Blizzard vs MMORPGs

On several occasions whilst playing World of Warcraft I’ve made statements to guild members or group mates like “I used to play Everquest” and they’ve responded with “what’s that?”.  At first I was pretty shocked. I felt like an old man telling children listening to music about cassettes or LPs but then I soon came to realise something – WoW players aren’t MMORPG players, they are gamers.

Wolfshead posted a fabulous article today about his first 15 minutes of Everquest 2. It’s very insightful and will make you look at your first experience with MMOs in a completely different light. Something that it did highlight to me though, that I hadn’t considered before, was how the initial introduction to a game reveals it’s concept and ambition.

I’m by no means suggesting that the initial experience of a game represents how successful it will be – one only needs to compare the first 15 minutes of Age of Conan, which is like taking a bath in awesomeness, to the first 15 minutes of EVE Online, which is like daring one of your friends to kick you in the groin. Really hard. I absolutely believe that the longevity and overall success of a MMO depends on it’s quality and gameplay mechanics but the first introduction to one certainly shows you what the developers are intending (if Brad McQuaid was here, he might call it his ‘vision’).

To me, the fundamental difference between a game like Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft is that EQ2 assumes you know what a MMORPG is and how to play one. SOE obviously believed their main audience was Everquest players and MMO veterans and I’d bet my bottom dollar that they didn’t believe they could ever reach a target like 11 million subscribers. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, throws the MMORPG idea out of the window and presents itself as a video game. It doesn’t limit itself to a genre or require that players understand RPGs or MMOs before they dip their toe in the water. It’s a pure and unadultered gaming experience, first and foremost.

This is the real reason why WoW has millions of players. My boss plays WoW and he has doesn’t care about the “MMORPG industry” or what the genre has to offer as a whole. Out of all of the WoW players I’ve met in real life (and I know a few), almost none of them had prior MMORPG experience. Simply put, Blizzard took on the other MMORPGs and won by creating a video game that just happens to be a RPG and just happens to be online.

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22 Comments

  1. Longasc says:

    Yeah, when MMO gaming was still geeky and special, things were different than nowadays. Not always better, but different for sure.

    I would like to weed out all those pro-gamers, kids and guys who somehow got stranded in a MMO world for unknown reasons with a shotgun, but I guess I would run out of ammo.

  2. Carthalis says:

    I think its very true what you, I’ve come across a number of players who’ve never heard anything outside of WoW or even think it was the first of its kind. Once I’ve cleared away my initial shocked reaction and mumbled something about Everquest and Ultima Online I’ve usually wondered off by that time shaking my head.

    I’ve always taken an interest in the development of MMORPG’s, whats coming out, where there heading etc. I just assumed everyone does that plays them. I also think its important to know where they’ve come from, the history of them.

    My biggest bugbear though is the constant comparing of x game against WoW. Why people need to do that I’ve no idea but I usually turn chat off by that time.

  3. Gordon says:

    It’s the prime reason to WoW’s success imo. Blizzard made an awesome game, they didn’t try to pander to the MMORPG audience or just target them alone.

    Just go into a game shop, any game shop, and try to find a copy of EQ2 or even more recent games like AoC or WAR. They probably don’t have one. Now look for a copy of WoW… yep, chances are they have a stand by the front door with copies for it. It’s been targetted at a totally different audience.

  4. Tesh says:

    A good reminder, and an accurate assessment. MMO players really are a small fish in the gamer pond. They are still a bigger fish than mine, though. (Tactical RPG games… *cries*)

  5. Andrew says:

    “WoW players aren’t MMORPG players, they are gamers.”

    A lot of people would (more correctly) phrase this as follows:

    Most WoW players aren’t MMORPG players, they are WoW players.

    (i.e. WoW is their only game, end of story.)

  6. Sharon says:

    I would phrase it the way Andrew did. I think I’ve said before (here or elsewhere) that when I went to Blizzcon last year, I realized that there were two kinds of people playing WoW: the WoW players, and the gamers. The first group are the people who got into WoW because of a spouse or friend, and the second group are those of us who would be playing something else, if we weren’t playing WoW.

