It’s 2011. World of Warcraft is hailed as the largest (and argued by some to be the best) MMO on the planet. WoW boasts 11-12 million active subscribers. Brighthub lists Aion as WoW’s closest competitor at 3.5 million users, which is only a third of the player base. Though if we bend the definition of MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online – though usually requiring a permanent world) just a little, we find that Blizzards behemoth already has been trumped and by no small margin. Zynga’s Farmville, the Facebook app, has somewhere between 60 and 80 million users – easily 5 times the player base of WoW. So, hasn’t Zynga already beaten Blizzard? Not quite.
First, we need to remember that Farmville isn’t truly an MMO. Is massive and has many players and is online, but it doesn’t have a true persistent world such as WoW or Aion. Second, FV clearly isn’t trying to be even the same type of game. It’s more so a social networking past-time. A place to loiter for a few minutes a day in between status updates, as opposed to an hour sucking beast that WoW or other MMO’s can be. But MMO gaming companies need to realize, it’s 2011 and social media is king.
A WoW Killer?
I honestly don’t believe that a traditional MMO or MMORPG will dethrone Wow until Blizzard’s Codename: Titan is released. Even then, I can see WoW going strong for at least another 5 years. It simply has too many dedicated players to be “killed off” even by another amazing game in the relative future. As long as Blizzard continues to support the game, host servers and add even a modicum of occasional content, this game can continue to expect millions of active players for years to come.
So Come On! – How To Beat WoW?
The key to toppling the champ will be aggressive social networking smoothly packaged with a Warcraft quality game. The interface needs more than just trade chat, guild chat, whispers and friending. Blizzards implementation of realID is a step in the right direction but is not enough to reach the online masses that have embraced Facebook and Twitter.
This new MMO will need an easily customizable and powerful chat interface. Turning off /trade or /local needs to be as easy as a button click, with turning it back on being the same. It will have more than just a “guild” chat or whisper system, although both of those should still be present. This new chat should make it easy for groups of friends to be talking, regardless of guild or server or faction – all as a group. There should also be a status interface. It needs an easy shutdown mode for those who don’t want to see or participate, but one that includes a stream of information like the current wowarmory profile. For whatever reason, people like to know what everyone they know is doing. How detailed the information could probably be set by both privacy settings for the user – what to share, and the chat window settings by the reader – what to display. Everything from “Player x killed boss y” to “Player x received y epic” to “Player x “liked” instance y. It all sounds a bit tedious to me really, but I swear the populace would eat it up.
A “like/dislike” feature would be an amazing addition to the worlds next big game. People go bat-tits crazy over the ability to declare with one click that they “like” something. After completing a dungeon or raid for the first time you could state to the Wow community and all your friends what you thought about it. Not only would a community of people living in the post-facebook world embrace this, but it could be a great tool for the developers to see what players are enjoying most. Could also use the like feature for professions, abilities, or quests.
Many of the Facebook style social games rely on players bringing in their friends into the game. To encourage this, aside from the socially centered nature of the games anyway, are end-game benefits of having more “friends”. Blizzard has tapped into this somewhat with its recruit-a-friend leveling perks and mount but a game that gave you, say, the equivalent of a handful to a bunch of justice or valor points for recruiting might be a much stronger draw. In order to not piss off the hardcore players too much it should be limited to points or gear that you could get through another means.. Though a good motivator for current Wow players to “friend up” would be mounts, titles, achievements, and of course… pets. On the other hand many of those games success is dependent on having important reasons to recruit people into the game and friend (network) with others already player, so the success of the social MMO could be linked to the same. As a result they might make important items or gating be dependent on how many players you’ve friended. The last step of course, is the payment method. How do these games make money?
The F2P model is already catching on the MMO market, many games are launching or converting to this structure and are having great success. Social games also tend to gate their top-tier content or equipment to for cash purchases as the rest of the game is free and is the same way F2P games function. With all the free MMO games available now, I can see the game to beat Wow in both members and revenue being a free-to-play option. Of course, seeing as the subscription model clearly isn’t broken, only time will tell if one of these truly becomes superior. A lot of players don’t like the idea of money ticking out of their account monthly but an equally valid opposing view is the idea of having to pay for micro-transactions that can often total more money in order to enjoy the same content.
The Last Word
In the end, no MMO is going to come out with the goal of beating Wow at its own game and succeed. Rift for example, though I hear is a pretty fun game, won’t surpass Wow due to its significant similarity, even if I can’t comment on if it is a superior game or not. The “Social MMO”, like any other potential WoW-Killer, is going to have to bring something brand new to the table that is equal parts novel as it is familiar. World of Warcraft is on top because Blizzard knows what it’s doing with its game and they are only gaining experience. If a rival wants to win the subscriber race it needs to only be similar enough that people aren’t put off by the strangeness, otherwise different in this case is almost certainly better. Why leave a game you have so much time invested in for the same game in a different box? The bulk of the player base will only leave Wow when something comes out that is not only an improvement on the gaming experience that Wow offers but also is comfortably radical. A contradiction of sorts? Maybe. Completely necessary to do the job? Absolutely.