Is WoW Killing the Industry?

Over the years that WoW has had it’s mega-success very few people have stopped to look at the pieces that have been left in the games wake. It’s very easy to look at the numbers of subscribers and amount of profits they rake in each quarter and claim that the industry as a whole is growing and is very healthy, but is it really? In all of WoW’s success have they almost single handedly killed the industry?

Just to clear things up before I continue, I like WoW. To me, it is a very polished game that was loads of fun. While I don’t currently retain my subscription to it I did play for about 2 years. . . I even had a druid at level 70. Please refrain from calling me a WoW-hating fanboy of another game. All around I am a huge fan of Blizzard. I had to get that out of the way, sorry.

Anyways, back on topic, I am sure if you were to ask a number of developers the primary reason for their games floundering or not acheiving the same level of success as WoW they would blame it on the extraordinary success of the World of Warcraft. So, are these developers just bitter and envious of success, or do they actually hold some merit of truth? Look at it this way: Lord of the Rings Online is often touted as a very successful MMORPG. However, that said, if you look at the recently updated website you notice that LoTRO still only has around 300,000 subscribers. This is a far cry from the 10,000,000 that WoW boasts in it’s ever increasing fold. How is a game that is called a “break-out” hit in 2007 only account for 3% of what WoW has?

This, of course, isn’t to say that all industry flops are WoW’s fault. There have been plenty of stinkers released that failed on their own accord. Vanguard launched way to early and as such became known as one of the biggest flops in the history of MMORPGs. WoW had nothing to do with that. However, for games such as Tabula Rasa, and Pirates of the Burning Sea, both decent games that are inherently different from WoW, is the success of the World of Warcraft causing shortages of subscriptions for these games? Probably, both of these games were funded heavily, and launched with hopes to gain a sizable subscriber base to make the games profitable. Unfortunately, I doubt either one is profitable right now, and that only spells out one thing: less investor interest.

My entire point with this article is basically to look at the success of WoW, and the flops of almost every other MMORPG in comparison, with the eyes of an investor. If you had money to sink into an MMORPG property would you, honestly, be willing to take such a gamble? Afterall, the chances are extremely high at this point that the game will not achieve the same level of success as WoW, and as such will never gain the same amount of money. In fact, you probably will never see a return on that investment ever again. . . Is that something you really want to invest money into? Probably not, and I am sure this has turned away at least one investor prior to my writing of this. I guess the only thing we can truly hope for in the de-thronement of WoW into a more stabilized MMO economy by the likes of Warhammer Online and Age of Conan.  

Thanks for reading.


  1. Tabula Rasa was also released way, way, way too early – it was more or less still in beta when it dropped. It was a decent game (I personally scored it at 7/10), but it is more a proof that a new MMO needs to be a lot more polished when it’s released to be able to stand up to WoW in any way.

    I personally hope that Funcom realised this when they pushed Age of Conan back and that Mythic knows this before the rush out Warhammer way too early.

    I don’t think that WoW is hurting the industry. But conceptions have to change and I think that 2007 proved this in many different ways.

  2. I think your right, from one side.

    wow did attract a lot of players from other mmo’s.

    but also, a lot of the 10 mil players are people who didn’t play games and started with wow. When they quit WoW they mostly stop gaming again.

  3. Actually, if you compare apples to apples, WoW has 2 million subscribers in the west. Virtually no other MMO (LOTRO included) has taken a serious attempt to launch in the East. Until we do, the numbers will always be out of whack.

    Also, here’s a tip for being profitable: Don’t spend as much as WoW did, and make something different.

  4. I joined World of Warcraft quite late in its life.

    June 2007 I began playing. I had only played it for a few days in 2006 on a 10 day trial but at that time I was new to the entire MMO genre and knew nothing about MMORPGs or how to play them.

    I purchased Guild Wars after my World of Warcraft trial was over because I felt it was easier to pick up and play, and like a warm bath I was eased in to the MMORPG gameplay. I played Guild Wars for a good 14 months on and off and then I quit and picked up World of Warcraft.

    There were many MMO’s I could have chosen to play instead but I picked WoW as the one I would play and pay a subscription for. The reason was quite simply, WoW is the standard definition of the Genre. It has become such a popular MMO that whenever you say MMO, people think of World of Warcraft.

    For me it offered plentiful support from Blizzard, it was well structured, well presented, I felt comfortable in making payments to a company that I trusted, Blizzard has history and millions of customers and I felt safer handing over my Credit Card details for reoccurring payments.

    And the gameplay, I’ll say it right now that I am a Graphics Whore. I have the fastest graphics setup on the market and a huge 30″ LCD to enjoy the games on. When I choose an MMO I had to look past the eye-candy and really look at Game Play. Guild Wars which I started out on has higher quality graphics then World of Warcraft, but its gameplay was lacking. LoTRO is also more impressive visually but World of Warcraft just has a better feel to it. It feels refined and established, and although I will never visit a part of the land that hasn’t already been investigated by another player I am never alone in that land. There is always some piece of 3rd party knowledge out there on some guide site to help me complete a Quest, and that is comforting when I want to get past the boring parts (Grinding mob after mob) to the more interesting content (Instances, Raiding, PVP).

    World of Warcraft does harm other MMO’s by being such a juggernaut, however Planes harm the usage of Trains because they are faster and often go where Trains cannot go.

