Friday, September 21, 2007

Why Is World of Warcraft So Popular?

People will always argue about the reasons behind World of Warcraft being so popular. Some argue that Blizzard just spent a ton of money. Some argue that Blizzard has a massive following who will buy anything they put in a box. Some argue that WoW benefited from word of mouth. Some argue that WoW just got lucky.

Wash all of these reasons from the chalk board. Then, sit down, and play World of Warcraft for five minutes. The controls and camera are absolutely smooth. The UI is clean and simple. Tasks and goals are laid out from the start. There is almost no decisions to be made until level 10, when a player receives their first talent point. If a player dies, they run back as a ghost with no experience or item loss. The game NEVER punishes a player until that player is willing and able to avoid the situation.

Fundamentally, WoW is just a pleasure to sit down and play. Take all the reasoning for why WoW is so popular and compare it against this question. If this is truly the reason, then why do people sit down, play, and continue to play?

For WoW, the devil is NOT in the details.


  1. Anonymous9:35 PM

    The problem is that this doesn't explain why people start playing the game (particularly at launch), or why they continue to play once the experience isn't so streamlined (e.g. levels 35-45).

    The reason why we "argue" is because you can't boil the reasons down into anything simple. It's not simply "polish" or "brain-dead easiness" or any other simple phrase. Some of these things tend to have much deeper issues behind them; "polish" is only possible if you have a good amount of money, for example, because if you sacrifice content in favor of polish, people are going to say your game is too sparse.

    And, if the reasons were really self-evident, then you'd see other games copying it wholesale. From playing LotRO, I thought the game borrowed a bit too heavily from WoW. Yet, it hasn't reached WoW-levels of success yet for some reason. LotRO does show that even my arguments are not the end-all, because that game also has a recognizable brand, a company with a decent reputation, and some good funding, etc.

    The secret to WoW may not be in the details, but it's certainly not in rolling your eyes and saying, "Duh, it's obvious!" either.

  2. I'm not trying to say it's obvious either. I am simply saying that you can sit down and play the game. There isn't another MMORPG that has matched that.

    LotRO copied a ton from WoW, but it is so far from WoW that it amazes me people are still making the comparison. The things in LotRO that are copied from WoW are superficial, not core mechanics that make WoW what it is.

    I guess my point is that it is NOT obvious and that is because Blizzard is so damn good at what it does. I have and will continue to look at WoW's success with the simple economic look I had on your blog post comments. Blizzard supplied the right product, but more importantly supplied it to the right people.

  3. Anonymous1:46 AM

    "Then, sit down, and play World of Warcraft for five minutes."

    This quote from your original post is what made me think you thought the answer was obvious.

    But, the problem with your clarification is that no developer sits down and plays their own game and says, "Hey, this is an unplayable piece of crap, let's ship!" Developers do play their own games and try to make them the best they can; it's a bit of an insult to say otherwise. This is, again, why some developers spend so much time arguing and trying to figure out why WoW works so well. They want the secret sauce so that they can enjoy the same success. I think this is a fool's errand.

    And, why the comparison between LotRO and WoW? Because they copied exactly what you talked about in your post: smooth controls and camera; clean, simple UI; directed experience at the beginning; expanded options as you level. They did everything you say, but haven't yet enjoyed the same success; or, they're being really quiet about it, which is pretty rare for a game company that would really appreciate a huge success right now.

  4. I'll agree with everything you said about LotRO, other than the smooth controls and camera. LotRO plays like a Ford Focus compared to the Royles Royce that is WoW.

    I'm not telling developers to sit down and play their own game. I am simply stating that if you want to understand why WoW is so popular, sit down and play it for a few minutes and you will know.

    It is that simple to understand, but that doesn't mean it's painfully obvious as to how Blizzard did it (or maintains it). You are looking at it from a developer standpoint, I am going at it from a gamers viewpoint.

    I think you are just trying to dissect the minute, rather than see the whole for what it is; a fundamentally well designed and executed game at the base level. WoW just feels right when you play it, something that we didn't really have in the MMOG genre prior.

    You stated; "no developer sits down and plays their own game and says, 'Hey, this is an unplayable piece of crap, let's ship!' "

    Ummm... do we even want to talk about Mr. McQuack and Vanguard? :P Sorry, had to throw that in there.

  5. Anonymous3:32 PM

    I'll agree with everything you said about LotRO, other than the smooth controls and camera. LotRO plays like a Ford Focus compared to the Royles Royce that is WoW.

    So, this reason alone is why LotRO is not worthy of WoW-sized success? They followed all your other reasons for why WoW is a success, but this one failure is the reason for lack of major success? (Personally, I didn't see this horrible difference between the games, so it's not as simple as sitting down and playing the games to understand.)

