It is no secret that any article about Blizzard's World of Warcraft will garner a lot of attention and, often, a long list of forum pages of debate. It is obvious then, that World of Warcraft has become a polarizing game over its decade of existence. Millions of players have streamed through its virtual doors during those ten years. Some have stayed for the duration. Others have left and returned with each expansion. Still others have waved goodbye to WoW and never returned. No matter what, however, anyone who has had the chance to play the game, arguably the MMO of this young century, are never the same and in a very real sense, will always be a WoW player.
With the Warlords of Draenor expansion on the horizon, and its tenth anniversary celebration following right after, Blizzard seems poised to once again see a huge influx of players and is preparing itself accordingly. Players and former players are taking notice. Preorders of Warlords number around 1.5 million as of early August with the number expected to go higher prior to the expansion's November release.
What is it about WoW that keeps people playing, that brings new players into the fold on a daily basis, that sees former players return time after time and even keeps non-returning players engaged in the conversation (on either side of the love it or hate it fence) for years on end? Let's look at a few reasons that might account for this most unusual phenomenon.
Content Is King
World of Warcraft launched with an already-established lore thanks to the Warcraft strategy titles of the 90s. Players who had experienced Warcraft were eager to jump into a game that would see even more life brought to some of their favorite characters as well as experiencing an expanded story that would go far beyond that told in the strategy games. They were eager to try out a new play style utterly different than that of a typical RTS title. Blizzard clearly delivered on those expectations since we are still here talking about WoW ten years later.
Blizzard told a vast and all-encompassing story that involved themes that gave players a sense of purpose and the feeling of being something more than an ordinary person. Tasked with saving the world (or at least assisting to that end), players battled through the countless threats and unnatural enemies. Horde struggled with Alliance. Despots rose and fell thanks to the efforts of players. Hero NPCs lived...and died, some even coming back in a new way as with Sylvanas Windrunner returning as the Banshee Queen and Arthas Menethil reborn as the Lich King.
The content has grown so exponentially that Blizzard even maintains a special Historical Department and Archive at its headquarters. Historians are tasked with giving all new content additions a once-over to ensure that it fits existing lore and to correctly see new events, persons and content enshrined into the historical archive for WoW.
Love it or hate it, it is an inarguable fact that Blizzard has continued to make changes to core features and systems as well. One only has to look as far as the upcoming Warlords of Draenor expansion to see that nothing is a sacred cow and Blizzard is willing to make sweeping changes to the game to keep things fresh and viable. Player stats are being "squished". The need for two sets of armor, one for each specialization, will disappear. Redundant currencies are being eliminated. Skills are being pared down to get rid of bloat. The list goes on but it is illustrative of Blizzard's commitment to keep World of Warcraft viable.
Players have additionally been promised a more timely release of content rather than the typical two year cycle of days past. Rightfully so, Blizzard has been criticized for the lack of meaningful updates since the launch of Mists of Pandaria almost exactly two years ago. This, according to the team, will change and further illustrates Blizzard's commitment to a game that many have declared dead over and over throughout the years.
Why Do Players Keep Coming Back?
What is is that continues to keep players in the game? Why do others come back with every expansion? Why do those who have chosen to dislike the game keep themselves involved in discussions about it? What is it about WoW that engenders comparison with every MMO's launch of the past ten years?
Outside of content, WoW does so many things that keep it in the forefront of our imagination and in the back of every developer's mind. No one can say that there is a lack of things to do. Whether it's raiding or mount collecting or arena PvP or exploration or crafting, players are hard-pressed to say, "There's nothing to do." But even more importantly, WoW gives something to everyone: Raids, PvP, pet battles and collections, crafting, vast and epic story quests, the longest list of achievements in the world (LOL!), transmogrification of gear and much more. Yet, at the same time, no one is required to do anything they do not wish to do. Players can spend countless hours pursuing only and exactly the things that interest them most.
Warlords of Draenor will build on this with the addition of garrisons, a way for players to micromanage teams of followers, crafting specializations, etc.. More quests, more pets, more achievements, more raids, more dungeons, more, more, more! (Of course some are removed, but there is a net gain!)
It is exactly this continued evolution and expansion of the game's features that keeps players coming back day after day, year after year, discussion after discussion, expansion after expansion. In a sense, even those who may not revisit the game, the game is never over. It is never complete. There is always a new rock to turn over or a new corner of the game world to discover or a new activity to try out. In essence, "Game Over" is not part of World of Warcraft. It is more like "To Be Continued..."
Which camp do you fit into? Existing player or returning player (even if only for a short while) or interested former player? What are some of your favorite things to do in game? Have you got a favorite WoW moment? Let us know in the comments!