It’s no secret that World of Warcraft inspires many people to great heights of passion, both because of their affection for or antipathy towards the game. In the nine years since WoW launched, every subsequent MMO has been compared to it in one way or another, usually by those who mean that comparison as an insult to the developers who made the game.
Yet I have always been left wondering if this ostensible insult really is one or, conversely, is it a compliment, even if backhanded?
Ideas Made Better
In the years prior to the launch of World of Warcraft, a pair of groundbreaking MMOs, a new genre in the fledgling computer games’ industry, launched. Both 1997’s Ultima Online and 1999’s Everquest came out of the gate early and laid the foundation for what would become a robust and financially lucrative enterprise. Blizzard had, prior to that, laid claim to its own portion of gaming history with one of the earliest and most successful multiplayer online RPGs in the form of 1996’s Diablo.
By 2001, Blizzard had its own idea for making an MMO using the Warcraft property and altering the game play from strategy to role playing on a massive level. Blizzard released World of Warcraft in late 2004 and the die was cast.
It is doubtless safe to say that Blizzard, at least on WoW’s initial launch, did not break tons of new ground in every possible way. Online games with a large (at least at the time) player base? Yes, it had been done. RPG? Check. In a way, what Blizzard did was not try to reinvent the wheel but rather to make the wheel rounder and stronger.
Putting the Pieces Together
It’s been said that Blizzard lacked imagination, creativity and innovation as a result of how WoW was built on the foundation of other games. But what many fail to realize, or at least fail to acknowledge, is that World of Warcraft was the embodiment of most of those things at least from the standpoint of expanding on what had been done and bringing some new features into the mix as well.
By looking at what made UO and EQ so successful and by adding new and different pieces to the mix, Blizzard created a mosaic of features that every other MMO since its launch has in one sense or another borrowed. And let’s face it: No company has done it better.
Yet I think that, at least for now, we can think of what Blizzard has done for nine years as something akin to a giant jigsaw puzzle: Each piece represents a feature in what we have come to know and expect in an MMO. Quests, raids, dungeons, PvP, and social aspects have all been fused together over the last decade to create the world’s most successful MMO.
Blizzard is not the only development house that has worked to expand on the original ideas presented in the genre’s infancy. Other developers have taken those puzzle pieces as the basis for creating something different to fit new visions and directions for other virtual worlds. It’s been a pretty symbiotic relationship and one from which all MMO gamers have benefitted.
Is World of Warcraft a perfect game? Not by a long stretch. As the years go on and more developers with new ideas crop up, it’s clear to see that MMOs are poised on the edge of the genre’s next growth spurt. It’s only a matter of time before the “next WoW” comes along to unseat the king.
Yet imitation comes with a price: Some who do not care for World of Warcraft and the foundation that it has laid in the MMO-space have at times scolded developers, those folks who sit on the razor’s edge of wanting to simultaneously make money and please their fans. They are accused of not being innovative enough, for not moving far enough away from the “proven formula”.