A World Without Warcraft

WoW Chinese Gold Farmers

If WoW didn't exist unemployment in China would rise dramatically

I was taking a bath this morning, scrubbing my bits, when I started to think about a life without World of Warcraft. I mean, what would the MMO industry be like if WoW had never been made? As much as we love or hate it, there is no denying the impact that WoW has had on the MMORPG industry, it’s players, their communities, the developers and publishers and, not only that, but the way the entire planet views MMOs now. Interesting thought eh? Let’s explore.

Still No Other Western MMO Would Have Broken A Million Subscribers

Call me cynical but I think that even had WoW still not existed to compete, no other MMO would’ve surpassed the million subscriber mark. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, Blizzard accomplished something huge: they managed to capture the attention non-gamers, casual players and non-RPG fans and thus not only opened up a whole new market base but also pillaged the hell out of it. I don’t think any other game would’ve been able to do that.

Everquest Would Still Be King

Ah poor ol’ SOE, once king but now nothing more than a jester at the court of Blizzard. These guys were set to topple the world until that fateful day in 2004 when Everquest 2 was released alongside the polished, gleaming behemoth that was WoW and suddenly everything SOE had done looked crap in comparison.

Grind Would Still Exist

I think it’s fairly safe to say that without the innovation of highly accessible play, streamlined leveling and mechanics (i.e. questing and the Dungeon Finder), we’d still be expected to hack away at boring, random NPCs for two hours on end just to get from level 9 to 10. A Korean’s wet dream, I’m sure.

Communities Would Be Better

It’s not that I blame WoW for giving birth, like some sort of grotesque alien hive queen, to the terrible communities that can often infest MMOs (bit harsh but fun to write) but I do truly believe that if WoW hadn’t existed, communities would on a whole be a lot better. Without WoW, I really think the combination of small subscription pools, harsher mechanics and grind, and an older audience would’ve kept in-game communities more sociable and moderate.

There Would Be Fewer MMOs But More Variety

The upside of WoW is that it’s spurred a lot of new MMO development; the downside of WoW is that a lot of the new MMOs are carbon copies of it. Of course the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a goodin’ and there’s nothing wrong with playing WoW-like games but, still, variety is the spice of life as they say. And I’m positive that without the enticement of a potential 12 million subscribers being dangled around like some sort of poisoned carrot, developers/publishers would be a lot more willing to take risks.

The Gaming Industry Wouldn’t Take MMOs Seriously

Say negative things about WoW all you want (go on, give it a shot, it’s surprisingly fun and somewhat akin to badmouthing the boss that you secretly admire behind his back just so the other employees will like you) but there can be no denying the gravitas and respect it’s brought to the MMO genre. Suddenly, after years of fledgling growth in a relatively small industry, we had a game that was so popular, and made so much freaking money, that it put the entire video gaming industry to shame. People – gamers, publishers, developers – all sat up and took notice of that funny MMORPG acronym and realised that it was something big. WoW put MMOs on the map. Fact.


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  1. Naithin says:


    I did a post on this a while back, actually.

    A World without WoW

    I always love hypothetical discussions of this nature and seeing peoples views of how things might be different now.

    I think the only one I might disagree with you on outright though is that, ‘The Gaming Industry Wouldn’t Take MMOs Seriously’.

    I dunno on that one, I think MMOs were certainly still a genre in their infancy at the time and that WoW came along as a ginormous shot of growth hormone — huh, now there’s an analogy for you considering all the side effects of such — that propelled things along.

    I think though by now we would’ve reached a point where for sure MMOs were considered to be more than some ‘passing fad’.

    • Gordon says:

      /palms face

      Oh man, it’s practically the same title too! I feel like an idiot :) Maybe I read your post and it was playing around in my subconcious? Yeah, that’s my excuse :) Sorry :P

      Enjoyed your article a lot anyway!