    I never played EQ or EQ2, but that’s only because I was still a MUD snob at the time. I figured people played EQ because they couldn’t read and write well enough to MUD. ;) It took me a while to get over that bias!

    • Mallika says:

      RE: MUD snob

      Heh, that makes two of us, Sharon. The only reason I hopped into the graphical MMO game area so late (Novemeber 2006) was due to the fact that I was still playing a MUD then. I was all, “Yeah, sure, why would I trade all this awesomeness, RP, interactivity, ability to change the world, being a part of the great community, and imaginative world for a stupid GRAPHICAL game where people LOL and have no idea how to write?”

      Sadly, the ‘lol’ part still holds true, and sadly, people’s writing abilities have gone down the can since then. I -still- take the time to spell out everything. When someone says ‘thx’ to me, I still say ‘You’re welcome’ and NOT ‘np’ (UGH!).

  7. Beej says:

    Blizzard did make a great “game.” That’s why I’ve stuck with it as long, if not longer, than any MMO I’ve ever played. From the moment I logged in, it was better than any other MMO I’d played, and really, any other game aside from Mario 64.

    I was never a hardcore MMOer, even though I played them consistently. I never raided in EQ or anything like that (even though I did hologrind a Jedi in SWG); that type of gaming wasn’t fun for me. WoW let me get into that mindset when I was ready, and I don’t know if I like it for that.

    I tried EQII at release, and it was so similar to WoW that I figured I’d go with the one, like Wolfhead said, with the best intro to the game.

    I still do that. EVE is a great game, but the trial did not suck me in, and I’m not a fan of the interface. Oh well. I know I’m missing out, but I’m not the kind of guy to dig deep for enjoyment when there is more accessible fun elsewhere. It’s why I can’t drink beer. I don’t like having to make myself indulge in something that I don’t like just to be able to enjoy it later. It’s also why I’ve never finished Ulysses…

    • Longasc says:

      Beej, I am so glad that I am not the only one who does not understand all the fuss about J.Joyce’s “Ulysses”…!

    • Gordon says:

      Nothing to feel bad about! Games need to sell themselves in the first 15 mins, it’s an important part of their appeal. EVE is an excellent game and it does well because people are determined to like it. If the first 15 mins of it was good as WoWs, well, then it would be an even bigger success.

      Of course you need to have core gameplay to make a game good too, otherwise people leave in droves after the initial month.

      WoW was clever and nailed both aspects.

      • Stropp says:

        *Some Games* need to sell themselves in the first 15 minutes. I’d hesitate to say all games need to sell themselves in the first 15 minutes. EQ and EQ2 fly far closer to the MUD/RPG sun than World of Warcraft does, and that’s shown by how the first 15 minutes goes.

        Any/Many games of the RPG genre have the player spend a lot of time setting up their character. In those cases it’s actually part of the appeal, but the player often doesn’t actually experience any gameplay in the first 15 minutes, especially a new player who reads through all the choices.

        And that’s okay.

  8. [...] has another post about the newbie experience, and We Fly Spitfires makes a great point about the difference in EQ2 players versus other [...]

  9. openedge1 says:

    The worst part about this though?

    This same WoW player decides to go play another MMO and thinks they are an MMO expert and decry any other games mechanics because it is not WoW mechanics..

    This is what is hurting the industry, and Blizzard is to blame.

    Thank god WoW was not MY first MMO.

  10. Hudson says:

    “This same WoW player decides to go play another MMO and thinks they are an MMO expert and decry any other games mechanics because it is not WoW mechanics..”

    Dead on. WoW has diluted the player base to a bunch of scrubs for the most part, and they all demand the same easiness and hand holding in each game, passing over other titles that might have more depth to offer if they actually READ or learned the mechanics.

