Blizzard's World of Warcraft is one the most popular Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) currently running. With a reported userbase of over 9 million accounts, World of Warcraft is the equivalent of a 900lb gorilla. Keeping that in mind, how would you respond if I stated that World of Warcraft was not the benchmark for an MMORPG?
Look at it this way, World of Warcraft is the is the safe option when it comes to gaming. Playing World of Warcraft is like having had a Playstation2, or having had a Xbox with Halo. In polite company, you don't come across as being too geeky or nerdy, and in more technical oriented company, you are not flat out rejected for being a non-participant of technical oriented activities. It is a nice happy medium.
A problem for World of Warcraft is that it is so large and it is a safe option. World of Warcraft is little more than a concentrated collection of cliches that make up Fantasy MMO's. It does nothing horribly bad, but by the same token, it doesn't actually do anything stunningly well. There are also cracks in the World of Warcraft armor. While World of Warcraft does have over 9million accounts, no mention is made about how many are duplicate accounts. Duplicate accounts are when a single person pays for two or more accounts in order to trade items or have two or more characters online at once. Little attention is given to the Gold Farmers, people who play the game for the sole purpose of selling in-game virtual gold for real world cash. World of Warcraft also gave rise to professional leveling services, or people whom a player pays to level their character for them. I've lost count of the number of Screen Actors Guild members that publically admit to hiring somebody to play their World of Warcraft account.
Little thought is also given to World of Warcraft's user base. Even hardcore gamers involved with World of Warcraft admit that the user population generally comes across as consisting of pre-teens. From my involvement, I would say that World of Warcraft is where all the script kiddies, AOL users, Prodigy users, and Myspace users hang out. From a community standpoint, its like an immature mob of crybabies.
The result is that when developers target World of Warcraft users as potential sales targets, I get the feeling that publishers and developers really don't understand what they are doing. A Sony Online Entertainment Representative is on record for having stated that the Starwars Galaxies New Game Enhancement was intentionally modified to attract World of Warcraft players. Having run into World of Warcraft players in City of Heroes/ City of Villains, I think I can say without pause that the World of Warcraft players were not interested in learning how to play CoH/CoV, but more interested in cramming CoH/CoV into their view of how World of Warcraft was played.
When Cryptic, the CoH/CoV developer, launched the Auction House identified as Went Worths (a play on Wool Worths) and Black Market, the result was a disaster. CoH/CoV players didn't want an Auction House, didn't need an Auction House, and wanted it removed post-haste, simply because it attracted undesirable players from... you guessed it, World of Warcraft. The introduction of an Auction House in CoH/CoV also introduced another facet of World of Warcraft. In-game spammers promoting services to buy in-game money with real cash, who, as you probably guessed, started their services on World of Warcraft.
Not all developers appear to be cluesess though. EvE Online is one such developer/publisher. Comments made by their developers show another side to the story. One of the reasons why World of Warcraft is so dominant is because it has basically perfected the Fantasy style of MMORPG's. Essentially, the Fantasy MMORPG market is saturated with titles like Lineage, Lineage II, Guild Wars, Ultima Online, Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, Everquest, Everquest II, Vanguard, Lord of the Rings Onlineand upcoming titles like Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. As is, I've heard some comments that some people only still play the Everquest games because they have so much history in the titles, both with Guilds and their characters. I know several people who still play FFXI simply because it is still cross platform on the Playstation2, and the upcoming PS3 client is also reported to still be cross platform.
The point is that aiming for, and pulling from, the mass market World of Warcraft player group, is probably a bad idea. Such players really are not gamers, and probably are not very reliable, similar to the same kind of players found in Dungeon Runners.
Rather, MMO's need to diversify, and seek different genre's. Eve Online stands as a leading example of approaching a different genre of an MMORPG, in addition to being one of the first mass market MMO titles to officially support a Linux, Windows, and Apple Unix Client. Okay, granted, Eve Online isn't exactly my cup of tea, but major props to them for that.
NCSoft stands as another example of a publisher trying to actively push the genre boundaries. While NCSoft does have two traditional Fantasy MMOs, as found in Lineage and Lineage II, it does have two non-traditional Fantasy MMOs, as found in Guild Wars and Dungeon Runners. NCSoft has also entered the Science Fiction genre with my personal favorite, City of Heroes / City of Villains, and is fielding another Sci-Fi title in Tabula Rasa. NCsoft also has a Mech-Combat title on the way in eXteel, another personal favorite, and is looking to turn another unconventional Fantasy title with the upcoming Cry Engine based Aion.
SOE also has gotten the idea that the genre boundaries need to be pushed, as it is fielding Pirates of the Burning Sea as well as an upcoming spy MMO. Despite the complete collapse of Planetside, and Star Wars Galaxies, SOE has apparently gotten the hint that World of Warcraft isn't a good target.
All of this still doesn't directly answer the statement that World of Warcraft is not the benchmark for an MMORPG. The overall point is fairly complex. The MMORPG market has too many entries. There are too many products offering the same or similar experience to another product. Accepting World of Warcraft as the benchmark for how a game should be set up and run only invites the trouble makers over from World of Warcraft and all the problems that are a result of said trouble makers. In addition, such a configuration limits the ability to give players a genuinely different experience from any other game.
Speaking for myself, I'd rather have a completely different experience... than have the same experience over and over again.
This post has been cross-posted here : http://semmo.nitingupta.org/
Not really what I would have chosen as a good example of my writing... but hey, go check them out.