Would It Be Good For The Industry If WoW Died?

Spirit Healer

If WoW died, China would face an economic recession

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?

-Gordon

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59 Comments

  1. Klepsacovic says:

    Yes. Can I change my answer?
    WoW has done an incredible job of pulling people into the genre who would otherwise not play any MMO. So if WoW died, that draw would be gone. But the problem currently is that WoW is so sticky: everyone plays WoW, so if you’re not playing it, you’re alone. So WoW brings them in, but doesn’t let them go. Then we get sick of it and quit, never to look back, and possibly ruined on the genre.

    WoW vanishing could be a good thing. But WoW dying would be a terrible thing. If the biggest, most profitable MMO ever failed, investors would freak out and scatter to the winds.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, investors would definitely freak out. I’m not sure it would harm the other existing games much though as I don’t think a huge amount of WoW players migrate to other MMOs. That’s just a hunch I guess.

  2. Tesh says:

    Richard Bartle seemed to think it would be a good thing. I tend to agree, if only because I want the MMO genre to get out of the WoW gravity field.

    …but if it does die as an MMO, I’d still want them to let us play it offline as a single player game. The game is what it is, and sometimes that’s still fun. The genre needs to grow and change, though.

  3. Nils says:

    A sudden death is in nobody’s interest. But a slow decline will help the industry as a whole.

  4. Carson says:

    Whilst it’s true that a number of WoW players simply give up on the MMO genre when they get sick of WoW, I don’t think it necessarily follows that they would do so if the WoW rug was yanked out from under them while they were still enjoying it. Surely a lot of “WoW players, not MMO players” would look around for an alternative in that situation? Or, at least, check out whichever game the “MMO players” amongst their friends & guildmates migrated to?

    • Gordon says:

      Perhaps yeah. People still need their MMO fix after all :P

      • chehggy says:

        We may err in the assumption, that players be it “WoW players” or “MMO players” would not return. In fact: if we assume that there are people who purely play WoW for whatever reason, these people will only stop if they are fed up with one or more aspects of the game. But if Blizzard figuratively pulls the carpet from under their feet they may look for an alternative.

        I would assume they would flock to the MMO-clones out there, but who knows. Predicting peoples behaviour is a wee bit wobbly as long as we don’t have hard data *why exactly* they play WoW – and there may be more than just one reason.

  5. ironyca says:

    As much as I still enjoy playing WoW and has done since vanilla, I also believe it would benefit the market tremendously if WoW took a serious dent (one can hope the recent loss of subs scared them enough).
    I wish Blizzard would put the effort into making the game as a whole better instead of expanding on their ways of charging their subscribers even more. Some healthy competition would put some pressure on them.
    Also, if WoW was able to attract so many “beginner-gamers” as it were, I’m sure another MMO would have no problem picking up a lot of those “homeless” players.

  6. Straw Fellow says:

    I think it’d be a fantastic idea, and I think it’s a great game.

    WoW has had the effect of big publishers pouring millions of dollars into an industry they barely know anything about with the idea of them achieving the same success as WoW. What they don’t understand is that the MMORPG industry is not like the console or general PC gaming world. Possibly due to monthly fees or just the fact that MMO’s are games that don’t tend to end, people don’t always play more than one at a time. I just finished Portal 2 and now I’m playing Mass Effect 2. That industry depends on the fact that people switch games when they are done. In MMORPG’s, people consider their chosen game “home” and mostly don’t leave.

    Now, if WoW did tank, then we’d see less big companies pouring money into the MMORPG industry. This leaves smaller publishers to fill the void, which will not only fill the industry with newer ideas, but also give the developers more freedom because they are not working with a large company who needs it out at a certain time and needs it to fulfill certain XY and Z to make as much money as WoW. Also, it may even pave the way for the next WoW. Blizzard was successful before WoW, but they weren’t a big company. They spent their time on a game they loved, and it became a phenomenon.

    Of course, I’m being incredibly optimistic on some fronts here. But hey, here’s to hoping.

  7. bhagpuss says:

    Before WoW, MMOs were the indie bands of the gaming industry.

