People often credit WoW’s success because, in part, it’s a little bit of everything for everyone (in theory at least), and while that’s a great way to get into the genre, if you really want to focus on any one aspect you soon find WoW is somewhat limited. Yes WoW has PvP, but it’s limited by WoW’s PvE side, Blizzard’s somewhat disinterest in expanding WoW’s PvP, and by the fact that the engine is simply not built for it. Messing around in the BGs or arena is all well and good, but if you really want to PvP you play a game like Guild Wars, DarkFall, or WAR, depending on how far you want to take it. Same goes for the economy; WoW has an auction house and mods built around it, but no one is going to confuse the economic challenges of EVE or ATitD with making gold in WoW. Even for PvE, which is (or should be) WoW’s main focus, other games distill the formula and offer more focused gameplay, like the all-instanced PvE of DDO, the hardcore raiding of FFXI, or the casual do anything nature of CoX.
If we were to break down the MMO genre by category (raiding, PvP, economy, questing, graphics, sound, hardware demands, ect), and rate each game on ALL categories, WoW would likely come out with the highest overall total, yet it would not be the winner in any one single category, making it the jack-of-all-trades or most ‘mass market’ game. This of course is supported by WoW having millions of subs while everyone else is trying to hit 500k (or far less when we throw in more niche games like DF or ATitD).
What’s interesting is that overall, WoW players have NOT progressed from the entry game of the genre into other, more focused offerings. Aside from EVE’s continual growth, the genre as a whole has not seen subscription numbers grow from the height of EQ1’s popularity (500k-ish), and whether a game hits its mark (LotRO) or slightly misses (WAR), subscription numbers don’t vary greatly short of the massive disasters (TR, Hellgate). There are more MMOs out now with 100k+ subscribers than prior to WoW’s release in 2004, but it would appear that the majority of WoW players don’t move on to other games and stay. If anything, they try a game for a month, leave, and either return to WoW or leave the genre altogether.
Tourist jokes aside (not that the tourist problem is a joke, mind you), I’ve come to this brilliant conclusion: MMOs are just not that fun for most people.
I know, shocking.
With all the time we spend going back and forth on how X game is awesome and your MMO sucks, or how game Y would be so much better with feature Z, the majority of gamers are telling of us ALL our games suck. The whole genre, garbage. And in a way they are right. Why in gods name would I pay $15 a month to complete 100 kill x mob quests when I could do far more interesting tasks in a single player RPG? Why would I grind up an imbalanced character so I can PvP ‘sometimes’ when I can just get a FPS for cheap and have all-access to PvP of all flavors?
The ‘why’ of course is because I like MMOs, a lot, but WoW aside (and hence more support for the ‘perfect storm’ theory), most people just don’t. Beyond the 50-500k that WILL buy into your product, everyone else is just not that interested in the core ideas behind the genre, and short of abandoning that core (like Guild Wars does, and perhaps even Free Realms), no matter what you do you won’t attract and keep them. It’s not about how great your questing is, or how balanced the PvP turns out, or what form of character progression you go with, those who are not into the genre just can’t be bothered with the basics, details be damned.
And as long as developers understand this and stop trying to chase those who don’t care, the genre will continue on its path of success or failure based on the details, rather then the core. There is plenty of money to be made off those who DO care, and that base is slowly expanding, it’s just not seeing the massive growth WoW lead people to believe it was capable of.