    One of the reasons why I think it's rather dangerous to try to assert that WoW's success is related to design is because it encourages this type of thinking. Developers are encouraged to merely clone the game, and I would really rather see other games made rather than endless clones.

  6. It's not cloning though, as we've most definitely seen with LotRO. I agreed with you that LotRO copied a lot, but there is a dramatic difference in execution.

    So, maybe it isn't design per say, but more execution? Which Blizzard had the money to do, history of doing, etc. etc. I don't want to go down that line of thinking.

    Every game starts with a single design. Make a fun game. That is cloned a million times over, but rarely is it actually executed. Blizzard executes design. For a gamer, all they need to do is play to realize it.

    On a side note: I found LotRO's controls, combat, and other aspects horribly cumbersome.

    Now, I really need to get out of fanboi mode, because I know I am starting to sound it. I don't think Blizzard hits on all cylinders, but when it comes to making accessible, fun, and technically solid game there is no equal.

  7. Error correction:

    My first line should of read - "It's cloning though"

  8. Anonymous3:36 AM

    Why is it so popular? It's easy. That's about as simple as it gets.

    You sit down and can get so much accomplished within a few hour's play. A lot of MMOs are major time-sinks and in order to get anywhere, you need to devote yourself entirely to the game. With WoW, you don't need to do that and that is where the attraction lays.

  9. Anonymous7:36 AM

    "I am simply saying that you can sit down and play the game. There isn't another MMORPG that has matched that."

    I would say City of Heroes did that much better and earlier than WOW.

  10. You are right, WoW is easy. So is TV to watch, recreational sports, having friends over for a BBQ. Its all easy. Thats what people enjoy, not working on their time off. Most of the time easy = fun. I've been on all night raids, downing final zone bosses at 3am except for that one 6 am (shudder) Trust me the fun ended about the time the caffeine ran out.

    WoW can be as easy or as hard as you want. It lets you decide what play style works for you.

  11. The flow of controls for WoW is very smooth and easy to use. LOTR suffers from several problems with their UI from small icons to misaligned UI objects. Users pretty much have to learn how to use ctrl + \ to fix their UI if they want to have something usable.

    In the end though I honestly think the animation style is WoW biggest selling point. Though a lot of graphics oriented people complain of the "cartoon" look I think most people prefer it when compared to graphic models that try to hard to be realistic.

  12. Anonymous4:04 PM

    Let me guess, Heartless. You current play World of Warcraft and love it. Amiright?

  13. Its all a lie; I don't play games.

  14. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Why doesn't LOTRO have WoW-like numbers?

    The most important reason is that there is no compelling reason to move from whatever your current cup of tea is. Just like Psychochild said, it follows the basic formula of WoW (minus some important stuff, but that is another topic) and it plays very similar to WoW. So why give up what someone has already invested so much time into, just to play something that is a near clone. Unless the player is in complete burnout of WoW (or other game) then why change?

    Replicating the formula of WoW (clean launch, good game play, smart design) is now the minumum to enter the MMO market, not the key to cracking it wide open. Games now not only need to be finished on launch, but offer some compelling reason to make the jump other than siphon off some of the churn. Having an add campaign saying "Hobbits, 'nuff said" just isn't going to repeat blizzards success.

  15. WoW works, its polished. Lotro is not. That is why its numbers are falling off

    That and its boring as all get out :)

  16. I'm especially interested in what needs are satified when playing WoW. For the moment I think it's not really different than reading a novel of a fantasy book. In both cases you place yourself in an other environment where other rules apply. A book has a more predetermind storyline and perhaps takes up more energy, but the same "wants" are satisfied


  17. Nordicblood3:36 AM

    Blizzard is largely a reputable company with a high quality standard, decent customer support. Due to the perception of the company name itself, without even a single botched title on their record ( that I am aware of ) people had a level of trust when it came to purchasing their first real MMORPG. Here's a point of view that I don't believe has been mentioned as of yet. When gamers buy MMORPG's they know they are going to spend an emmense amount of time in the world they have selected. This decision for myself has kept me searching the gaming world for the "perfect game" No matter what game I have played in the past, I have always found myself searching online, or in a store, for that ONE special mmo game. The bottom line in my opinion is that Blizzard seems to be a safe bet when it comes to making a big game change decision. Do I really think WoW has the best most diverse interactive online world? No, I do not... It IS however an excellent and fun game. Games like Everquest 2 may lack the same polish however but these games are riskier and offer the gamer more than leveling your character and exploring beautiful zones. EQ2 offers a more mature atmosphere, rich crafting, housing, and one of the friendliest communities I've seen. If WoW could add a few of those elements I think it would definitely destroy the chances of any other MMO out there... Just my opion... /shrug


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