  2. Andrew says:

    I don’t buy it – sorry. I’m sure that other MMOs would have evolved without WoW existing, and many of the “innovations” that WoW made (or, more correctly, pillaged from other games and polished up) would have risen to the surface in exactly the same way.

    • Dril says:

      Mmm, yeah, because MMOs from around the turn of the millennium had streamlined questing, dungeon finders and easy accessibility.



      • Andrew says:

        Are you a moron, or can you just not read? WoW at the turn of the millennium didn’t have streamlined questing, dungeon finders, or easy accessibility…. oh, wait…. it didn’t exist.

        There are so many examples of trends springing up independently through history in all walks of life that it’s asinine to claim that a single company is the sole reason that a market evolved in a specific way.

        Market forces, being what they are, will tend to funnel industry towards an outcome that consumers want. That Blizzard was the first to discover the secret MMO sauce is a happy fluke for them, but a fluke all the same.

    • Gordon says:

      Possibly although that’s assuming everything converges at the same point eventually. It’s entirely possible that it never would have happened or something else, completely unrelated that would never get the chance in today’s market, would’ve taken everyone by storm.

      • Andrew says:

        Historically speaking this happens a lot, especially within free markets. Companies follow the money, and the best way to do that is provide services that consumers want and need.

        (Also, excuse the tone of my response to Dril, above…. his reply was ignorant & flippant beyond belief, and I lost my cool)

  3. B.J. Keeton says:

    I’d still be playing Star Wars Galaxies. And loving it.

    • Naithin says:

      That’s interesting.

      You think that NGE came about as a result of the WoW influence? Or just that even post NGE you liked the game but while you were playing a class-based game anyway, you may as well play where everyone else was?

      • You think that NGE came about as a result of the WoW influence?

        As far as I understand, without an special insider’s knowledge from Sony people, the NGE was a direct result of WoW causing them to re-evaluate how well SWG had done. Basically, SOE had high expectations for SWG, but then the numbers weren’t spectacular. It was a bit of a shock given it’s Star Wars, and people play some pretty terrible games only because of that brand. The people in charge rationalized it by saying that there just didn’t seem to be that many people willing to play MMOs; keep in mind that The Sims Online had just launched with big fanfare and also failed to get a large following.

        Imagine how those people felt when WoW comes along and not only breaks a million users, but goes multi-million in North America and Europe. Their justification sounds hollow now, so they scramble to get the users the game “should have”. I suspect part of this is driven by Lucas, who I’ve heard is a pitiless taskmaster when it comes to licensing.

        So, yeah, WoW pretty much lead to the NGE according to my estimation.

      • Gordon says:

        I’m sure the rising success of WoW was a big influence.

  4. Luke says:

    In my opinion world without wow would be some thing like 31 15′15.53N 24 15′30.53W ;)

  5. Larísa says:

    If WoW hadn’t be made I’d still be a non-gamer and non-blogger. I’m absolutely positive about that.

  6. Gazimoff says:

    if WoW didn’t exist I’d have a much more extensive games collection.

    WoW has moved me from the cycle of buying a new game every month or so to paying a subscription instead and buying a new game only when WoW becomes boring. As a result the amount I spend on games is roughly half what it used to be.

    It also means I don’t look at games in the same way. I don’t ask “Can I afford this game?”, but instead ask “Do I have the time to play this game?”. it’s why I haven’t picked up Civ V and why I’m seriously debating if I’ll get Dragon Age 2.

    I think WoW’s (and the rise of MMO popularity) affect on the PC gaming market and the push to steam is possibly a bigger one than we give it credit for.

    • Gordon says:

      Hehe, I know exactly how you feel. I pretty much stopped buying single player games when I realised I just didn’t have the time to play them alongside my current MMO of choice.

      It is very interesting to think how WoW might have damaged the single player market though…

  7. Hrm, three comments to one blog post. Got me fired up! :P Let’s see how much I agree with you, Gordon.

    Still No Other Western MMO Would Have Broken A Million Subscribers

    Agreed. But, keep in mind that a lot of games did just fine without breaking a million subscribers. EQ1 was a huge success despite peaking at “only” 400k or so.