    After WoW MMOs are the boy bands of the gaming industry.

    I prefer distorted guitars and miserabalist lyrics to autotuned 60s cover versions, so saying goodbye to WoW would be a good thing.

  8. Pathak says:

    “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.”

    I guess this is one of the things with theme park MMOs. There’s a cap on how far a player will progress through a release of content. They may hit a rep cap, or PvP cap, skill cap or raiding cap. Some of thoses caps, some players will hit sooner than others, and they probably won’t break out of their silo. i.e., the non-raider is likely never to raid, so their cap is when they’ve gotten all they can from dailies, and perhaps PvP. When that cap is reached, the game starts to decay for that player.

    The game company has to take stock of their player base and determine when that decay starts, and then how long they have before a player leaves because they’ve realised their theme park has become an sandbox with no sandbox tools. Not everyone raids, not everyone PvPs. The game company will need to take note of that time period and make sure they have new content in place before the players leave, and it will need to cater for those caps, too. Otherwise players will leave, just as they do at the end of a single player game. (Some interesting parallels with immortality in there, I’m sure).

    Who knows, perhaps when WoW dies, all that will be left is the RP realms and the crafting of breadboards with DOOM painted in Alliance Blue/ Horde Red.

  9. Pathak says:

    Oh, and yeah, I think it would be good thing too. Perhaps there would be more investment in engaging single player games, and I’m not talking about a movie transferred to the console. Perhaps original IP.

  10. At this point, the damage is done. WoW drew a lot of attention to MMOs, and made everyone want to catch lightning in a bottle like WoW did. A lot of money was spent, and a lot of people were disappointed when nobody was able to copy WoW.

    I think Nils is right above: the best scenaio would be WoW slowly descending into irrelevance and allowing other games to ramp up and take its place. I don’t think we’ll see another WoW, but having 3 or 4 games dividing up the 6 million western players that WoW had at peak would be good. (China would have its own MMOs, so a western company would be unable to capture the 6 million or so Chinese players.)

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah, more healthy competition would be nice, especially if it was split amongst more diverse MMOs. I think that would make it harder for companies to try and capture the same lighting in the bottle as WoW did.

  11. Vads says:

    I don’t wish for WoW to die, but I am absolutely for it having some healthy competition, even if that means a massive drop in subscribers to put it on the same page as other current and future MMO’s.

    That said, I think that if WoW just disappeared tomorrow some other game such as Rift would just take its place, and get quite comfortable with its position and lazy also, so I don’t get why WoW disappearing would be good for anyone, well except the folks at Rift.

  12. ScytheNoire says:

    WoW dying off quickly would be horrible, because it would be a market crash and no one would want to make any other quality MMO’s.

    But WoW losing a million people a year, or more, would be good, if they flock to other better, new MMO’s. WoW is stagnant, and not doing much to really advance things to the next level. It’s still largely based on the old EQ standards, and that’s not good.

    We need innovation in the market, and Blizzard isn’t doing that. If we just get games that copy WoW, then we won’t advance to the next phase of MMO’s. We need games to change it up.

  13. Dril says:

    As you said in the article: it depends entirely on where the exodus goes.

    The most awful and, oddly, opposing fates would be:

    -A lot of people go to Rift, proving that lies, highly linear questing, a lack of meaningful content, a soulless generic art style/content and an undisguised, rapidly-nerfed gear grind are the way forward for MMOs, since people will overlook all this in favour of a well-polished release. If something cloned Rift in the way Rift cloned WoW I dread to think how far MMOs would sink.

    -A lot of people go to Darkfall, and more people develop PvP arenas but call them sandboxes. Noty.

    The average result would be that people go to themeparks that aren’t carbon copies of WoW (LOTRO, AoC, EQ2) and the industry chugs along with them. Wouldn’t be ideal, but it wouldn’t be awful.

    Good would be if EVE and all of the upcoming releases get a lot of subs (assuming they deliver on their promises) pushing the industry towards world-building again.

    The best? If Vanguard had 2 million subs. We can dream, though.

  14. Samus says:

    I don’t think this question is complete. You need to specify why WoW dies.

