Millions will argue that World of Warcraft (WoW) is MMORPGing at its finest. Since its retail release in November 2004, the majority of my gaming energy has been spent playing this game. As of December 2005, WoW had amassed in excess of five million subscribers worldwide, including over one million in the U.S. WoW is the most compelling fantasy game world I've ever explored.
The MMO ChallengeMMORPGs offer a persistent fantasy world open for business 24 hours per day. The short term challenge is to hook players initially. The long term challenge is to provide a gaming environment that will satisfy players over a number of years, allowing them to develop characters they care about while maintaining an outstanding level of gameplay. See the IMG feature The MMO Lull for an excellent look at MMORPGs.
Blizzard currently has the MMORPG community eating out of its hand. Although WoW is hugely successful, what are its long term prospects? Why are millions drawn to it? More importantly, can WoW maintain its momentum or will it be a victim of a gaming structure that requires fast and furious gameplay, abandoned by hordes of dissatisfied players who have outpaced WoW content or are unhappy with the end game?
First StepsMy RPG experience prior to WoW was minimal. Titles like Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights, Diablo, and Might and Magic never grabbed me. So it was a fateful day in October 2004 when I leapt through the WoW portal. Taking my first steps in Teldrassil as a Night Elf Druid, I was staggered by the beauty of this highly addictive game. All of the game elements, and especially the graphics, spiraled together to hook me in about 30 minutes.
WoW can be considered as two distinct phases: progressing up to the level 60 cap and post level 60 activities, also known as the end game. For a brand spanking new player, the level 60 cap seems so far away that for two to twelve months (depending on devotion), it will be a non-issue. (Please see the IMG and MacGamer World of Warcraft reviews for basic WoW info.)
For 59 levels the cadence is set: kill 10 of this, gather 20 of that, escort the NPC from point A to B, class questing, party questing, collect items to support a chosen profession, gain experience points (XP), level your character, fight in an instance or Battle Grounds (Player vs Player), move to the next region and do it again. This sounds very repetitive, so why does it work so well?
For some people it doesn't. Level grinding can be a turnoff. From my perspective, the primary WoW attractions are socializing with other players while leveling your character and party questing with diverse character classes whose complementing skills make for outstanding gameplay. Below the cap, WoW is a winner as evidenced by millions of subscribers. The camaraderie aspect can't be underestimated when participating in a large online community. I guarantee that if WoW was a solo game I would not have lasted 60 levels.