    When WoW started out, during the 40 man raid times, a lot of ex EQ1 guilds jumped over and you had some great players. Now it is a joke.

  11. Scopique says:

    Excellent post! Excellent!

    Unfortunately for current MMOs, WoW dropped at the most opportune time, which was before the dearth of MMOs that we know today. It wasn’t JUST that WoW was a game, but that there really weren’t a lot of OTHER MMOs to compare it to at the time (UO, EQ, AO, AC, and a few other minor or now defunct titles).

    • Gordon says:

      Good point. WoW really broke the industry open. I don’t think it’s just successful because of it’s timing though, it’s successful because it’s a good game. And, in fact, it’s probably done the industry a lot of good on the whole because it’s shown developers what they can achieve if they get it right.

  12. MrAnderson says:

    A great post, and one that helps remind us all how big the “gaming pool” is, and how broad WoW’s appeal is.

    Also, I agree with the first part of Openedge1’s comment:
    “This same WoW player decides to go play another MMO and thinks they are an MMO expert and decry any other games mechanics because it is not WoW mechanics..

    Though I don’t blame Blizzard for player’s decrying other games. Blizzard crafted another game that became immensely popular; a game that happens to be in the MMO space.

    I blame first players for the shallow thought that if a new game is not exactly like the old one its bad. Second I blame creators of new games that try to craft and market their game as similar to WoW.

  13. WoW really didn’t create much in the realm of MMOs. Let’s not forget that part of WoW’s success came from the 10+ year history of two highly successful gaming brands; consider how many people will pre-order a Blizzard game no matter what it is and despite how much the internet voices cry it will suck. Blizzard’s success is built upon polish of existing types of gameplay, and in WoW’s case it was polish of the EQ (DIKU) style of gameplay and some logical extensions to that gameplay. This duplication of existing gameplay is one reason why the elder game stuck with raiding for the most part even though it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the game, thus creating the casuals vs. raiders divide.

    Gordon wrote:
    SOE obviously believed their main audience was Everquest players….

    This is incorrect from what I’ve heard. The target audience was people who tried EQ but didn’t like it. EQ1 sold over a million boxes but retained less than half of that, so (in the old scale of MMOs) that was a sizable audience. The developers didn’t just want to make “EQ improved” because they didn’t want to just cannibalize EQ players. One might argue that using the EQ name wasn’t the best move if they wanted to attract people who didn’t like EQ1, but I think that’s kind of minor.

    By and large, the EQ2 team succeeded, though and have a healthy population. The problem, as I said over at Wolfshead’s blog, is one of context. If WoW hadn’t launched, I believe EQ2 would do a lot better and definitely would have a better perception. EQ2 only “failed” because WoW came along and eclipsed the game by providing largely the same type of gameplay. This isn’t to say that wishing for WoW to fall into oblivion is a good (or even possible) strategy, but it provides context for why a game with a fairly sizable following is considered a “failure” or one that needs to revamp their newbie experience (again) to try to gain more subscribers. As the guys over at Penny Arcade put it for Warhammer, “I want to know what it’s like to design a game that makes millions of dollars a month, millions, and is still considered a failure.”

    I’m sure that unless the SOE management team has turn completely incompetent that EQ2 is doing fine. Keep in mind that with “only” about 125k subscribers playing AC and a questionable partnership with Microsoft, Turbine was able to create two modern and expensive MMOs pretty much simultaneously. That’s pretty awesome for a game that came in a distant third back in the EQ1 days. You don’t need WoW’s millions and millions to be successful, despite perception.

    • Gordon says:

      Awesome comment and very interesting. I take your point about success being relative and yeah, it’s very true indeed.

      Regarding the financial side of it, I’m often curious what Blizzard does with the cash it makes from WoW. I mean if companies like SOE and Turbine produce new MMOs from the backing of old ones with only 125k subscribers, what’s Blizzard doing with the money it’s making from 11 million subscribers? Shouldn’t they be producing content and expansions at a lot faster pace? Or is it all getting funneled into their next MMO?

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