Warhammer Online killed the MMO genre

Sensationalized blog title for all of the clicks!

Except not really, because WAR really did kill the MMO genre, at least in terms of being a mainstream genre similar in popularity to say RPGs, Sports titles, or FPS. Now don’t worry, that’s not actually a bad thing, but more on that later. First lets travel back in time and, with the power of hindsight, explore why Mythic killed the genre with Warhammer Online.

Prior to the release of WAR in Sept of 2008, the general view of the MMO space wasn’t whether a title would be successful, but how much money it would print. WoW was in its prime with TBC, and wouldn’t see its design take a turn down the ‘accessibility’ death-path until WotLK in Nov of 2008. And while WoW was king, other titles were still going strong. LotRO wasn’t a joke back then, for example.

WAR however was a different beast pre-release from anything before, and anything since (for those not around back then, take what is happening with Star Citizen today and multiply it by ten, if not a hundred). From the insane hype generated by Mythic (oh those bears…), to the fact that here was a title from the developers of DoAC, (arguably one of the greatest MMOs ever), using the Warhammer IP (the greatest IP ever, fact), it wasn’t just a case of printing money, but of ‘killing WoW’ and being the best thing of all time. Stack on top of all of the above that, initially, WAR was fun as hell in beta (in large part because the limited beta hid the later flaws oh-so-nicely), and you had a hype train running at light-speed.

Then release happened and not only did the train come off the rails, but it crashed into the town known as “the MMO genre” and burned it down. A lot of the hype from Mythic wasn’t real (hi bears), the game was horribly flawed in terms of end-game (a key strength of DAoC), and we had that whole ‘WoW tourists’ thing that didn’t help either. Mythic wasn’t able to put the fire out in any of their post-release updates, WAR was never ‘fixed’, and would ultimately get shut down.

Why WAR was so flawed is a point of contention to this day. I fully believe it’s because the vision that Mythic started with was highly tainted by trying to make WAR more like WoW late in development, rather than releasing DoAC 2.0 with a WAR skin (that game would still be online today). But even had WAR been a better-designed MMO, it still would have ‘failed’ in the eyes of the masses, because no matter what it wasn’t going to ‘kill’ WoW, or even rival it in terms of subs (12m). That 12m number is a pop-culture bubble effect as much, if not more, than a testament to WoW’s design at the time, and it wasn’t going to happen again for WAR.

We still saw big-budget releases after WAR, but none of them came close to the hype, the expectations, or the big-eyed dreams of WAR. SW:TOR cost a lot more, had a more popular IP, yet prior to release the ‘hype’ was to maybe retain a million subs, later scaled down to 500k (and it failed to do even that). WAR was the last time anyone seriously thought of an upcoming title as a WoW-killer, and with its burning destruction, so went the genre as a mass-market vehicle, as did the idea that MMO blogging could become a really big deal (whatever that meant).

But as I said at the beginning, the genre ‘dying’ in terms of the masses isn’t a bad thing. The mass-market is more WoW-clones, and not only do WoW-clones not work, who amongst our niche today even wants that? As for blogging, more page views are nice, sure, but again, who really cares? So long as posts get comments and a decent discussion going (and they still do), do any of us really miss developers sending us hype care packages or providing exclusive interviews? I don’t. (Though I do miss the millions I made off pimping Darkfall, I must admit. Fueling the old Ferrari is a real pain these days. 1%er problems are still problems, yo.)

The MMO genre was always going to be a niche market so long as it stayed true to the core ideas of living in a virtual world. That not only isn’t for the masses in terms of complexity and design, it simply takes more time than the average gamer is willing to dedicate to one title. And again, that’s totally ok. We don’t need games with mega-budgets and 12m subs to get quality titles and keep good developers employed. Maybe we gotta shell out some cash early via Kickstarter, or buy into Early Access, but is that really so different from pre-ordering a $75 collector’s edition of WAR and ultimately being disappointed even though beta was awesome?

2016, even with the expected slate of interesting titles, won’t be a rebirth of the genre in terms of returning to the pre-WAR days. That time is never coming back, and not only am I ok with that, I’m outright happy about it.

