WoW: Expanding the MMO market, or destroying it?

I looked at Sir Bruce’s MMO charts, which he hasn’t updated since June, and most fee-based MMOs have been trending downward. They’ve clearly taken a hit from WoW.

The prevailing wisdom has been that WoW will broaden the MMO market, but I wonder if other games are really seeing any benefit from this? Windows helped boost the acceptance of PCs, but at the same time it killed off competing OS’s – the various flavors of DOS, OS/2, etc. Linux is making a bit of a game of it, but probably will never be more than a niche market. I can almost see the same thing happening with MMOs. Just as it would take a major development and marketing effort to make a run at some of the marketshare of Windows, it will take something similar to make a run at WoW’s marketshare.

We’ve seen a few major games launch since WoW and more or less flop – Matrix Online, DND Online, and Auto Assault. City of Villains seems to have mostly sold to the installed CoH base. EQ2 and EQ seem to have the combined subscription numbers of EQ at its height. SWG is limping along, as is DAoC it seems. Archlord is out and making all the noise of a feather dropping into a canyon. Players seem to play WoW or don’t play. They don’t seem to be migrating to other MMO games when they tire of WoW. And I think that when Burning Crusades launches, this will only get reinforced. I expect existing MMOs to take another significant hit when BC comes out.

Is there another million subscriber game coming from someone besides Blizzard? Warhammer Online? I could see it surpassing DAoC. I think it has a chance to lure away some WoW players. BioWare’s MMO in development? They are hoping for a million subscribers, which makes me think they have a license lined up for it, perhaps something KOTOR-related.

For myself, WoW represents such an investment of time that I am really reluctant to invest a lot of time in a new MMO. WoW does a lot more right than wrong as well, so the desire to switch games isn’t really there either – I look with skepticism at other games and think that they probably have more problems than WoW, rather than being an improvement. There’s a very good chance that my next MMO will be another Blizzard game, Starcraft Universe, if that’s what they will call it.

I’m not privy to subscription numbers and the MMO chart is a bit dated now, but it looks to me like WoW is cornering the market rather than expanding it.

As a dedicated MMO wanderer who has two similar friends, there’s a good reason that no one is playing anything other than WoW:

The rest of them suck.

We’re waiting for new blood, hopefully Warhammer or hell, even Vanguard will be good.

I think it’s both. I think that it expanded the pool of people who might play an MMO, but until enough of them get bored of WoW, the market will be WoW and also-rans.

If a “good enough” game comes along, then the now larger market may split into multiple “big” games. I don’t see it happening anytime soon, with BC coming out.

The Windows/Linux analogy is good. Linux slowly makes ground, but unless Windows makes massive blunders they probably won’t ever be a really big threat to Windows.

The question then becomes one of what will it take to get players to a new game? One that doesn’t suck and has the virtue of being something other than WoW, or one that is better than WoW?

Thing about WoW is that Blizzard is building up quite a lot of content and fixing a lot of holes in the game, such as the LFG feature. WoW, with BC, will represent probably 300-400 hours of content just to get to level 70 with one character, lots of instanced dungeons, a variety of PvP (battlegrounds, world PvP, arena PvP, and PvP servers), pretty complicated crafting, auction houses, flying mounts, etc. That’s a lot of stuff and overall it’s a pretty slick experience – and it runs on lesser PCs to boot. Are players going to be satisfied with any less in a new MMO?

I think it will take a combination of boredom with WoW and an “at least as good” alternative. I don’t think either of those things are in the near future.

BC solves the boredom problem for a while. The insane cost involved in coming up with something “at least as good” will keep a lot of players from trying. Even existing alternatives. EQ2 tried to hit WoW during the queues and downtime with ads touting “Actually play!”, and for whatever reason, EQ2 wasn’t “good enough” to draw people and keep them once WoW got back on its feet.

I’m one of the few who thinks this is false.

In particular I don’t think a “market” exists. Two millions of MMO players didn’t exist before WoW. They don’t exist without WoW either.

You make a good game, THEN you can create a market for it. WoW did nothing for the MMORPG genre if not demonstrating that the great majority of those games were severely flawed. It provided a better alternative in almost all cases and its success was just a progressive “landslide”, involving more and more people till becoming a mass market phenomenon (when the game grows beyond what it is and is referenced outside the genre).

Now WoW is so popular that Blizzard can afford all kinds of bad choices without any consequence. TBC can be a good or bad expansion, more or less fun. But it doesn’t really matter. WoW’s success autovalidates its appeal, it grew till a point that you cannot stop the process.

Raph said that it will never happen again. Because you cannot do to WoW what WoW did to EverQuest, and I agree.

