I keep hearing people tell me how such-and-such is going to “kill WoW” and I’m not sure why they’re drinking that Kool-Ade… yet.
So, it’s pretty obvious at this point that Star Wars: The Old Republic didn’t kill WoW the way many had predicted, Rift was eager to advertise that “You’re not in Azeroth anymore,” and more than one person has sung the high praises of the upcoming Guild Wars 2. I’m hearing the “WoW-Killer” tag thrown around again. Listen, I get that monopolies are bad, and honestly, I think WoW is at its best when there is some stiff competition on its heels, but I think it’s time to establish a little higher standard for what constitutes a WoW-killer. Yes, WoW is no longer at its peak of 12 million players, but it has held steady at 10.2 million players for two quarters despite a lack of new content or an expansion. That puts WoW’s population at roughly ten times their nearest competitor. Does WoW get everything right and is the perfect game? Hell no. Is it better than all the rest? Yep. Let’s delve into why.
Lessons Unlearned: Where SWTOR Went Wrong
The biggest lesson that Blizzard learned from the Cataclysm expansion is that if leveling is quick and easy, then you better have something fun for people to do with their max-level characters. This is a problem that they’re aggressively looking to fix in Pandaria, particularly with the introduction of Pokemon and Farmville. Based off of how many tents are “under construction” at the Darkmoon Faire, I’m willing to wager they’ve got a few other things up their sleeves. Unlike 85, Level 90 is going to have a lot of stuff to choose from besides just dailies. We’re projected to go back to the BC level of fun for end game (if everything pans out).
Now, let’s talk SWTOR. SWTOR is all about leveling. I’m sorry PVP’ers, but the laughable lack of balance between classes makes PVP a dead-end until it gets fixed. SWTOR is at its best and most enjoyable, Mass Effect: Star Wars Edition. An involving storyline that decides what kind of gear you can equip and that encourages you to group up with other randoms you run into in the galaxy. Then you hit max level. Then nothing. They didn’t launch with adequate end game, or much of anything to do. Except roll an alt. (Sound familiar Cataclysm?) The problem is that they also didn’t seem to learn any other lessons from WoW along the way. They launched without some basic stuff you’d expect in MMO’s these days. The biggest problem for folks like me that signed up on the first day is that the game was not ready for launch. It was clearly still in beta phase and was rushed to production. This is confusing because it is compounded by the fact that the game had been in development for over five years.
Listen, I’ve heard from people that it’s not fair to compare the polish that WoW brings to the table against a “new” game like SWTOR, but when a game has been in development for five years you have to adjust your standards. Let me put this in perspective. SWTOR began development almost exactly when Burning Crusade dropped. Now, ask yourself, has World of Warcraft changed much since then? Did Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King offer any sort of gameplay or social interaction components that you wish were included in SWTOR’s launch? We’re not even talking Cataclysm here, just the two OLD expansions. A popular answer is Dungeon Finder. Can’t disagree with that, but I’d propose a diverse and healthy end-game as well. SWTOR seems to have learned all its lessons from Vanilla, and I would wager that if it were Vanilla vs. SWTOR, that SWTOR would clean Blizzard’s clock.
The Secret to Blizzard’s Success
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, that if you’ve been waiting for Diablo III to drop for the past decade, then you’re already quite aware. Polish is the secret to Blizzard’s success. Listen to the fanboys, but don’t be their slave. Take the game personally. Don’t release until it’s ready.
Diablo III (which drops Tomorrow) was delayed one whole year. Why? Because they decided at the 11th hour that the graphics engine needed to be replaced. Imagine if you will, they’re building a car, and right as they’re tightening the last bolt on the front driver side tire, the designers come in and say, “Hold on, we’re replacing the entire body of the car.” At most companies, that would be met with, “No we’re not, we’re selling the car now, and you’re fired.” At Blizzard that is met with, “Oh ok. Back in the shop boys.” This is why Diablo III was delayed a year. Why StarCraft II was delayed nine months. It’s also why Mists of Pandaria will not be releasing on an earlier-than-expected schedule, and also why the expansion to StarCraft II won’t be seen until next year.
It is simply just not OK to release a product that they’re not 100% certain is ready. A handful of other companies follow this business practice. Apple. Ikea. Bugatti. Fault them for their arrogance, incomprehensibility or price, but their products are as finished as they can get them before launch. Like Blizzard these companies aren’t perfect. Remember Antennagate for Apple? Can’t be perfect all the time, but you can damn well try.
Pretenders to the Throne
Too many of these games are coming out with the WoW-Killer mantra and are counting on the fact that they are WoW-Killers to get the ball rolling. What they’re not doing is innovating. They’re all hoping that if they copy WoW exactly, and just put “better” graphics on it or set it in “space” then that’ll make it “better” than WoW. Here’s the secret about WoW’s supposedly “bad” graphics. They’re cartoony. Yep. That’s one of the things I hear as a slam against the game over and over. But here’s the problem with “real” graphics. One uncanny valley. Two, “realistic” graphics age quickly and gracelessly. For example, Max Payne 3 is about to drop, and Rockstar took it over, and it looks truly amazing. Funny thing is that I would have said the same thing about Grand Theft Auto 4 when it came out. The problem is that technology advances. Every time. All the time. It just marches on towards awesome without ever reaching it. When you shoot for “real” you shoot for a destination you can’t technically reach. So, if you’re going to “Kill WoW” then you better bring more than realistic graphics to the table.
Pause for a moment, and let me tell you about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It got mixed reviews, isn’t an MMO, and feels like a me-too WoW clone. However, the reason for this shout out is the fact that its combat system is based more off of God of War than Everquest. Whether you’re talking about WoW, or SWTOR or whatever, the way you as a player interact with your environment is the same. Amalur decided to make the combat more action based, and they claim they can use this system for an MMO. That my friends, would be a game changer. Another thing that could be a game changer would be to design an MMO that would work cross-platform. Whether PC, iPad, Xbox or PS3 (or WiiU I guess), you could play together. That is how you make a WoW-Killer. Not by iterating, but by innovating.
Need proof: League of Legends. This game did a great deal more damage to WoW’s subscriber base than SWTOR did. I may personally dislike the game, but I can recognize the innovation and the polish. Especially after whatever the hell Dominion is.
So, can we quit calling “me-too” games WoW Killers?