    Everquest Would Still Be King

    I don’t think this would necessarily be true. There were a lot of MMOs in the pipeline before WoW launched, and I think some of them had the chance to dethrone EQ. Probably not quite to the point WoW did, though. We’d probably see a lot more iteration, though, as SOE tried to have one game on top.

    Grind Would Still Exist

    Grind still exists. Just because I’m grinding up reputation instead of experience lost from a death penalty doesn’t mean it’s any less of a grind. WoW just gave us a different grind.

    There were also games that were moving away from the “go camp a thousand orcs” type gameplay that EQ1 had before WoW, too. For example, DAoC had bonuses for moving around more.

    Communities Would Be Better

    You’re probably right. Giving assholes a bigger audience to perform in front of has inspired a lot of others. I think we’d still have those assholes in games, they just wouldn’t have gotten such good training without WoW.

    There Would Be Fewer MMOs But More Variety

    Not sure I’d agree with “fewer”. In fact, we might have had more if WoW hadn’t made all investors stop and want to chase that bit of pixie dust. I mean, games like Atriarch got funded back in the day before WoW made it so that a smaller scale MMO wasn’t appealing. Imagine if we had gotten more games like that going. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but something appealing.

    Anyway, Dr Richard Bartle agrees with you, where he said he’d shut down WoW to give the players an opportunity to investigate other types of games.

    The Gaming Industry Wouldn’t Take MMOs Seriously

    Sorry, Gordon, absolutely wrong. MMOs were starting to get some serious attention before WoW was mentioned. Raph was already an influential speaker mostly on the strength of his work on UO. A lot of game companies saw the impressive return on investment on an MMO, even before WoW showed that you could almost print money if you had a perfect storm of circumstances. MMOs certainly got a lot more intense attention because of WoW’s stellar success, but I still argue this wasn’t a good thing.

    • Gordon says:

      Ah 2/6 ain’t bad :)

      I do think you’re probably right about EQ and grind. It’s unlikely that an aging MMO like that would’ve been able to maintain it’s lead until 2011 and yeah, you’re right when you say grinds still exist. ‘Cause they do :)

      Your last point is very interesting indeed although unfortunately we’ll never know just how much of an impact the success of WoW has made on the gaming industry as we can’t see what it would be like without it. I mean it’s such a massive factor that it must certainly be a consideration for any game investment or development regardless of the genre, right?

  8. Great post. For better or for worse, WoW has made quite an impact on the world of MMOs. Though I have to say, I had to struggle to concentrate on the rest of your article, after you started it with “I was taking a bath this morning, scrubbing my bits…” Sigh…Gordon! Always with the TMI :)

  9. rowan says:

    Hard to imagine really. I certainly wouldn’t be involved in MMOs, well probably not. I would have seen more movies on Netflix and watched more TV, that’s for sure. And I wouldn’t be blogging about exciting new games like Rift. WoW has been really good to me for the past half decade.

  10. Nils says:

    WoW, you did some good things to online gaming !
    Now, would you please step aside, finally? Thank you!!


  11. Danny says:

    I grew out of gaming by the time I reached my early 30’s. After being an avid gamer for so long, I didn’t play video games again for nearly a decade. At age 42 (five years ago), I started playing again. WoW did that.

    Without WoW, watching TV probably would be my standard form of nightly entertainment — as it used to be for me and still is for most middle-aged folks.

  12. Dblade says:

    Danny has a point. No WoW would have made the genre burn out, as the players got older and became weary of grinding. Whether or not it will still do so is up for debate. I think that WoW just delayed the end, myself.

  13. vortal says:

    The leveling process would be way different, and MMORPGs might not be as popular as they are.

    What I mean by “different” for leveling would be the fact there will never be a quest based leveling system in any other MMO. Some like it, some don’t but from Gordon’s post a while back he mentioned something about it being a big change in leveling your character. Well I thought it sure made things a lot easier on players.

