numerous reasons were instantly announced as to why you shouldn’t pay for this game. One of them was the price itself. You pay for the game, naturally. The game is then subscription based. Other games of this genre have started making the switch to micro transactions, such as Guild Wars. Even Blizzard seems to have realised this over the last couple of years. We can let them off on that one, though. The one thing that confused me was that for you to be able to gain the full experience of the game, after all the money you have already put in before so much as logging in, you’d have to pay further for the ‘Imperial Edition’. This wasn’t an expansion. It was content being released at the same time as the game itself. The stunt swayed many gamers in the opposite direction once many began to regard the game as a cash cow. There were other reasons that prevented its rise as a contending MMO, but they’re best explained in a future post before I hijack the reason for this one.
To sum it all up, community is everything in these games. You keep them happy and they’ll fund your expanse. The Warcraft universe has made good use of their own and continues to deliver on a day to day basis. Content comes every couple of months and the servers never seem to take an unscheduled hit. Both game and community remain strong and reliable, continuing to compliment each other. Perhaps one day a company will deliver a new, exciting game that can be anticipated by its own community to keep it relevant and competitive. For now, Warcraft’s reign will likely end when it’s ready to end.