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As a World of Warcraft player for over six years now it really is amazing how much of the MMO landscape has changed based on this game. Many people forget that WoW launched in 2004. Bush was ending his first term as President, we were not in an economic crisis, and Blizzard only had about 500 employees. In seven years there have been vast changes to the world and the MMO industry. Many people blame WoW for keeping the mold of MMOs over the past seven years in some kind of stasis bubble. Nothing has really changed as investors and developers fear to go outside the comfy WoW box. There are many things that WoW has given us which definitely made MMOs better in the long run. Let’s take a look at three.
The first is pretty simply: with 12 million players WoW did put MMOs on the map. They became mainstream for a while. Before Warcraft, MMOs were a niche part of gaming with a few hundred thousand players that were considered very hardcore. Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot had some decent numbers but nothing in the way of millions of players. If WoW has done anything it has made MMOs a major part of gaming around the globe. China and Korea have huge online communities and continue to grow drastically. All of this can be attributed to World of Warcraft’s phenomenal rise to stardom.
The second thing Warcraft has given us is cross-server grouping and instanced dungeons. While some may argue that this is a bad thing, this tool (which came after WoW launched) was a fantastic advancement for players constantly looking to run dungeons. It cut down the time to find a group considerably and made running instances fun again. For a long time raids and dungeons were only run on a server level and while this was great and all it cut out a vast majority of the players in the game who were not part of guilds or who couldn’t spend half of their time looking for groups.
Once the LFG tool was implemented players started to move up the food chain very quickly. Gear became easier to get and players had a reason to play again instead of just waiting in some virtual line. Other games have adopted similar systems, but WoW almost needed to do something to accomidate the sheer number of players in the game. These systems put into place helped solve a lot of players’ issues and even though it took years to add into the game, it still had a huge impact. Overall one of the best group systems put into an MMO in a very long time, despite what some may call its drawbacks (such as a lack of server community).
Wrath of the Lich King tops out at number three as to why WoW did not ruin MMOs. Say what you want about this expansion, but for me it was pure awesome. It was the reason I came back to WoW after over a year break from The Churning Crusade. Yes, I said Churning. Lich King was cool. It gave us the Death Knight which had a great starting zone. It gave us some awesome new landscapes which looked like Alaska and Norway. It had a crazy Viking theme which was altogether way more interesting than anything in the game that had come before it. The storyline was great with the Lich King finally making an appearance in the game. It just had everything a great expansion should have. It even added in a PvP area with its own instance dungeon similar to old school Darkness Falls in DAOC. Lich King really did bring WoW into the forefront and made the game great again. So what if it added just another ten levels: it ran smoothly and was fun to level in the zones. In many ways looking at Lich King and looking at Cataclysm, there is almost no comparison. Okay so maybe I sound like a fan boy, but I’ll take snowy cliffs and giant Vikings any day over druids and sylvans… sorry tree huggers.
World of Warcraft has not ruined MMOs. All it did was prove that MMOs can be massively successful. Sadly other games tried to match up and failed. Games were created in a hurry and took advantage of major IPs to sell players, but none of them had the polsih and punch that WoW had when it first launched seven years agp. If developers had actually tried new ideas from the years of 2005 to 2010 then perhaps we’d see a different MMO landscape. Only now in 2011 are we starting to see games break the WoW mold and try something new. We could be at the dawn of a new age for MMORPGs, but Warcraft remains the king of the hill, whether you like the game or not. And these are just a few of the reasons why.