    WoW also brought popularity, as WarCraft fans and Blizzard fans were attracted to it. I am pretty sure EQ 2 could have done the same, but I’m not sure how that would have compared to WoW.

    • Gordon says:

      For me, WoW brought MMOs to the attention of the mass public and that’s something that’s put the genre on the map and, quite possibly, indirectly helped raise awareness of all of the other titles out there. I mean, I wonder how many WoW players will be trying RIFT when it launches for instance? And out of those players, how many would be trying it if they had never even heard of WoW?

  14. vortal says:

    And what’s more, I most certainly think without WoW there would definitely be WarCraft IV or even WarCraft V and VI. Or even a Diablo like action RPG for WarCraft, or something reminiscent to DOTA. Wait…….that would have happened anyway.

  15. Epiny says:

    Gordon, you really are getting a good following. I just hope you don’t give birth, like some sort of grotesque alien hive queen, to the terrible communities that can often infest popular MMOs Blogs.

    This is almost like discussing time travel, where no rational answer can be found. If you remove WoW from the history books then everything after that point goes into question. EverQuest 2 wouldn’t have stagnated. Sony would have made improvements; however which improvements would have been their own ideas and which were influenced by WoW we can’t know.

    Assuming the MMO title history stays the same, with the exception of WoW not launching; I would still be playing EQ2. Also consider this, without WoW Warhammer and AoC would have been considered good games because the amount of bugs at launch would have been typical for a MMO.

    Like it or not, WoW was a good thing for MMOs.

    • Gordon says:

      I think it was good for MMOs too although I do think it’s given a lot of developers an excuse for not creating successful games. For example, if EQ2 still flopped when it launched and they couldn’t blame WoW for that fact, I wonder what they would’ve said the cause was? Anyway, I digress :)

      And I’m not worried about a troll infestation here anytime soon. I’ve got an IP address geo-locator and an angry wife ;)

  16. Bhagpuss says:

    I’ve heard this “What if WoW hadn’t happened” debate rehashed dozens of times long before WoW, usually in the form of “What if The Beatles hadn’t happened”. The argument was always that rock and roll had stalled, 1960 -62 were the worst, least creative, least inspired years for popular music in over a century, and that had the Fab Four not arrived to rescue us, we would have grown up wearing fawn cardigans and listening to Perry Como.

    I never bought that argument and no more do I buy the argument that without WoW MMOs would have stagnated or vanished. I’m of the strong opinion that things happen when they are ready to happen. WoW didn’t happen because it was WoW; it happened because the market had been primed to readiness. If Blizzard hadn’t made WoW, some studio would have made some MMO that would have step-changed the genre.

    In entertainment, and in popular culture generally, things tend to come along when the means to create them and the means to distribute them become reasonably widely available. The growth of general access to the internet, espacially the replacement of dial-up by always-on broadband, pretty much dictated outrageous growth potential for online gaming. MMOs are famously addictive, had already been identified as a potential money-tree and had a solid foothold established in online gaming. One way or another they were going to break through, and many more MMOs than WoW did so.

    Of course, had a different MMO taken the lead, the direction might have varied somewhat. But not that much.

    • vortal says:

      Actually you make a very good point. Everything does really come when we need it, if not from blizzard then probably from another company with a different game that meets our needs just as WoW had. But consider this, if another company did fill in that role, where would the WarCraft series be next?

      Enlighten me Bhagpuss.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah I suppose I do agree with you here and it’s also a similar thing to what Andrew commented on earlier. Ultimately the MMO market was ripe for the picking and WoW came along with the perfect recipe at the right time to exploit it. Had it not, someone would’ve done it eventually I’m sure. The question is though, would they have done it by now or would be still be waiting for the genre to “take off”?

  17. JMartin says:

    Awesome post, but I have to disagree about communitarian being better, it actually started going downhill when Velious was released, for that was when the doom crowd discovered MMO’s.

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