In the many years since the first “massive” multiplayer world was developed, countless MMORPGs have come and gone. Many had loyal fanbases that should have seen them continued into the present day, yet they were deemed as financially insolvent and thus discontinued. So makes World of Warcraft different? What makes World of Warcraft the single most successful MMORPG in history?
The simple answer is that Blizzard has successfully created a world where dragons, cooperation, and even war itself produce more than just simple loot rewards. Let’s examine why World of Warcraft has become the most successful online fantasy MMORPG to date, despite the numerous “WoW Killers”.
The Foundations that Led World of Warcraft to Success
World of Warcraft’s beginnings were relatively meek. It started all the way back with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, a real-time strategy game that told of the conflict between humans and orcs; all while they danced in the palms of demons from distant planes.
The most influential RPGs of the Warcraft series were likely Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and the subsequent expansion Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. The Frozen Throne expansion gave rise to the well-received idea that players should not only command units, but should also envision themselves as a certain character. Today we call this envisioning, online role playing.
To date, the main campaign involving Arthas and the bonus campaign where the player develops Rexxar were the most influential in forming a foundation for World of Warcraft’s gameplay. The ability to “level up” was even taken into account during the Rexxar campaign, which was more than just well-received by the online community. Community-driven maps like Defense of the Ancients allowed players to take this leveling system one step further in customizing both their gameplay and their heroes, a trait that can be seen in World of Warcraft’s talent and character customization systems.
Today’s World of Warcraft is Vastly Different From the Original Version
World of Warcraft has very few differences between the standard model of fantasy MMORPGs. Players kill monsters to level and to receive loot; they repeat this process to empower their characters. They can do this playing various class roles, which allow them to have a play style that conforms to the role of tank, healer, melee damage dealer or ranged damage dealer.
The difference that has made World of Warcraft successful where other massively multiplayer online RPG games have failed is the fact that World of Warcraft has continually evolved. Addition of features like real-time auction houses, the black market auction house, battlegrounds and world events, raids and an extensive achievement system has fostered everything about the player’s experience. From enriching every battle, to rewarding players for making their own adventures, WoW seeks to lure the player in with new experiences.
Even the more controversial aspects of the game like transmogrification, stat reforging, and archaeology have enriched player experience after attaining the maximum level on a character. They give players more than just loot rewards for when they’ve completed all the fighting left in the game. This staple of the game makes it popular with gamers worldwide.
The last major thing that has kept this aging game fresh is the amount of work that the developers have done towards revitalizing the original features of World of Warcraft. The world revamp that occurred during the 4.0 patch revitalized many of the quest areas that were filled with boring quests that relied upon grinding. The plants-versus-zombies-like quest found in Hilsbrad is a prime example of positive changes to the old system that players have found to be an overall improvement.
Dynamic Adjustments to the Community’s Responses
The most important thing that many online RPG games neglect is the response from the community. After all, it’s the community that decides the financial viability of these games, thus it’s important to measure how players respond to the various changes that have been introduced. The most iconic change worth noting has to be the many revisions to the talent system.
Around Wrath of the Lich King, many players found that the talent system was too complex to make their own builds. Min-maxing for raiding encounters was even more complex, as it required tedious testing to determine the cases where some obscure talent would produce a benefit. Unexpected talents like damage, tanking, or the ability to heal are in high demand but were too hard to tease out with this system.
Blizzard responded by attempting to revise and to simplify the system around patch 3.2. Classes had entire specialization roles redesigned from the ground up several times until the current talent system employed during Mists of Pandaria was implemented.