For over three years, World of Warcraft has dominated the massive multiplayer online market. With over nine million players and a billion dollar merger between Blizzard, Activision, and Vivindi; the impact of WoW cannot be dismissed.
Many things made World of Warcraft so successful. It is very easy to play, offers smooth character progression, is well polished, and is beautiful even on low-end systems.
With the Burning Crusade over a year old now, one would think that the popularity of WoW would be dwindling. The next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, may not be out for another year. Instead of a flood of abandonment, we see a new surge in popularity.
Besides the fundamental strengths of WoW, there exist a few other reasons why WoW is able to bring in new players and keep them. Today we will look at five of these features.
All throughout World of Warcraft, players find numerous item upgrades. From level 1 to level 70, players always find constant and continuous equipment upgrades. Only once players have exhausted every quest and every instance will upgrades become scarce and even then options exist for epic-quality equipment from a variety of sources.
Up to level 70, equipment rewards from quests continually upgrade characters as they level. It isn't uncommon to upgrade two or three items in a single play session, even at higher levels.
At high levels, Blizzard opens half a dozen paths to high-end epic quality gear. These can come from heroic five-man instance drops, heroic badge rewards, solo reputation grinding, player vs. player rewards, and ten-man raids. Most of these rewards are available to anyone - not just those in the best guilds.
While instances and raids continue to offer the best gear, high quality epic gear can be acquired with solo quests by way of reputation grinding. Though many consider it a difficult and repetitive path, it is a consistent way to earn epic gear from solo quests.
Within the past few patches, Blizzard implemented Daily Quests, quests repeatable once a day with rewards similar to standard quests. Blizzard did a great job making these quests entertaining and rewarding even after having done them dozens and dozens of time. These quests offer both gold and reputation, leading eventually to the epic items mentioned above. They ensure that even the highest-end players have something to do every time they log in besides sit and hope to get into the next Karazhan run. These daily quests can lead to epic equipment and flying mounts including coveted Netherdrake mount.
The 60-70 game in World of Warcraft includes a hand-full of very strong single group instances. These instances feel more like a small raid than a typical group hunt. The bosses require specific tactics to defeat, the gear rewards are very well balanced, and the zones are beautiful. Most of the rewards from these single-group instances come as drops from bosses, but heroic instances offer heroic badges which can be turned in for epic-quality gear. Daily instance quests also help focus players on new instances each day. While some of these zones require a key, they aren't too hard to come by.
World of Warcraft also made a big shift by focusing on 10 and 25 player instances. It isn't uncommon to find ten-man pick-up Karazhan runs forming. Blizzard clearly has its eye on the majority of the players, not the high-end minority. They know who makes up their nine million players.
When Burning Crusade came out, many players were surprised to see level 61+ common green quest rewards outstripping their hard-earned epic quality gear at level 60. Some were angry, some happy, but most of them kept moving forward.
This choice removed any progression gap that might exist between the old world and the new world. Everyone was once again on an even playing field whether they just reached level 60 or had been farming the highest 40-man instances for months. A new player doesn't have to complete every single instance and raid in the old world to move forward in the new expansion. Sources have confirmed that Wrath of the Lich King will likewise contain a gear reset like this, making all of the high-end rewards in Burning Crusade likewise worthless. Life moves on and if one didn't enjoy earning that gear at the time, one shouldn't have bothered to earn it.
Blizzard also made a smart move with reputation. High reputation with various factions in Burning Crusade can offer some very nice gear rewards but, once a new expansion comes out, those reputations offer no substantial power difference between the players who have it and those who do not. One level 75 player in Lich King may have exalted with the Sky Guard, Netherwing Drakes, and Cenarion Expedition while another has neutral and there is no substantial power difference between the two. As new expansions come out, that reputation no longer matters. Had Blizzard put in some other form of experience, like Everquest's Alternate Ability points, the power gap would continue from expansion to expansion. Those with high AAs are more powerful than those without.
It is these power resets that keep players playing alternate characters from level 1 to the highest level. It is what keeps new players coming in, knowing they can catch up quickly to the higher end players. Who knows if this will continue as Blizzard moves from expansion to expansion, but for the next two years it isn't likely to be a problem.
World of Warcraft has redefined the face of gaming. Both players and developers are watching what Blizzard does and how the game of Warcraft will evolve. As much as an impact as it has had, Warcraft is still in the early years. It has had only one expansion so far, with another not likely until the end of the year. Yet players seem to return to this favorite, even with new competitors releasing every few months. There is a strength and stability in this game that no other seems to possess. It is no wonder that many continue to call WoW home.
Too fanboish for you? Next article we'll take a look at five failures in World of Warcraft.
20 January 2008