Simply put, there isn’t a mmorpg company out there who is solid enough to compete. Nor is original or daring enough to try something different that WoW cannot provide.

If you think about it Blizzard is the only company to work on a MMORPG who had a good reputation and released great titles before. The other one is Squaresoft who created a gorgeous game with a huge potential but crippled by hideous design choices (FFXI).

I don’t see anything good coming from current companies just because they lack competency. The only element that could break the current status is the collision with console developers.

Established console dev studios are the only ones to have demonstrated to be capable of high production values, polish and all the rest that every mmorpg pre-WoW missed by a WIDE margin. Veteran mmorpg players dedicated to the genre had to suffer those problems and adapt, WoW provided an alternative.

In short: don’t expect any of those mmorpgs currently in development to even notch WoW’s success. EQ2, Warhammer, Conan will have enough to survive with WoW’s crumbs. And they won’t get more than crumbs.

The situation could greatly change if some console developers wake up, though.

Basically I think that innovation and interesting developments just won’t come from the current generation of mmorpg developers (or indie studios). If not more of the same, with terrible implementations.

It depends on the player. Much of what I see about TBC actually looks like dumbing down the game experience and making it more of a short-term, “everyone’s all in” love-fest, rather than the traditional long-term thin attenuation models that previous games have had. Maybe WoW has enough mainstream recognition to out-recruit the churn, but I think from the looks of things WoW may start to bleed off a significant portion of folks who were MMO players (and enjoyed it!) before WoW ever hit. Breadth of attraction vs. depth of experience is a two-edged sword, and while it may work for sucking in the masses, from what I’m seeing it seems to be tiring out the traditional longer termed player more quickly than most MMOs.

If that’s the case, then the “core MMO” market will exist just fine outside of WoW. This is certainly what a game like Vanguard is counting on.

So yeah, I think there’s room for a game that’s not “another WoW” out there. I think it’s important to manage expectations when putting it together. But I also think we may hit a peak (say 6 -12 months into TBC) when WoW begins to churn heavily as people realize that the cost of mass access is a certain amount of blandness and playing to the masses that alienates the more “elite” MMO players. And the interesting question is how many casual players gravitate toward the more “elite” player model naturally as a process of becoming familiar with the MMO play model in the first place.

I think WoW has made MMOG’s more mainstream and has elevated the concept of online playing to a much higher level of awareness among the general public. Every few weeks I see more about MMOGs (usually WoW, but more frequently now, Second Life) in the press. Such awareness is a big hurdle that’s being overcome and which will lead to a whole different type of mainstream interactive entertainment down the road. But for the foreseeable future, there isn’t going to be any serious competition to WoW. Hopefully the smaller companies make good profits so that the genre continues to evolve, or else Blizzard will own the market in 20 years the way Microsoft does operating systems today.

I had given up on MMORPGs 5 years prior and WoW sucked me back. Once I felt I had seen and done most of what I wanted to do, I was done. That did, however, take me a year.(One lvl 60 a couple level 40s and a couple lower level alts.)

Over to EQ2 where my stay was quite a bit more brief (one character to lvl 36 in around 4 or 5 months). The polish and features of WoW certainly affected the way I will look at others. However, I am not sure if my quicker burnout w/ EQ2 was as much a function of that or that the leveling and gathering of loot and crafting was simply not as fresh since I had done similar activities for a year in another game. As with most “feelings” I get game related, it is a combination of these and other factors.

I think it is going to take a combination of the excellent gameplay crammed into WoW as well as new (dare I say innovative) features that do not exist in today’s titles to make another blockbuster in the genre. The very fact that WoW was the first MMORPG or the first in a while for so many definitely makes it a huge uphill battle to achieve similar success. All the freshness of one’s first time has been spent on WOW.
[li]It will have to be better than WoW in many respects.
[/li][li]It will have to be as easy to jump into as WoW.
[/li][li]It will have to come up with stuff that is fresh that we have not just spent hundreds of hours doing in WoW.[/ul]Doing all of that is a tall order, but, in addition, it will have to lure many of the WoW folks away. A new title will not get any new blood in. WoW has farmed all the fertile soil of new MMORPGers. A substantial portion will need to move on to give any new game a shot.
I am sure this is what was said with EQ. It will take the next generation of MMORPGs to move forward and I do not see any of these upcoming releases meeting the criteria required to become the next big thing.

The point is: a bored WoW player goes to play the hundreds of great single-player games released recently. Oblivion, Company of Heroes, whatever. Not another mmorpg.

I disagree. I am a bored WoW player and I am searching for another MMORPG in the current crop and through Beta testing of others. Unfortunately, I am searching for a better WoW and there is no such beast and may never be.