PS: Mark Jacobs very briefly had a blog he put up during the pre-collapse days of WAR titled “The MMO genre is a niche market”. The joke behind the title was that Mark was once told by some venture capitalist that MMOs would never be a huge deal, and here was Mark, releasing a mass-market world-beater title in WAR. Irony is a cruel mistress.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Age of Conan, Aion, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, Dark Age of Camelot, Darkfall Online, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rift, Star Citizen, SW:TOR, Uncategorized, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Warhammer Online killed the MMO genre

  1. Jenks says:

    “wouldn’t see its design take a turn down the ‘accessibility’ death-path until WotLK ”

    The “accessibility death path” definitely started in TBC with arena / honor points, flying mounts, and the end of 40 man raiding. Flying in particular has hurt the game in the name of accessibility more than any change since, it’s so egregious that even the developers have stated they wish they could put that genie back in the bottle.

    • SynCaine says:

      The Blizz dev quote about accessibility was made during WotLK.

      • CiaphasCain says:

        What is said and what is done are seldom the same thing and on this case, all it is necessary to point towards badge gear as proof that it started during BC.
        Also let us all ignore the fact that wow itself was UO Lite in terms of dificulty.

      • CiaphasCain says:

        Could not reply to your response.
        Relative dificulty is hard to establish, what I was talking about was accessability, you die, you must run to your corpse and risk geting looted in the way and other such things that wow removed.
        Second point was about the gear, badge gear is where it started, I dont care if other games had it or not, your point was that it started on Wrath when in fact it did start on your favorite expansion, BC.

        • SynCaine says:

          I didn’t say badge gear started in WotLK, I said Blizz themselves started focusing on ‘accessibility’ in WotLK, both because that’s when they said it, and when things like welfare epics started. My point was that badge gear by default isn’t the bad kind of accessible, which is why I brought up DoAC.

          You said WoW was UO-lite in terms of difficulty, I pointed out that the content in TBC was harder than anything in UO, including acquiring gear (a top-end set in UO was easy to get and get again after death; it took far more effort/skill to get it in WoW. Of course the game’s don’t have much of anything in common, which is why WoW is EQ-lite, not UO, but yea)

          If you don’t care about other games, don’t bring them up, especially when bringing them up doesn’t help you at all.

          TBC had the most difficult top-end content in WoW (outside of Nax40 anyway), and it wasn’t until WotLK that most of the worst ‘accessibility’ systems and changes were added. Why argue against what Blizzard themselves have stated as a goal, and that goal is clear as day for everyone to see?

    • NetherLands says:

      For completeness sake, TBC was when Levelling/the game world started to get nerfed in force, for example Patch 2.3 was the Patch that removed most Elite Zones etc. from Azeroth.

      In general, from the start WoW was aimed/marketted at a much more casual player base than other MMORPG’s at the time, with as a result far more solo(able) content, lack of death penalties etc. They did blow an increasing amount of dev attention to developing raid content despite less than 10% of the player base using that kind of content ‘when current’ pre-LFR but that had more to do with a) the ‘uber-guild’ background of the devs and b) a huge cashflow due to being primarily marketted at a more casual market slice.

      Note that much of the ‘accessibility’, removal of the levelling game, crafting etc. can be understood in the same vein, a sort of ‘two-pronged attack” from the I-Pod/console crowd (who just wants to ‘plug in and blow things up’) and the premade crowd (who have the luxury to play at set hours, and tend to not be interested in anything immersive/RPG and so see time spent on levelling crafting etc. as ‘wasted’, too) at the hobby-factor virtual world games (like Pen-and-Paper RPG’s) rely on to work.

      • SynCaine says:

        No argument from me that compared to the MMOs before it, WoW was more accessible, and that’s a big factor in its early success. My point is that starting with the changes brought with WotLK, it went way too accessible, and even for casual MMO players it lost a lot of its hooks. It’s been in decline ever since, and today Blizz has completely given up and just expects a large portion of the playerbase to buy a box and play for a month or so each expansion cycle.

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  3. Aeri says:

    The few big patches between the end of the closed beta, through open, and onto release really killed WAR for me, personally. I know a lot of issues came out with the larger population, but the huge changes to everything without the time to appropriately test them (a la CB tests) made it seem like it was halfway to a completely different game by the time ‘launch’ actually came.

    After that, it was just death-by-boredom from keep trading at endgame.

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