    I’m new to the MMO Genre, and as such I’m not prepared to pay for more then one MMO at any one time. World of Warcraft for me is perfect. I’ve been playing it nearly a year and I still love logging in and improving my characters and playing with friends, until it becomes boring I see no other reason to play another MMO. I’m obviously not willing to pay for another MMO until I quit WoW and I don’t see that happening soon. Most MMORPG’s need a lot of personal time to play and I can barely play WoW, let alone 2 or 3 at once. And paying £8.99×2 or x3 would annoy me.

    The only way I can see other MMO’s getting a look in to WoW’s market share, is if they create a type of universal MMO account system, where you pay £12.99 a month to gain access to a bunch of MMO’s at once. Whichever games you play in that month is where your subscription money goes to. It would enable people to try more and more MMO’s without having to take out multiple subscriptions at once or pick and choose between them.

    I know the above would never happen but hey I can dream.

  5. What fascinates me about this is that WoW isn’t engaging in anti-competitive practices. They aren’t using huge cash reserves to undercut everyone on price. They aren’t using unfair business practices to squeeze out new market competitors.

    You can’t even say any longer that WoW is a technological innovator. Their UI has been copied (and improved upon), their graphics are decidedly aged, the content itself is nothing to write home about. They allow a lot of customization through add-ons, but honestly that’s not what is pulling the new subscriber in. The game isn’t even that simple to play if you want to be a decently-skilled player with good equipment taking on challenging foes and getting good rewards from it. It is not a game most people would feel justified only playing casually . . . and WoW itself charges an industry-standard amount for its subscribers.

    In other words, until someone can adequately explain why WoW is so dominating the industry, I don’t think anyone is going to be able to replicate it or even compete with it. I have a variety of theories, but one would figure that if it was as easy as someone sitting around theorizing then at least one of said someones would have figured out a way to compete with WoW.

    I will say this . . . a lot of these licenses are targeting very small markets, and their subscriptions I believe will be limited because of it. I love Lord of the Rings Online. It is just a much better game than WoW, with the possible exception of lacking adequate customization and add-ions (which I understand why Turbine went that way but don’t agree with it). But most people have already made their mind up about Lord of the Rings, and what kind of a game it would be. I think the same thing is going to be true of Warhammer and Age of Conan–you’re going to have a large percentage of people who just aren’t going to be interested because of the license. There is too much (or there is perceived to be too much) that a player would have to know prior to running the game in order for them to get a lot of enjoyment out of it. That is certainly something WoW has going for it–it isn’t as if the earlier Warcraft games contributed a deep and literary storyline that one felt they had to absorb before jumping into the game.

    Timing, I imagine, it also of the essence. What if LoTR had come out when the movies came out? What if they could have bootstrapped that marketing engine and public visibility? A lost opportunity.

    But like I said, these are all just thoughts and theories. One thing seems certain–WoW is just beating the hell out of the competition, and they don’t appear to be engaging in any unethical business practices in the process. I think WoW’s aged graphics help them because people don’t feel like they need a cutting edge system to run it well.

    So maybe that’s just it. Blizzard has removed enough barriers that people outside of the genre feel comfortable making WoW their first MMORPG experience. New players to get a good gaming experience:

    1. Don’t have to upgrade their computer. or
    2. Learn a lot of backstory, or
    3. Learn a complex interface . . .

    I dunno. I still think that overall WoW will prove beneficial to the industry by bringing in players that wouldn’t have otherwise played a MMORPG. I also agree about the exclusivity thing–subscription fees breed exclusivity. I’m playing both LoTRO and WoW, but don’t know how long that will be true.

    Interesting topic!

  6. Jim, for as much talk about “no one has figured it out”, you seem to have no problem listing some pretty good guesses.

    When I explain World of Warcraft’s success, I make a simple statement: “Sit down and play it for five minutes.”

    WoW plays like no other MMORPG before it. It is stupid simple to understand, runs reliably on almost any PC out there, and feels 100% fluid. Not to mention WoW, since the beginning, has targeted non-gamers just as much as it has gamers.

    To say that again, as Jim already has, there is no barriers to entry. WoW plays, looks, and feels like a game to anyone that sits down and touches it. No other MMO on the market can claim that.

    Note: Lord of the Rings online failed because a) it didn’t stick to the lore (magic anyone) and b) played like a fat chick trying to suck a golf ball through a straw.

  7. Lord of the Rings Online failed to dethrone WoW, but to say it simply “failed” is a total redefinition of the word. Turbine is on record at GDC a saying that even DDO is generating significant revenue for them.

  8. Blizzard didn’t have to prove itself, that’s why it is #1. Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft… all great series, never rushed out the door. Upon release, I know I bought the game because it said Blizzard on it, and its safe to say that Blizzard sets the standard on quality gaming.

    WoW had its kinks coming out the gate, but gave players free playing time and rest xp to keep them happy. That got the core of the gamers to keep playing, and they in turn, spread the word.

    Other companies don’t have the leniency that I think Blizzard was afforded, thus the game is quickly abandoned.

  9. I think Blizzard have just made WoW open to everyone, it’s had heavy advertising, it’s very well polished and it’s basically a very good game.

    Other MMO’s just don’t meet the standards WoW has. None are mainstream and outstanding at the same time, an MMO needs to be a very well made game to succeed, very well made and needs to appeal to everyone.

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