With the launch of Catacylsm last week the folks over at Eurogamer asked a few of those involved in MMOs about whether we felt that Blizzard's game could ever be toppled from its pedestal. You can read the entire article here, with a lot of hopefully interesting comments in reply from both myself and others.
We knew they wouldn't use everything we wrote for the article, but since it was an interesting subject, I thought I'd share the rest with you here too. So...the question asked was as follows...
What can topple World of Warcraft?
Now there is a question. It's a wonderfully loaded, easily misinterpreted, but equally fascinating question. To be honest the first thing to do is question the question. Do you mean what can topple World of Warcraft, in terms of a traditional MMO, by gaining more subscribers? Or do you mean whether another game can topple Blizzard’s seminal title in terms of being a massively influential online gaming title?
In answer to the former interpretation of the question, I honestly think that it is unlikely at this stage. World of Warcraft was one of those rare games that hit a nerve at the right time, and became a kind of cultural phenomenon of sorts. It was a crossover hit that went beyond the genre’s usual audience. I would even go as far as to suggest that it is unhealthy for the industry to hold the statistical performance of World of Warcraft as a standard by which other titles should be fairly judged.
It is a great game, but it is also now a great game that is an embedded part of popular culture. That’s a very lofty goal to set yourself as a developer. I don’t think anyone sets out to be a cultural phenomenon, you simply can’t plan it, that kind of thing just happens. Likewise you don’t topple a cultural phenomenon. You can though join one. There will eventually be another title that manages to key in on one of those impossible to predict, positive, nerves of mass market appeal.
That brings us neatly to the second interpretation of that question. Do I think that there could be another online title that will capture the public’s imagination in the same way? Yes, and it’s an unequivocal yes. I have the feeling though that the next game to share the type of success that World of Warcraft enjoyed, will be nothing like World of Warcraft, and none of us know what ‘it’ is yet, otherwise everyone would already be working on it!
Of course the cool part about this is that someone, somewhere, might actually already be making it. Someone out there is likely working on something and is completely oblivious to the fact that their creation might just be taking over the world in the years to come. That’s the fascinating thing about a cultural phenomenon; you can rarely predict what form it will take.
Does any of that help us developers? Not especially, as I am effectively saying that an unpredictable mix of luck, timing, and the shifting nature of cultural preferences, all play a huge part in getting to that level.
What does help us however is being able to understand how World of Warcraft put itself into the position of being able to capture the imagination of the masses in the way that they did. They made a good, solid, well executed game with a strong sense of place. They focused on creating an almost flawless core game-play experience, which they then expanded upon after launch. What we need to do is keep those kinds of goals. Create great game-play; create great worlds with interesting stories. Invent new means to tell those stories, and new mechanics to push that game-play in directions we haven’t tried yet. That we can work towards. A perseverance with that kind of an attitude to game creation will almost certainly, eventually, lead to another of those treasured cultural phenomenon appearing, although probably when we least expect it. Those pesky cultural phenomenons can be tricky like that!