WoW isn't a great game. It's a crappy game.
If WoW was a crappy game, why does it show up on other games forums so often? When people compare one MMO to another, why is the other always WoW? I personally didn't care for the game, it's just too easy/fast for my tastes. It is a very good game though.
One cannot objectively call WoW (or any game) "Good". Good is subjective. It depends on an arbitrary set of "rules" of what define "good" as opposed to "bad". The most common logic used behind calling WoW "Good" or even "The best" is the popularity; "10+ million people play it, so it must be good" is a crock of sh*t, logically speaking.
There are a number of reasons one might play a given game. Perhaps they enjoy the leveling system, perhaps they enjoy the PvP, perhaps they only play it because all their friends are, that may make the game enjoyable to them, it means the game is popular.
Statistically speaking, Walmart is the #1 retailer in the U.S., with Home Depot in the second. Do you personally enjoy shopping at these two stores? Would you be able to say that these are the BEST stores you have EVER shopped at?
If many people enjoy something, that does make it popular, but the mere fact that something is popular does not mean it is "good"; it simply means what it is: That many people enjoy it.
That said, the reason people tend to compare other games to WoW is just that: popularity.
There is this... thing... I can't explain it, but it exists within human nature, especially when it comes to marketing, wherein someone feels the compulsion to pick out the biggest, baddest product out there and say "I want to be bigger and badder than that". Everyone (again, specifically companies, but even humanity as a whole) feels the need to put themselves next to someone else and declare themselves better. "I'm smarter than him." "I'm stronger than her." "I make more money than he does." "My car is better than hers."
It's all in this ego-driven need to inflate our own sense of self worth. Everyone wants to be "the best", so they pick the biggest target out there and aggressively aim for it.
Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being "the best", if one can truly objectively call oneself that, but statistically speaking, if 1,000,000 people all want to be "the best", then 999,999 of them will fail.
It seems like every MMOG wants to set itself up as "the WoW killer". It would seem as if, ever since WoW's mainstream popularity, developers sit down and say to themselves "WoW has 10 million players worldwide," (never mind that more than half are in China, which is a sh*tty market to try to push a game in from outside of China due to government regulations, but I digress) "...we want to have 11 million." And that's a nice goal, but it's an impossible one.
It's not because WoW has "the best" game on the market, it's because it was in the right place at the right time, and it had the right marketing behind it to take off. It started small and unknown just like any other game, but Blizzard REALLY likes to push marketing, probably moreso than any other developer. Count up the number of FFXIV ads you've seen on TV in the last month and compare it to the number of WoW ads you've seen, and tell me the ratio. What? You can't divide by zero?
First, you have to consider that Blizzard already had a built in "startup population" from Diablo 2, Starcraft, and three existing Warcraft titles. Getting people to START playing was the only "hard" part and it wasn't even that hard. To be fair, FFXI had that same startup population from FF fans; the biggest difference was that FF fans were traditionally used to single player games, whereas Blizzard's players have been playing online Blizzard titles since the mid 90s. Whereas SE was exploring uncharted territory when it came to "patches" and "updates" and "having a player base that wants things and having to actually listen to them from time to time", Blizzard had been doing it for 10 years.
On top of this, once Blizzard got a starter seed population of 1-2 million, now comes the easy part: Marketing.
Blizzard are marketing GENIUSES. Try watching a commercial for WoW, try remembering any commercial you've ever seen for it, they all have two things in common:
1) They don't actually tell you anything ABOUT the product.
2) They tell you that EVERYONE is playing it (most include an example of a celebrity that you have all heard of and can relate to.)
A gamer might scoff at first, but think about it: How many players have given WoW a try for no other reason than the fact that they saw Mr. T or Mini Me or Captain Kirk, saw a few 5 second clips of gameplay that didn't really tell you anything, and ultimately decided "@#%^, I'll give it a shot."
Here comes the next genius marketing part: The free trial. The plastered it right into their ads and on the site: "FREE TRIAL". This is another exercise in human behavior: People, especially American people, like the word "Free". It's their second favorite four letter word that starts with 'F'. You say "Free" to someone and they are already going to try your product; they have stopped listening. You don't need to speak any more, and if you do, it won't @#%^ing matter. You could say "FREE DIRTY AIDS NEEDLES" and you'd still have a couple dozen people who want to try it. Why the @#%^ not? It's free!
Here's the thing: WoW is like crack. Sure, some people will try it and decide they don't like it, but most won't. Most people are going to try it for two weeks, they're going to want to keep playing, and that's when the trial is all like "No, *****, go buy the game!" and then you're hooked. It's like @#%^ing crack. You keep playing whether you want to or not.
