Would It Be Good For The Industry If WoW Died?
There’s been a lot of negative articles in the news lately about WoW and, although I’m not talking about the BBC here, I do mean big, well-known sites like Yahoo over smaller dedicated MMO gaming sites and blogs. Indeed, as much as the saying any publicity is good publicity (arguably) goes, getting the headline of “Is Warcraft in trouble?” or “Chinese prisoners forced to play World of Warcraft, make money for guards” splashed over the homepage of Yahoo can’t exactly be what Activision Blizzard were hoping for.
Although I highly doubt WoW is in any kind of serious trouble or going anywhere anytime soon, all of this high profile negativity did get me wondering – if WoW did die, would it be good for the MMO industry? I mean, let’s just imagine that for some freak reason Activision decided Warcraft wasn’t profitable enough any more, either due to lack of subscribers or increasing overheads or whatever, and pulled the plug on it completely in a servers offline, game over dude, end of days scenario. Would the MMO community as a whole be happy or sad? And, more importantly, would it have a positive or negative effect on the industry?
Personally I believe there are two types of people who play WoW: the WoW player and the MMO player. The former is the type of person who has only experienced Warcraft, knows nothing of the games and industry outside of it and isn’t interesting in finding out. The latter type, on the other hand, is the type of gamer who acknowledges the genre as a whole and tries or plays other games. Whilst there is a certain amount of migration between the two and no doubt a fair number of people who start off with WoW move onto something else, it’s been my personal experience that this isn’t a definite thing. In fact, most of the WoW players I know in real life have never tried an alternative MMO and simply gave up on it all completely when they got fed up with Warcraft. I suppose this is an important consideration because it means that if WoW ended, we can’t guarantee that suddenly its millions of players would simply move onto another game instead.
As a result, I reckon the death of WoW would mean that a certain portion of its players would leave the genre completely whilst others would migrate to different games. Exactly what figures we’re talking about here I have no idea, it’s all just hunches on my part but, depending on where people went, we might see some interesting trends emerge in the market. If, for instance, EVE Online suddenly got a huge boost in popularity we may well see new developers take a renewed interest in the sandbox model of gaming whilst if, say, RIFT’s subscription mark jumped into the millions then no doubt the WoW clone trend would continue. But then if nothing else really got a boost at all and all these ex-WoW players just quit completely then we might see some very harsh times in stock for the future of all MMOs.
Whatever happens, it’s likely that the death of WoW would force games companies to take a new look at their gaming model and re-evaluate whether or not mimicking Warcraft so closely is a good thing or not. On the positive side, we would (hopefully) see a surge of creativity and radical innovation unlikely to occur whilst investors see WoW as the money maker it currently is. Of course, on the negative side, the death of WoW would scare a lot of a lot of companies out of the MMO industry in its entirety. After all, if a giant behemoth like Warcraft could fall, the security and long term profitably of any venture anyone undertakes is a lot less likely than ever before.
So, on balance, a double edged sword. While we may see a certain amount of freedom return to the industry and renewed interest in alternative game play models, we would also likely see a lot of fear and trepidation from the bigger games companies and investors as the only shining beacon of mega-profits sunk into the abyss.
What do you think? Would the death of WoW be a good thing or a bad thing?