    Is it because much better games come out? Obviously that would be great for just about everyone.

    Or do people just leave the genre? I am less convinced that WoW players are this horrible group of people who are “ruining” MMORPGs. Any given game has X number of potential customers, and that number is now significantly higher for MMORPGs because of WoW.

    People who pine for the old games like EQ and DAOC remind me of someone thinking about their horrible, abusive ex-girlfriend. Time has passed, selective memory has done its thing, and what you remember now bears little resemblance to what you left for good reason.

  15. Syl says:

    WoW did a great thing for the genre – showing everyone else it can be done and that there’s money in it. This will always be a meaningful and great achievement. But it’s also casting its long shadow on everyone and everything else and in the long run it’s become harmful to progress, to new MMOs trying to get out there, to new dev teams trying to be innovative. Everything gets measures against WoW, either it’s too far away or then it’s a clone. there’s hardly a middle ground.

    So yes, i think WoW dying would be a good thing for the industry. some players will surely leave, but that can neither be helped nor does it matter (if these players only exist in the world of warcraft, they’re basically not existant on the market as a whole). but many players would move on to something else too; I agree with you that WoW has lots of ‘wow-only’ gamers, but the genre as a whole has become a lot more popular than ever and there would be enough players to give a next, great MMO a chance thanks to WoW. there have always been MMO gamers and today there are more than ever.

    WoW has both progressed things but also put them into a stasis of sorts. Every MMO runs its course though, even WoW; and at this point I believe its decline to be a necessity. which to be fair, is already slowly happening.

    • Gordon says:

      Totally agree. WoW did do wonders for the genre and showed everyone what potential it had… what’s so strange though is how it has managed to dominate the top position so decisively for so long. It would be nice if more MMOs stepped up to help share the #1 spot and created a bit more competition.

  16. Orykzugal says:

    My wife and I both play WoW. She used to raid (ICC burnout + guild drama = not anymore, thanks), and I’m pretty much a hardcore casual. We love our accounts, but if WoW died we probably would not find another MMO.

    We dabbled with other MMOs in the months before Cataclysm (we just couldn’t wait for something new!) and we dabbled in the months after Cataclysm (I think Peggy Lee summed up our feeling: “Is that all there is?”). Some of them had a lot of promise (Allods and Warhammer Online stand out as our favorites), but nothing was as immersive or fun as WoW.

  17. [...] Fly Spitfires asks the rather bold question, would it be good for the MMO industry if WoW died? Is there a story out there we ought to link or a blog we should be following? Just leave us a [...]

  18. Paul says:

    (1) Cataclysm ups the difficulty of end game.

    (2) WoW dies.

    (3) Suits look at (1) and (2) and draw a conclusion.

    (4) All future MMOs are Farmville With Swords.

  19. lissanna says:

    WoW hasn’t died yet. A small drop in numbers is actually normal. WoW’s playerbase #’s go up and down like a yo-yo, and we’re only slightly lower than pre-Cata numbers (So, some people came back for Cata and then took a break again, BUT the game was doing fine in WotLK when they took their breaks before). WoW is going to keep going strong for a number of years, since they still have MANY MILLIONS of players still playing the game, and Blizzcon tickets sold out faster than you could say “OMG CLICK”.

  20. Beasaa says:

    Wow is the only MMO i have played and most likely the only one i will ever play, as I normally go for console games. However I have played WoW since the TBC, and I’m still enjoying it. The only time i see myself or a majority of the WoW player base moving on, is the release of a new Blizzard MMO such as ‘Titan’, which will see WoW decline and the new Blizzard MMO take off. I don’t believe any of the other MMO currently on the market such as rift will ever compete with WoW and the only thing which will topple WoW in years to come is a new Blizzard MMO. But thats just my opinion

  21. Nevwyn says:

    I’m going to talk out of my backside here for a minute, but its the internet I’m expected to do that.

    The key to this question is the industry itself, it is not the same industry it was when WoW launched, when Burning Crusade launched, when Wrath launched.

