Blizzard games have always been compelling. In the 1990s, the company released Starcraft, which quickly became the most popular RTS games on PC. And the company had also dabbled in other RTS games, like the original Warcraft series.
But in 2004, the company decided that it wanted to do something different. It envisioned a world in which people could play as the minions are featured in Warcraft I, II and III and explored the worlds they inhabited.
World of Warcraft was in development for five years, an eternity back in the early 2000s. But this didn’t matter to the company behind the franchise, Blizzard. Blizzard is a company that likes to take its time and get projects right. And when you look back at all their releases, they have always succeeded. Starcraft II was a blistering success, as too were all the expansion packs for WoW.
The game continued to grow during the late 2000s and reached peak popularity sometime during Wrath of the Lich King. Some 12 million people were paying monthly subscriptions for the game at that point, and it dominated the market.
Even now it’s still way ahead of the field, even though there are more options to choose from than ever before.
What is so funny about Warcraft was how right Blizzard got it. Another MMO, Runescape, had been around since 1998. And it had become very popular in hardcore gaming circles. But when WoW released, Runescape hemorrhaged players. WoW just had so many compelling elements that it was hard not to play. Many gamers, for the first time in their lives, found that they had to put the rest of their lives on hold. WoW took up all their time and then some. And that is not something other games have been able to do on such a scale.
The developers at Runescape are hoping that some updates to their original formula will see gamers returning to their game. There is now a Runescape 3 download at SEAGM.com, for example. But whether updated graphics and new story can punch players from WoW seems unlikely.
Other games have tried that in the past. Just look at Star Wars: The Old Republic. Here we had one of the most promising MMOs in history. It was made by Bioware, the team behind the acclaimed Mass Effect series and famed for their storytelling prowess. And it had the Star Wars name backing it up. But even with those bonuses, it could hardly make a dent in WoW subscriptions.
The problem is that, in general, the subscription model is in decline. We’re unlikely ever to see a game unseat WoW as kings of the MMO market because the numbers are falling. It’s rather like expecting a horse breeder to put BMW out of business. Perhaps long ago that could have happened. But the world has moved on, and people don’t want horses to transport them anymore, they want cars.
But just because there isn’t a WoW-killer doesn’t mean there aren’t any other MMOs worth playing. WoW’s success has meant that everybody else has had to work that little bit harder.