Why There is no WoW Killer

Image from an article @ Massively.com

The term WoW Killer seems to rear its head with every new MMORPG release, most recently Rift had the honor partly fueled by their marketing approach and partly due to the similarities in the gameplay with WoW. Star Wars: The Old Republic is also getting similar treatment as the industry and fans alike have high hopes for such a large franchise and respected developer.

The term itself is obviously flawed as nothing will ‘kill’ WoW outright but I think the term is supposed to allude to a product that can compete or even get close to WoW. Not something that will kill it.

There will never be a WoW Killer, too much has changed in market since WoW was released.

When World of Warcraft launched in 2004 not even the Blizzard team knew how big they were going to be, it took everyone by surprise. The game changed the entire lanscape of the MMO industry almost overnight. If you look at a chart of MMO subs the usual trend is for a the game to peak post launch, trend downwards and then level off. With WoW it was a straight line up and it never stopped going.

The latest numbers for WoW have surpassed 12m. When WoW launched the market was ripe for an MMO and there were several factors why it exploded the way it did:

  • PCs technology was getting cheaper and more powerful
  • Broadband penetration was exploding across Europe and the US
  • Games like, Ultima, Planetside, Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot had paved the way and educated consumers and retail on MMOs
  • WoW had the strength of the Warcraft brand behind it
  • Blizzard built a kick ass, extremely well designed and polished persistant world
  • WoW was one of the only products that had appeal in Europe, North America and Asia in equal measure
  • They did an excellent job marketing this title, starting with the hardcore and as the product grew went more and more mainstream
  • It become a cultural phenomenon: not just any game gets an entire South Park episode dedicated to it

It was like a Dark Knight or Titanic at the box office, the timing was right, it was a great product and once is snowballed there was no stopping it.

Now the market has changed and evolved in such a way that to surpass this success is no longer viable with a client based box sale subscription MMO. It may be done in other forms with slightly different genres or business models but there is always going to a Pre and Post-WoW era. It’s become the benchmark by which all MMO are judged and defined. But it’s an anomaly, it’s the exception to the trend, not the rule.  And no, you can’t kill it.

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  1. April 4, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Hello tumblingdicemedia!

    I found your blog through Twitter.

    It’s funny you should post an article about “WoW Killer”

    I wrote on my blog that asking whether a game is a WoW Killer is the wrong question to ask:
    http://taugrim.com/2011/03/18/trion-launch-of-rift-a-model-for-the-mmo-market/

    Is Rift the next “WoW Killer”? I don’t know and frankly don’t care. It’s the wrong question to ask – the right question is whether a game supports a virtuous cycle:

    • April 4, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Interesting piece Taugrim, like your thoughts on the virtuous cycle. We’ll add a link to your blog here. Thank you.

  2. Zak
    April 8, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Developing a WOW killer would make for great gaming but bad business. You don’t really want a Dark Knight or a Titanic, they’re really expensive. You want a Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is the most profitable film of all time by percentage return.

    So you want a game that requires limited investment but makes regular bucks, like Pokemon. The franchise is 15 years old but was still one of the most popular releases of 2010.

    Pokemon, BTW, seems like a natural MMO. But the joke among developers at Nintendo is that the day they start up a Pokemon MMO, they will also introduce a special, limited edition “Pedobear” pokemon.

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