    The gaming industry as a whole saw the kind of numbers that Blizzard generated with WoW and said “how can I get some of that” and it changed. When WoW launched MMOs as a whole were a market segment of the gaming industry, someone would say “I think we should make an mmo” then they would try and create a game that they already knew how to make work for a larger group of people. Now it is more likely that someone will say “is there a way we can turn this franchise into an mmo?” it went from being a segment within the gaming industry to an industry all of its own within gaming industry.

    Which brings us to the question of if WoW died would it be good for the gaming industry. At this point I don’t think it would matter. When WoW launched mmo’s were a PC niche market you wanted to play you played on PC (at least in north america, I understand Japan’s console networking actually existed at the time), now thanks to improvements to consoles and highspeed internet developers are saying things like “how many players can this map realisticly support?”, DCU was designed with console players in mind.

    If WoW died today, I don’t think it would hurt the industry in anyway in the long term. It would give delevopers a reason to take risks on propeties they don’t think would survive in a world with WoW, we would likely never see another WoW like entity but we would likely have a dozen or so properties that sit at the million subscriber level which to me could be a good thing as there are plenty of good games out there that we rarely hear about.

  22. vortal 2 says:

    If WoW died I would have absolutely no idea what to do. I guess try to pick up Rift, but the game just sorta bored me. I would be stuck playing my Starcraft 2 and Warhammer. Even though I haven’t tried other MMO’s (beside the Rift trial) that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try other games, it’s just that I wouldn’t know where to go. Sure it would be good for more experience MMO players but for people like me who have been playing RTS and single player games for the large part of their gaming history, it’s a huge step out of our comfort zone. It’s like kicking people out of their happy WoW homes.

  23. Chris says:

    Nothing much would happen to the MMO genre if WoW failed because nothing much happened to it when it succeeded. The most successful alternates to WoW have about the same subscription levels as UO and everquest did.

    WoW is unique no other MMO has achieved the same thing and it’s entirely possible no MMO will.

    • Gordon says:

      “WoW is unique no other MMO has achieved the same thing and it’s entirely possible no MMO will.”

      Agree with that. It could just be a strange anomaly that no one ever manages to replicate!

  24. RiseofMUDS says:

    THE RAPTURE OF MUDS IS COMING!

  25. numtini says:

    One thing that’s really come out in looking at the Rift forums is the number of people who just won’t accept anything different from WoW. We must have a cross server lfd. We must have arenas. We must have fully active add ons–despite the fact that only WoW has ever allowed these. Given that I have never liked WoW, this is not surprisingly rather alarming to me.

    What we really need is a good MMO that can compete with WoW on the basis of its being different, not on the basis of it being the same. That’s a hard call to make.

  26. Stormdragon says:

    I have said this a few times…it would be good for the industry if MMO’s in their current form died. MMO’s are for the most part Raid Centric E-peen fests, and quite frankly the gaming community is very much over that.

    The developer I am consulting for started off making a MMO, but it has evolved into a online RPG..I honestly think this is the future of the genre, it really excites people Who play it especially burnt out MMO players. Time will tell but I think we will see a much different landscape in the next five years, and you will probably be able to count functioning MMO’s on one hand.

  27. Lyram says:

    I’d like to echo the sentiment that WoW’s slow and steady decline, which is a reality today, is good for other multi-player game studios.

    We’ve seen resistance to risk taking when big money is thrown at projects. I’d like to see smaller projects that surprise and delight players.

  28. Wolfshead says:

    Hats off to Richard Bartle for having the courage to be one of the first important people to recognize that the MMO industry would be better off if WoW simply closed its doors.

    (I’m glad we still have people like Bartle, yourself and a few other bloggers that dare to think critically about MMOs and ask “why” we play them. When the majority of people stop asking questions they only have themselves to blame for the pablum that MMOs have become in recent years.)

    Not only would the MMO industry be better off, a more important side effect of WoW’s demise would be that better MMOs would be the result. Nobody likes failure and a failed WoW would be a sure signal to the industry that creating more WoW clones is no longer feasible.

