World of Warcraft: Why It’s Still Going Strong 11 Years Later

How is World of Warcraft still going strong 11 years later? Let's talk about Blizzard's biggest success.

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Blizzard shared some new details about World of Warcraft‘s next big expansion, Legion, at BlizzCon 2015. The release date is set for Summer 2016. But with subscriber numbers down to 5.5 million players, we have to wonder if World of Warcraft is reaching the end of its life. But this does not overshadow its decade-long success.

Although the company had teased the expansion days before, it was already expected that World of Warcraft would start receiving expansions more frequently. After almost 11 years since its launch, WoW is still a game people care about and continue to play. 

Naysayers like to claim that WoW’s been dead for the past five years, but the truth is that the game’s subs still climb to fairly large numbers during each expansion. Warlords of Draenor was no exception—just ask anyone who experienced WoD’s launch queues and lived to tell the tale. Folks are still hungering for the perfect Warcraft experience. It doesn’t look like World of Warcraft is going anywhere any time soon.

Why is World of Warcraft still so popular after ten years? WoW’s graphics aren’t anything spectacular. Each expansion piles on more filler lore that takes away from what made the WoW universe Warcraft-y in the first place. The community’s gone downhill, and so has the game’s degree of personal complexity/responsibility. With all these negatives, why is WoW still the undisputed king?

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The first thing we have to realize is that all MMORPGs—including WoW—are inherently designed to be around for a long time. MMORPGs aren’t RPGs with a few multiplayer elements tossed in. They’re virtual worlds, essentially, where we can enjoy a bit of story and experience fun combat. We become invested in these worlds, the progression of our characters, and our bonds with other players. 

WoW succeeds in creating this world because it’s been around for so long. The game’s long history and tendency for nostalgia in its players alone make it worth returning to every time a new expansion drops. 

MMORPGs are designed this way, and WoW “does it best” simply because it’s been this way for years. Past investments have a higher chance of enticing us to become invested again. Games that have been around for such a long time have a powerful marketing asset when it comes to nostalgia. It’s the same reason why McDonalds will never go out of business. Once a product’s familiar enough to become a household name, it’s easier to return to it at a moment’s notice. There’s a certain bit of safety and comfort associated with that product.

A returnng WoW player might find a moment’s comfort in the fact that while the MMORPG scene continues to change, WoW remains fundamentally the same after 10 years. Those of us who have played WoW since the Vanilla days remember raiding UBRS and taking part in Southshore/Tarren Mill world PvP. When we hear that Blizzard’s adding in a revamped UBRS dungeon and a limited time MC raid and Southshore/Tarren Mill battleground, we feel nostalgic. We’re tempted to return. 

WoW’s developers also do a fantastic job of enticing us to feel proud of our achievements from eons ago. Every time a player drags out a classic ZG mount or shows off a transmog set from The Burning Crusade, there’s a sense of pride. When we have years of mounts, pets, achievements, and neat trinkets in our bags to show off, that becomes our own personal history with the game. And there are a shit ton of things to collect in WoW right now. All of that “content” may seem like fluff, but in three years we’ll bust out those toys and pets, and Blizzard’s ploy will have worked like a charm.

The Blizzard name also holds some weight for fans, understandably. Just consider how crazy people went when they announced Overwatch, their upcoming FPS game — their first major release in 17 years. Not all Blizzard games are perfect, of course, and some game launches have been profound disasters in many ways (Diablo III, anyone?), but with Blizzard’s staff numbers, fixes are generally made swiftly and professionally. There’s a sense of quality found in most Blizzard games that can’t really be found elsewhere—especially when it comes to MMORPGs. 

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Many MMORPG developers are still in the midst of finding a way to release content that isn’t riddled with bugs and exploits that cause players to quickly flee. Let’s take Trion’s ArcheAge, for example. A game with a ton of potential that received the unfortunate end of a whole lot of exploits. While WoW isn’t exploit-free, most WoW players know that exploits will generally be few and far between, and bugs can usually be hotfixed within a day or two. Class balance in WoW isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than in many other MMORPGs. The game has a sense of stability that isn’t found everywhere. For players who wish to stick with a subscription model, WoW’s a safe bet. 

Along those same lines, there’s also a big sense of innovation in WoW. And every time Blizzard tries new things in the game, it’s generally fully tested and has all the bells and whistles at the company’s disposal. The garrison system, for example, is an innovative blend of a housing system and an RTS-style campaign system. It’s designed to satisfy both casual players and raiders with a bit of time investment. Some players love it—others hate it—but there’s no denying the fact that everything WoW does, it does full-heartedly. Its systems and features as fully thought out, fully developed, and high in quality.

WoW also has some of the most enjoyable questing and cutscenes found in any MMORPG to this day. The same can be said for its raid encounters. Not all of WoW’s raids have been proportionately epic to one another, but for the ones that are? Entirely worthwhile and extremely awesome. And that really is the life’s blood of the genre in terms of gameplay, isn’t it? Giving players enough fun things to do whenever they want to sit down at their keyboard and mouse. If you’re a dedicated WoW player, you might look at a game like Bungie’s Destiny, and wonder why people are still playing it at all. The memorable moments just aren’t there in the same way that Blizzard jam packs its flagship. 

Speaking of raiding, that leads me to my final point. All MMORPGs are designed with longevity in mind—both when it comes to in-game progression, encounters, and features, but also in regards to the game’s community. Community was always and will always be the number one contributing factor when it comes to an MMORPG’s longevity.

Ask anyone who’s tried a few MMORPGs and has returned to WoW why they left those other games. One of their answers will almost always be, “All my friends left.” We play MMORPGs with our friends and for our friends. We play to make new friends. We play to stay close to friends we don’t get to see in person often. Without guilds and friendships, WoW would be nothing.

The mere fact that WoW players have had years to invest in the game and its players means that the ties between friends and the ties between guildmates are the number one contributing factor as to why World of Warcraft is still so popular. Guilds may falter towards the end of an expansion, but you can bet that most will suddenly become lively again when an expansion hits.

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A new expansion is also the best time to find a new guild, or make a new one. New expansions let veteran players reset the clock and try a new class, new guild, or new style of play. With as large of a population that WoW still has, it’s fairly easy to find a new guild where everyone shares like-minded goals. Work the night shift yet still want to raid? There are guilds for that. Want to take part in world PvP and roleplay at the same time? Yep—take your pick of PvP/RP servers. There’s more choice in WoW due to its higher population, and sometimes that’s a defining factor when it comes to our MMORPG of choice. 

While there’s no denying the fact that WoW’s community, overall, has declined in recent years as far as the aspect ratio of cool people vs. assholes is concerned (the same can also be said for the entire gaming community), with a larger population and more guilds to choose from, it becomes easier to avoid the unfriendly players. With the current way raids are structured, especially, it’s fairly simple to avoid random group situations altogether if you want to. That’s a plus. The other trick is to get rid of trade chat completely.

WoW isn’t perfect, and it’s definitely not the game for every MMORPG fan, but it’s pretty easy to see why it’s so popular when you add up all the pieces. If Blizzard plans on keeping WoW safely seated on its rather tall throne, the development team is going to have to continue innovating, listening to its playerbase, and making changes that help the community rather than put it at edge. That’s the only way WoW can avoid becoming dethroned at this point. Until then, play what you want to play and have it your way. 

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