Have you ever tried to cancel your WoW subscription? Go on, try it. On the "Are you sure?" page is a character crying. He isn't just crying, the page TELLS you he's crying. I can't remember the exact wording, but it's something along the lines of "The poor little guy is in tears and it's all your fault." I think it said something about me killing his dog, too, but it's been a while. First part isn't sarcastic though. They give you a semi-guilt trip about quitting. And even if you do quit, they still go on to remind you how "Your character misses you already! He/she/it will always be there if you ever decide to come back!"
At any rate, the game has skyrocketed because of the inherent peer pressure mechanic of the PR. Everyone is playing it because everyone else is playing it. That's it. That's all there is to it.
Now I'm not going to claim that they aren't doing a lot of things right, or that I didn't enjoy the game for a while, but it's not "the best" game on the market for everyone. I'd even go as far as to say that I can almost guarantee that at least half, if not significantly more, of the WoW player base have never played any other MMOG besides WoW. They have nothing to compare it to. One can not even begin to call a product "the best" because you haven't tried any other product.
Statistically speaking, they won't either. Once you start playing a game that costs a monthly subscription, you immediately do not want to play another. It is very infrequent for people to play two games simultaneously and pay for both. It's nearly impossible for your average person to play them both at the same time, so you generally divide your time between the two games. You will inevitably play one game more than the other unless you FORCE yourself to ration your time, and you eventually ask yourself "Why am I paying for this other game?" and quit.
Now, I'm not saying that these "only ever played WoW" people haven't considered other games, but the thought process is usually "I'm happy with my current product, therefore I do not need to look for a new one." There may be a product out there that they will like better, but how will they know?
Anyway, now that I've gone off onto some massive rambling tangent, where was I...
So you have a game that already had a starting player base, follow it up by pushing "Everyone is playing it" and "Free Trial", and BAM: Instant popularity.
Every other MMOG company wants this because -they- want to be the best. Here's the thing: They will NEVER have this spot, for the following reason:
If you want customers, you need to advertise. Excluding WoW, how many (non-internet) ads have you seen for ANY MMOG? At all? FFXI? FFXIV? Aion? Guild Wars? Warhammer? Have you ever seen any ads for ANY MMORPG that wasn't WoW? No one advertises through TV except Blizzard. A lot of games will Advertise online, but where do they do it? At MMOG sites. They are advertising to an audience who are ALREADY PLAYING an MMORPG. That's like putting a car dealership ad on the radio: Unless you do not like your current product, you will not care.
Since most people are happy with their MMO purchase (or they wouldn't be viewing an MMO site), you are advertising to an audience who will largely ignore your ad. If you want new customers, advertise on TV, where the bulk of your viewing audience are people who may not necessarily be using another product. Convince them that not only should they be playing SOMETHING, they should be playing YOUR game. Look at infomercials: The art of selling someone something they never knew they wanted, and telling them why they NEED it.
It's a lot easier to market to someone who isn't already a customer of your competitor, because all you have to tell them is that your product is worth buying. You don't have to compare yourself to anyone else, because they don't know what the alternatives are.
Since everyone is comparing themselves to WoW, that inherently gives Blizzard MORE advertising because someone is going to ask "Why is everyone trying to tell me they're better than X? Maybe I should try X and see how bad it is" and BAM, instant customer for WoW.
No one ever tries to make "an MMORPG" anymore, they try to make "An MMORPG that is better than WoW". Then, you combine this with the seemingly logical (yet flawed) viewpoint that "If WoW has 10 million subscribers and I can convince half of them to try my product, then they will have 5 million and I will have 5 million and we will be as good as them".
If you really want any attempt at "beating" WoW, here is what you have to do: First, you create a game that you believe players will find better than any other MMOG. Second, you open free trials so that people can try your product; if it's that great, it will sell itself. Third, you advertise. TV, billboards, whatever. Get the attention of EVERYONE, not just gamers, and convince them why they need to TRY your product. Remember: "Free Trial". Make sure you say "Free"; they'll be downloading it before you can finish the word "Trial".
If you have made a good enough product that people like it and keep playing, turn up the marketing. Remember: "Everyone else is playing it, you should be too!"
WoW is indisputably the most popular game on the market and will be for a very long time because it had a solid player base to start, and it followed that with peer pressure marketing and free trials to get people hooked. That's the key to success for ANY product of ANY type: You find something that you have customers lined up for before it goes on sale, you give out free samples, and you tell everyone that isn't buying it that all their friends have it.
Creating a product with the intent to draw people away from another one, and then not advertising it at all (or only advertising it passively to people who are already using another similar product) is ineffective.
EDIT: holy ****, that was a long post... Edited, Jul 6th 2010 5:16am by Mikhalia