    Blizzard has squandered their position of leadership and dominance in the MMO field by failing to innovate. Instead of going forward, they are slouching backwards. The only innovation we see from Blizzard in WoW is that they create features like the Dungeon Finder that increase the level of convenience for players at the expense of the long term health of the MMO. No innovation is better than bad innovation.

    Today innovation is all about making games and MMOs more accessible and easier in order to attract more players to make more money. Let’s tell little Johnny that he’s a hero and fill his bags up with shiny purple loot. This is what game design is all about in 2011. It’s all about metrics and money.

    There is a possible negative side-effect to WoW failing. If it goes down, it might take the entire MMO industry down with it as people finally get sick of the mindless, predictable “Groundhog Day” song and dance that MMOs have become. Think of what happened when the grunge movement killed the hair bands in the early 1990’s. I know there are other cultural analogies out there that are applicable.

    What would the MMO industry be like after the death of WoW?

    Would anyone even dare to create a MMO that is not DIKU MUD based — which is what WoW is at it’s core?

    Actually much of the video game industry has been making the same old video game over and over for the past 30 years with little to no innovation — except for better graphics.

    When MMORPGs first came out they were a breath of fresh air made possible by the Internet, 3D graphics video cards and a group of developers that felt they were on a special mission to create something unique and wonderful.

    We need a new vision for MMOs. We need creative people that have the courage to kill the sacred cows that trampled over the potential that this genre once had.

    • vortal says:

      What actually do you have in mind? Cause I am quite interested in new possibilities for MMOs, having only played WoW before, the other games (with the exception of Everquest) just seem to imitate WoW, which only leads me into further curiosity on the future of MMOs.

    • Gordon says:

      Like I said in my post, I reckon WoW has been a double edged sword for the industry in that it’s drawn a huge amount of attention and money into the genre but also resulted in a lot of attempts to clone it and capture the same lightning in the bottle. I’ll be very curious to see what Blizzard’s new MMO will be like. If it’s incredibly innovative and radically different to WoW and yet still manages to be very successful then it’s going to raise a lot of questions about exactly why that is.

  29. Prodigy says:

    Minecraft already killed wow… no… serioulsy :) (for me at least)

    I’ve been pondering unsubscribing for about a month now. I am (was)GM of a pretty successful guild and our attendance was drastically cut in half (not people leaving guild, just simply not logging on) about a month ago. We’ve replaced 2 entire 10man core groups with new recruits. Everyone has been calling it the pre-patch lul but I think it’s something more. I’m going to just go ahead and call it now… wow is dieing and I predict it will be a fast drop to the bottom (maybe 2-4mil subs?)

    Think of it this way. How long before BC was out did the subs go down? Maybe a year to 1.5 yrs? And after Wrath came out? less then a year. Now cata hasn’t been out for nearly 6 months and it’s dead. Bad trends indeed.

    • Lyram says:

      My own limited experience in WoW jives with your observation. I belong to a very small guild based on core players who’ve been together since just after CoH launched. WoW attendance has gone from a peak of 10 to 12 during prime time, to just 2 or 3. One of our members is a WoW-only-ever gamer. We’ll never get her to leave. And if she does, she’ll stop gaming. Another is admittedly OCD and only plays for achievements. He doesn’t even enjoy it. The rest of us are waiting for SWTOR (aka WAR2), GW2, or whatever comes along to inspire us. We’re incredibly bored with WoW. I’ve stopped playing it in order to spend some final days in the corpse of WAR. We’ll often gather in vent doing our own thing, single player games etc. But only two or three of us will be in WoW at any given time.

    • Gordon says:

      Thing is, the trend is perfectly natural and it’s only normal that players, especially returning ones, would get bored quicker with each new expansion. The only way for Blizzard to combat it is by releasing more content and expansions faster than ever before.

  30. hordemaster says:

    I think it would be a bad thing. Wow got me and others into MMORPGs. Variety is the spice of life, but I’d hate to see Azeroth as vacant as SWG servers. I wish it would go f2p though.

  31. epic.Ben says:

    Forgot whether it would be good for the industry. I would personally cry tears of unadulterated joy if/when WOW passes from this world. I can hope.

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