For someone that’s burned out on WoW, the closest I can suggest is EQ2. But that’s got enough similarities to WoW that it’s easy to go “been there, done that.”

There are some decent enough Indie games out there, but they pretty much require players to do a lot of work just figuring out how to play the damn game.

Two areas I think WoW really raised the bar was the level of polish they put in it. I wish more games would make the early levels as easy to get into as WoW did.

I think that’s a pretty pessismistic view of it. I don’t believe that 2 million players will get bored of WoW and not look to something else. They are now hooked on MMORPGs, not just WoW. And the rest of the WoW players that will move on to whatevers Next™ will take a good percentage of those people with them.

Basically I think that innovation and interesting developments just won’t come from the current generation of mmorpg developers (or indie studios). If not more of the same, with terrible implementations.
See, you say it above though, Blizzard wasn’t a MMORPG developer and they took the market by storm. Now while I agree that you can’t do to WoW what WoW did to the existing market* at the time of it’s release, you can either improve upon the diku model or come up with something new/better. Say Valve or maybe Bioware (people that understand production values go a long way) got into the market with something stellar… they could definitely carve a huge chunk out of WoW. And in a year or two, that market will be even more ripe for the picking.

*That’s assuming the MMORPG stays with the diku, first person model. A long shot exists on something that goes in a completely different direction AND is newbie accessible. It would have to be crazy good, grandma accessible AND marketed well…somehow.

Yeah, that’s what I see too. And the bored WoW player takes a break for a few months and then gets the itch again, and is probably more likely to play WoW again than try a new game.

If Blizzard can follow through on their desire to produce an expansion every 12 months (yeah, I’m dubious too) then it will be even harder for another game to breakthrough. There will always be something new in WoW just around the corner. We’ll probably get new character classes next expansion.

That’s my point as well. Worthwhile innovation may only come from those dev studios who are currently sitting outside the genre.

What I’m saying is: don’t expect anything interesting from the current “players” like Turbine, Funcom, Mythic, SOE, Cryptic, Sigil and so on.

(again from the perspective of MAJOR phenomenon, not the Eve-Online scale of things)

Maybe I am simply atypical, but I have been itching, went to EQ2, meh, and in the last few weeks re-subbed to WoW, after ~6 months away and and did not want to do high end, level 60 stuff. Started a new character as in a new starting zone and had no desire to continue after 2 days.

Ok, lets say we agree on that point, because we do… My question then, is why not? Is it because they are so stuck in their ways that they can’t evolve? Is it because WoW already did all the good stuff and the diku market is now done?

Personally, I suspect it’s because most of the those companies don’t understand the need for things like UI, usability, attention to detail, etc. That speech what’s his face (the Blizzard guy) gave awhile back really said a lot of what Blizzard does that other MMORPG companies don’t.

It will need to be both. I highly doubt anyone will top WoW on this time of EQ inspired game. If the mechanics are similar and the gameplay is similar, nothing will take on WoW and win.

It will need to be different, but it will have to be of a quality level that matches or exceeds world of warcraft. Developers take note: customizable and flexible UIs will become mandatory in successful MMOs. WoW has given players the power to modify their interface and people have gotten a taste of blood. They will want more.

But if you are currently making a level-based fantasy MMORPG which hinges on reaction-based auto-combat, you might as well just give up. You aren’t really going to match WoW unless you bring something new to the table.

I agree with Charles, and for that reason, I think WoW is great for the MMORPG market. Why? Because, with any luck, the other dikuers will get weeded out if they can’t be at least up to WoW’s level of quality. That’s a good thing. After playing WoW, how can I go back? Why do I want to? I mean I’ve resubbed some of my older MMORPG subs after leaving WoW and while it was fun for a bit, it didn’t hold me long and the UI in every single one of them left me wanting.

I used to predict a huge MMO market crash around mid-2005 (and if you go back far enough you can probably find me talking about it). The assumption was that players would get tired of the same old thing, the same old buggy mess. Because all any company was doing was rehashing EQ with different graphics or mildly different gameplay. And even if someone did have a different idea, they’d fail so horribly on execution. I was predicting a funding black-hole for MMOs which would essentially kill the market until a rebirth. The rebirth would be characterized by an MMO that came (probably out of a smallish developer) that was radically different than what had been seen, and would refuel interest in making MMOGs.

However, WoW went and blew that all to hell. Why people don’t learn is beyond me. Blizzard did what it took to make an existing flawed formula in to a great game. But… all these competitors still aren’t doing that. They miss things that people need. They fail to create a high quality - high polish MMO.

But publishers see the numbers WoW is pulling in and continue throwing money at it. They think that if they just copy enough of WoW they can make money.

At this point, I’m not sure anyone will learn.