What happened to all those WoW-babies?

TAGN, in a post about the closing of Vanguard, brings back a theory that was pretty popular around the 2006(ish) timeframe; mainly that those who played WoW would ‘grow up’ to eventually play a ‘real MMO’. Let’s revisit that theory today.

As I mentioned in the comments section over there, I think a good number of WoW players did ‘grow up’ and went looking for something better/deeper. How many is the impossible question, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if WoW never happened, the MMO genre wouldn’t be the size it is today, supporting all of the different MMOs we have out. To that extend, WoW did bring in a lot of new players, and those players did ‘grow up’ to look for something else.

The problem today is ‘something else’ is either EVE, meh at best, or minor-league garbage. Now let’s be very clear here; no MMO was ever or will ever be a ‘WoW-killer’, but that is mostly due to the fact that WoW was a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, prior to WotLK it was also a very good MMO, but it wasn’t 12m+ players good.

The same can be said today about League of Legends, the ‘real’ WoW killer; it’s a very good game, yes, but it’s not 40-60m or however many active accounts Riot has. LoL right now is benefitting from similar pop-culture status that WoW did, though arguable to a lesser extent because ‘vidyagames’ are more common and accepted today than even in 2006, so playing something popular isn’t front-page news-worthy.

I think a similar story can be written about the current massive success of Clash of Clans (the #1 grossing app still). Farmville laid the groundwork, and without doubt some of those players ‘graduated’ to a ‘real game’ in CoC. Because much like WoW and LoL, CoC is a great game, but is its design really “highest-grossing app out for over a year” great? Or did the pop-culture snowball effect kick in at some point and millions upon millions of people started playing because everyone else was, or because TV told them to?

Let’s get back to MMOs, or more accurately, the lack of either a great one or few with proper aspirations. I think the market size for a great MMO ala EVE is around the 500k-2m range. EVE is the king for virtual world design, but even by its own admission is somewhat niche. It might be the perfect version of Excel in Space, but at the end of the day it’s still Excel in Space. But I think a more mass-market, well-done MMO can get and retain around 2m players. Problem is every title that has tried has been horribly flawed and failed. LotRO, WAR, Rift, SW:TOR, ESO (I miss anyone?); all aimed at millions and fell well short, as each just isn’t great (or even good).

Then we had the problem of niche titles not defining their niche correctly. I think (hope) we are somewhat past this as indicated by titles like Pathfinder Online, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. None of those titles have promised to be a WoW killer, or to be the next big thing. All, from what I have seen, are embracing their niche, and I hope that embracing extends to the business plan and surviving on 50k players or so. The only big whale I see crashing is Star Citizen, and even that has already kinda made its money (which is insane, but a totally different topic).

So yes, the WoW babies grew up. Not all 12m however, which confused not just readers but also the industry as a whole for a number of years. Seems like people are finally figuring it out, and now we just have to wait for the results when the next wave is released.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Clash of Clans, EVE Online, League of Legends, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Pathfinder Online, Rift, Star Citizen, SW:TOR, The Elder Scrolls Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What happened to all those WoW-babies?

  1. Jenks says:

    Look at the 10 years that preceded the WoW babies predictions. The MMORPG genre had massive leaps, or at least reinventions, at an incredibly rapid rate. People saw M59 – UO – EQ – EVE – WoW. They thought ok, WoW attracted all these people – now they will graduate to the next big MMORPG, which will be more hardcore like the older ones! Except Vanguard failed, and no one tried making a ‘less accessible’ MMORPG again, just one nu-WoW reskin after another.

    MMORPG (the genre) is beyond stale and needs reinvention.
    MMO (the feature) is definitely seeing exciting progress in other genres. You mention two great, incredibly different examples in CoC (casual strategy) and Star Citizen (hardcore space sim).

  2. magnoz says:


  3. magnoz says:

    *their niche x2

  4. sid6.7 says:

    I’ve always been inclined towards the theory that players always identify most with the MMO that they fell in love with first. If UO was your first love, then that’s the gold standard you’ll use to judge all MMOs. If it was EQ or WoW, then that’s your gold standard.

    The problem, of course, is that the so-called WoW-babies would never grow up to play a more advanced MMO because if they are holding up WoW as their gold standard, no advanced MMO is going to provide them a similar experience.

    I’m only speaking about influences here and in generalities. Anyone can buck the trend and just because you loved WoW, there is no reason you can’t have multiple influences. But, on average, I think this theory holds true and it’s why other MMOs have never really capitalized on the audience that Blizzard brought the genre.

    I will make a point of clarity about EvE: I don’t really believe the players of EvE play MMOs because of WoW. Even if that’s the introduction they had to MMOs, I would argue whatever motivation they have to play EvE is the different than it was to play WoW.

  5. zaphod6502 says:

    Archeage perchance? The rumblings I have been hearing from the hardcore seem to be positive.

    • Fez says:

      I hear it’s another of those stale follow-the-arrow themeparks with the usual narrative and style mimicking WOW and others. With sandbox elements sprinkled ontop of a hollow core as a gimmick if not much else. I haven’t played it though to say for sure, will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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