Once upon a time, a western MMO was announced three years before it’s targeted release date. The developers tried to hide their more simplistic graphics engine by making use of “stylized” graphics. Some were turned off by the graphical design, but others argued the graphics would age better than realistic looking games. Besides, it promised to be a “seamless” world, which is worth something. Despite being the company’s first MMO, people trusted the developer because of their reputation for only releasing quality games. The developer had a reputation for making the some of the best games of their genre. The game of which I speak is Star Wars, The Old Republic and Bioware. But all these things could also be said of World of Warcraft and Blizzard.
There probably never will be a game actually titled WOW 2. Sequel MMOs like Everquest 2 and Asheron’s Call 2 have never done well. Currently Blizzard is working on another MMO, but they promise it won’t be based on one of their existing franchises. To some, Cataclysm will be the real “WOW 2” because all the non-expansion areas will be recreated from scratch and the statistics gained from equipment will be re-tooled whether you purchase the expansion or not.
But for the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking about a repeat of history. Bioware has already stated that they need at least one million subscriptions to survive. In a market where only one western developer has ever had their MMO break the one-million mark, that’s setting the bar pretty high. Yet few doubt Bioware’s ability to meet this goal.
Many MMO developers have attempted to copy aspects of World of Warcraft. Within the first few months of Everquest 2’s launch, developers were already trying to copy Blizzard’s success by adding gryphon towers and WOW’s mail system. Years later, many companies copied WOW’s fast leveling process. Star Wars Galaxies redid their entire user interface to make it more like World of Warcraft. Ultimately, all these games were only copying the trappings of WOW. They weren’t copying what made WOW successful.
According to Bioware’s words on the matter, what made WOW a success was their willingness to wait until they had a polished product for release, their use of stylized graphics to keep the system specs low, and their focus on casual players.
There are other similarities that can be drawn between WOW’s design and TOR’s, but they aren’t important. WOW’s success was not dictated by it’s use of on-rails gryphon rides. WOW’s record breaking success was dictated by making a higher quality product that was more accessible than other MMOs. Bioware’s offering to the genre promises to be the same.