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World of Warcraft is arguably the most popular MMO of all time. Dozens of other MMOs try to emulate it in the hopes of capturing its essence, but mere mimicry isn't the key to success. Others attempt to do just the opposite of what WoW does, trying to fill an ignored niche for players, and have some moderate success. Boasting a player base well into ten million plus and showing no sign of stopping, Blizzard has developed a monster.
It's this very factor that has a lot of game publishers sizing up WoW's audience hungrily. An established base like the one WoW's got is the brass ring that capitalists dream of catching. But when it's all said and done, no one has come any closer to being able to replicate what makes WoW so popular. Can World of Warcraft be toppled from its throne as the king of the massively multiplayer online game? What would it take to achieve that goal?
To beat WoW at its own game, it's important to first understand what it does and how it does it. Consider that at the time of its launch, the leading MMO was Everquest, which enjoyed a position among the other MMOs of the time similar to WoW's at this current time. Blizzard undeniably looked to EQ for ideas on how to develop their own game, even if it was only to do away with the parts that they didn't like. What they ended up with was something unprecedented, so it must have worked (beating even Everquest II to the punch), but what elements make WoW so compelling?
First of all, WoW is just stunning. From the character models to the color palette to the environment to the spell effects, every graphical element is designed to provide a unique identity, while harmonizing with the overall aesthetic of the game. By moving away from a strictly representational appearance, Blizzard was able to infuse each character with so much vibrancy and energy that it's a true pleasure even just to watch people running around.
Furthermore, this attention to detail is extended to every creature roaming Azeroth. It's fun to watch the idle animations of the various critters that wander the landscape, each with their own expressiveness and personality. And the world given to the players to traverse is equally captivating, with a distinct atmosphere for each particular area. With so much visual variety and splendor, it will be tough for a competitor to match WoW on that level.
Connected to this is WoW's character creation tool, which has been surpassed in complexity to some extent by other games such as Age of Conan, though again the realism of AoC, while compelling in its own way, tends to want for lack of expressiveness. Both of these are nearly overwhelmed by the sheer number of MMOs that mimic the Asian aesthetic, however -- whether that style is the overblown, baroque fashion that passes for realism, or the huge-eyed, nearly superdeformed look that evokes a childlike sense of play. Regarding functionality, there seems to be a trend lately toward creating class-less characters; instead of choosing to be a Priest, Warlock, or Warrior, the player would select from a menu of abilities. This offers more flexibility in play, and seems like the way forward for MMO gaming. It's not for everyone, of course, but upcoming MMOs like Champions Online will use it, so we'll see how it all pans out.
Another thing to consider is WoW's breadth of content. There is a nearly bewildering array of quests, stories, combat alternatives, and Achievements to pursue -- not to mention the enjoyment of leveling up your character -- that the replayability factor is quite strong. Veteran players tend to focus mostly on end-game content, which is why each new expansion raises the level cap and offers more for the higher-end players to do. But it's important to remember that the path to Level 80 begins at Level 1, and it's been crafted in such a way that makes it easy and fun for new recruits to become immersed in the proceedings. This is something that many MMOs forget in their desire to compete: it's the low-level stuff that makes players stay, and is indicative of the kind of quest crafting that goes on at the higher levels. If low-level content isn't compelling, there's no reason to believe the high-level content will be any better.
What about the business model? World of Warcraft has been making a killing on the monthly fee setup, with no signs of either stopping nor changing the going rate. But the lasting trend among non-US MMOs is the free-to-play/microtransaction model. Is this something that can take purchase (so to speak) in America? Everyone loves getting something for free. And it's a great way to inflate player numbers: simply make your game free and people will sign up. But again, Blizzard invests their earnings into the game by constantly rebalancing, making sure the servers stay up and maintained, working on new expansions and in-game seasonal content ... it would be difficult to imagine WoW being made available for free, with the ability to pay a couple of dollars for a new hat for your character, or an in-game pet. Yet Free Realms seems to be picking up players at an astonishing rate; how many of those are former or current WoW players?
Let's also remember that playing other MMOs doesn't necessarily mean quitting WoW. When Age of Conan appeared on the scene, many players jumped on-board to check out the new thing, but kept their WoW accounts active, just as when Warhammer Online debuted. When players had had enough, they returned to their mainstay. At this point, so many have invested so much in Blizzard's timesink, it may take the actual closing of the game to make people stop playing it. For many, World of Warcraft is simply home base, and thus will always have a place in their lives. The only thing I can think of right off-hand that might supplant it? Worlds of Starcraft.
|Категория: World of Warcraft | Добавил: Khazad (27.07.2009) | Автор: Posted Jul 8th 2009 Akela Talamasca|
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