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What Makes WoW Tick?
Soon, the next chapter of the WoW legacy will be upon us when Cataclysm releases on December 7. Sitting high upon the throne of the world of MMOs, the latest expansion for WoW has many a gamer clamoring to get their hands on it. Forget that this game will celebrate it’s 6th anniversary later this month, as old as Methuselah in MMO gaming years. It’s worldwide popularity has barely dropped below epic numbers over the years.
I have always contended that what helped WoW climb to be King of the MMO mountain was mostly timing. Sure, I know you MUD players were already old pros at hooking up virtually for some gaming and I know WoW was not the first MMO. I’m talking now about how WoW helped open up the MMO world to the “casual” gamer and blew MMO subscription numbers out of the water. Released in November of 2004, the climate for MMOs couldn’t have been better. Computers at home were now more common as opposed to being that shiny high tech toy reserved for only the true techie (or egghead, depending on how you want to call it).61.8% of homes had access to a computer compared to only 22.8% a decade before. More importantly for the MMO genre, more homes were wired. According to US Census data, 2003 showed 55% of homes in America had access to the internet, up from 41.5% in the year 2000.
Evolving from AOL chat rooms and the like, MMOs didn’t seem so foreign to the casual player any more. We were waking up to a whole new virtual world, where chatting and socializing with “strangers” via electronic media didn’t seem so weird. (Okay, my mom still thinks you are all stalkers and axe murderers and worries incessantly about my safety if she hears me on Skype with any of you). There wasn’t a lot of competition in the MMO world in 2004. City of Heroes launched in April of that year. Going head to head and labeled as the two “current generation” MMOs was EQII and WoW, released November. There were other MMOs active at the time, but the market was definitely limited in comparison to today’s standards.
WoW was perfect for the casual gamer, at least initially. 1-60 was easily managed with a couple of hours in the evenings. The graphics, while “cartoony” to some, were beautiful and simplistic at the same time. More importantly, it would run on many systems without problem, further advancing it’s popularity. Post 60, the game took a sharp turn to hard core, with day long Molten Core runs. Some of the casual gamers left. Others were quickly converted from sweet casual gamers to hard core, “I want my shiny purple epics, Biatch!” players. And so then they were hooked.
If timing is what helped launch WoW to the astronomic popularity it has enjoyed, it doesn’t really explain what has kept it there for the last 6 years. A few points that I think have helped WoW stay on top of the heap follow:
- Being amicable to lower end systems and slower internet speeds certainly helps it. Look at some of the minimum system specs required for some of the newer MMOs. You don’t have to break the bank to play WoW.
- The game is international, with the most current subscription numbers boasted at over 11 million across the globe. I can’t find any realtime numbers, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that WoW is probably in more countries than any other MMO on the market.
- They have been strategic in their marketing. William freaking Shatner? Mr. T and his Night Elf Mohawk commercials? Ozzie Osbourne and the Prince of Darkness?! Super Bowl commercials? They know how to keep the enthusiasm for their game going. Hell, the Toyota truck commercial that one year had me wanting to play again. “There’s no trucks in World of Warcraft!!”
- Phat lootz and uber elite status symbols. They play to the “keeping up with the Jones’ mentality” that so many of us have. I once ran Uldaman 12 times with one of my guildmates just to get some ring he just “had to have”. I still hate that place. It was like an addiction for him. And they have built upon that with cool looking mounts, pets, gear, etc.
- That “first love” effect. Because WoW was so many people’s first love when it comes to MMOs, they just keep going back to it. Think about your first MMO love. What keeps you away from it? Oh, it’s no longer alive, huh? Ok, if it was, what kept you away? Dated graphics? WoW is showing some age. Oh wait, Cataclysm is updating some of those graphics. Population? Never a problem in WoW. Have they ever shut down a single server? I know Stormrage, where I rolled on day one is alive and well. They’ve added new races, hero classes, new zones, soon to be 3 full expansions, new professions, new gear, new instances, flying mounts, epic mounts, vanity items… More than enough to tempt you to go back and check out all the new moves that first love held you captive with for so long in the first place. I’ve read many a post and Tweet from people who had sworn of WoW forever, only to be caving into the deep seeded temptation to experience Cataclysm.
So what do you think? Love it or hate it, WoW has truly done something unique and ground breaking in the MMO world. What do you think makes WoW tick? And are you feeling that lurid temptation creeping into your mind, whispering for you to come back to Azeroth for one last cataclysmic ride?