World of Warcraft: Two Casual Years Later
Editorial by Steve Wilson
Two years later and I find myself doing something I've never done in any other MMORPG, I'm still playing World of Warcraft. As a casual player I should have long since gotten bored and moved on. It only took 6 months with EverQuest, six months with Asheron's Call, three days with Ultima Online, three months with World War II Online and Planetside and about a year with Star Wars Galaxies. WoW has not only kept me playing longer than all the others, but kept me active and interested in it nearly the whole time.
And it turns out I'm not alone; millions of other people are still playing as well. People that many of the amateur experts said were not worth pursuing. After all who would want to play a game made for the unwashed masses? Casual players it was believed couldn't be lured into the gaming world in enough numbers to make the game profitable. Besides, they all leave in six months, once they maxed out their character. The Sims Online flagship of the single most successful series of video games ever made couldn't pull in enough casuals to make their game the blockbuster that was envisioned. And while Star Wars Galaxies was lauded as the coming messiah of the MMO market and managed to draw in a lot of new players, it too failed to live up to the expected hype. An MMO for casual players was considered a fool's dream, impossible to achieve with those fickle casuals.
Reviews prior to WoWs release comparing it to EverQuest II didn't exactly instil a lot of hope. WoW was the game for idiots, while EQII was praised as the hardcore achievers game. Everyone admired how smooth and flawless WoW was but it was predicted to fail by some, and miserably so after six months. Any idiot could make it to 60 in six months, then what would they do? The prophecy was that there'd be a mass exodus leaving vacant empty servers as the flighty casuals moved onto the next big pretty. And somehow six months, then a year came and went with the subscription numbers going only upwards. WoWs so popular that newspaper cartoon strips mentioned it regularly, it's been the main theme of several television shows, and even had a related question on Jeopardy. WoW is the 800 pound gorilla of the MMO world.
Simply said, WoW offers something to three of the largest groups in MMOs. The achievers have their endless dungeon and raid runs to collect their armor sets and baubles. The player versus player crowd has world set aside for them as well as battlegrounds. And the casual players have more content than they could ever hope to accomplish in a run to 60 with just one character. And all of it is seamlessly integrated together, smoothly working and mostly flaw free to the cast majority of users. Role-players weren't thrown too many bones in WoW. With no houses, no non-combat classes, and little attention paid to anything besides killing critters and each other, there's just much to mention for the role-player crowd.
Probably the most important group to be pulled in were the casual players. The system of interlocking quests that lead new players from the safety of their starting areas then gradually added more complexity as the character, and the player, matured made the world very easy to understand and access. By comparison Star Wars Galaxies initially simply dumped players into its world with almost no explanation of what to do. While this method was great for experienced MMO players it alienated many of the new customers, they simply had no idea what to do, what their goal was, and whether there really was a game involved. WoW guided the player along an invisible set of rails, bread-crumbing them from one area to the next so that they were always in an area where the difficultly matched what the player could handle. The goals may have been simplistic but millions of new players understood them and enjoyed the prospect of doing them with new found friends.
But WoW also offered something that was solely lacking in the MMOs before it, you could play alone and in short session even near the end of the game. All the games mentioned in the first paragraph lost me the moment I couldn't defeat monsters my own level. The moment I was forced to group I lost interest. I painfully remember nights where I spent more time looking for a party than adventuring. And while this may seem like a backwards goal of a game meant to be played with groups of people it's the one element that is most important. Being able to accomplish just small goals on busy days, like work nights, means that I stay in the game. And by keeping me in the game it opened opportunities to meet people that I wouldn't have if I'd gotten frustrated and quit, like those other games. Allowing me to play solo exposed me to more chances to meet other players that I might want to go crawl through dungeons with, on the weekends for example when I have more time. But I'd have never gotten there if WoW had followed the old model. By letting players be selfish, and solo inside a multiplayer game, they've kept me as a loyal customer that now looks forward to my weekend jaunts when I've got a couple of hours to hang out with friends.
Call it dumbed down, simple, or whatever you want, me and six million others will happily be spending our time in a game aimed at expanding the MMO market.