By now I’m sure many of you have read/seen the Gamasutra top 12 games of the decade piece, which has World of Warcraft at #1. The whole piece is a nice look back at many of the big games in the last ten years, and I agree that WoW should be placed at the top.
To me, WoW is to the MMO genre as Final Fantasy 7 was to the RPG genre back in the 90s. Both games opened their genre up to the ‘mass market’ by not just being great games, but also in part by NOT following what everyone else was doing in the genre at the time.
For FF7, that including top-shelf graphics in a genre that is usually a few years behind in that area, and a story told more like a blockbuster summer movie than something written by Tolkien. It was also (for that time) more streamlined and ‘accessible’, with only the optional bosses requiring extra work and in-depth knowledge of game mechanics and secrets. For many FF7 was their first RPG, and they would go on to look for similar qualities (movie-like story, fancy graphics, quick progression) in future purchases.
Most know what WoW did to the MMO genre in terms of solo play, hardware requirements, and bringing a release-ready product to a genre accustomed to playing paid beta for months. Like FF7 before it, WoW is the first MMO for many, and those first-timers go into future games expecting similar qualities (plus the added ‘problem’ of the first-MMO love syndrome that is impossible to reproduce).
Much like after FF7 ‘old school’ RPGs became a niche in the RPG genre, today ‘old school’ MMOs like DarkFall and Fallen Earth are the niche games in the MMO genre, while big budget, ‘accessible’ MMOs are in the mainstream. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into this decade, or whether WoW remains the exception to the rule and too many costly failures turn the big bucks away and leave the space to the little guys.