The parallels between the current explosive growth and influence of PUBG and WoW back in 2004 are many, though there are also some very interesting differences.
Neither game was the first in its genre. WoW wasn’t the first MMO, and PUBG isn’t the first Battle Royale game. But both games are the most successful in each genre, and by a large margin. Prior to WoW, EQ1 was the most successful MMO with 500k subs, while WoW peaked at 12m or so. H1Z1 King of the Hill was seeing around 70k or so Steam players daily (or something like that), while PUBG just broke 1m+ concurrent users and is still growing.
Side-note: Pretty comical that both WoW and PUBG rapidly passed SOE/Daybreak titles to take the crown. It’s also funny that EQ2 tried to be more like WoW without success, and Daybreak tried to make H1Z1 more like PUBG and also haven’t seen success.
Once WoW exploded, everyone jumped on the MMO bandwagon. Seemingly every studio suddenly had an MMO in production, and for a bit all the big releases were going to be a ‘WoW killer’. As we know, most of those titles were either poor WoW clones, or just bad MMOs in general. That said, we did get a few gems, mostly in niche areas (RIP Darkfall), but the MMO bubble started and basically ended with WoW.
Today it seems that seemingly everyone is either announcing a battle royale-style game, or adding that option to their existing game (whether it makes sense or not). The big difference is that unlike MMOs, making a PUBG clone is fast and ‘easy’. Just grab the Unreal engine license, get some of the free weapons and buildings, and boom, you have a game. And since we are still in an age where F2P is a thing and getting a game on Steam is cheap, the barrier of entry is low, so almost any title can get enough initial players to not have it be a complete flop (population so low you can’t get a game going).
Of course just like with WoW, these PUBG clones aren’t likely going to become the next PUBG or a PUBG killer. The perfect storm that helped push WoW into the millions is also happening with PUBG, where the game design is good, yes, but the rapid growth has as much if not more to do with a snowball effect of ‘hey everyone is playing this, I should too’ and ‘hey this is super popular, lets cover it in the news’ than it does with the game itself being significantly much better than everyone else.
The differences between WoW and PUBG however might be even more interesting. A lot of WoW success was attributed to it being more accessible compared to prior MMOs (true). But then that got pushed too far starting with WotLK, where even bad players/people could successfully raid, and WoW stopped growing. Worse still, many other MMOs didn’t just copy WoW, but copied WotLK+ WoW, and we know how all of that turned out.
PUBG on the other hand is a massive (by non-EVE standards) multiplayer game featuring PvP-only full loot combat. It doesn’t hold your hand, it doesn’t feature anything close to welfare epics, and the player skill required to actually win a game is fairly high. And yet it’s the most popular game out right now, alongside League of Legends (another high skill PvP game). Which isn’t to say ultra-casual games can’t be successful, of course they can be, but it does refute the point that ‘hardcore’ PvP games can’t hit the mass market, or that if you want mega success, you must cater to casuals. The casuals will come to you, and sure, they might struggle and see very limited if any success, but that won’t stop them from playing.
For me personally the difference here is I don’t want/need the Darkfall or even EVE of PUBG, whatever that might be. I needed Darkfall because WoW (especially post TBC) wasn’t giving me what I wanted in an MMO (PvP focus and a clan-based endgame). PUBG gives me everything I’d want in a battle royale game, which is mostly playing with friends and having a good laugh about what is happening, while still trying and occasionally winning games or having a solid round in terms of K/D. So I’m out on the coming rush of PUBG clones; hopefully the wave comes and dies quickly.