2 games that could be WoW-beaters

It’s  fashionable to say that Warcraft has grown so large now that there will never be any single WoW beater. It’s less of a game and more of a force of nature, a historical blip which will go down in records as a milestone in humanity’s takeup of the internet, social networking, and online virtual worlds.

If you play World of Warcraft, you are part of a historical phenomenon. You’ll be able to look back and tell your grandchildren (or you could just twitter them now if you have any), “Yes, I played that game. We all did.”

Anyone who thinks it’s just another game isn’t paying attention. As to why it got so large — a perfect storm of quality game, smart marketing, lack of competition (at the time it launched), opening the market to more casual players, and a crazy social networking effect. It’s anyone’s guess. Probably a lot of these factors.

Then again, a few years ago who would have guessed that Facebook would so totally overwhelm MySpace, or that twitter would become such a big thing? That’s a rhetorical question, and the answer is … anyone who tried the new formats would realise almost immediately. I don’t know about you but as soon as I saw Facebook I knew it was a better social platform than MySpace. Scrabble sealed the deal. (Admittedly I haven’t logged into Facebook for months, I got bored of being invited into stupid groups by people who weren’t my friends.)

Similarly, ten years ago it didn’t take very long to realise how quickly mobile phones would take off as soon as the prices came down — you only had to try one for a day to see the difference it made. Going further back, how quickly do you think Sony Walkman‘s took off? Very fast. You only had to use it for an hour or two to see how cool it was to be able to take your music around with you.

If a virtual world comes along that suits a lot of people better than WoW, they will switch. This will happen faster if the barrier to switching is low. It will happen faster if it targets a large section of the WoW audience that isn’t currently 100% happy with the game they have. In order for it to become a WoW-beater, it will need to not only steal Warcraft players but also open whole new markets. And one thing is for sure, it won’t be a game that is ‘mostly like Warcraft but with a few tweaks’ or ‘like WoW but with superheroes/ spaceships/ vampires instead of fantasy.’

It may not even be a game at all.

Free Realms

I’m not in the beta test of FR, although I’ve mentioned it previously. The reason I think Free Realms will challenge WoW is because a lot of WoW players aren’t that interested in the ‘gamier’ side of it as an MMO. They love the shiny production values and attractive stylised graphics, but the endgame world of people calling you a moron  if you don’t put out enough dps in some instance, or smack talk in battleground chat don’t appeal to them (tbh they don’t appeal to a lot of people).

Maybe what they really want is a friendly virtual world where they can dress up their characters, collect minipets, play minigames with their friends, and chat.  Where no one will whine at them about their specs, or expect them to dedicate 2+ nights per week to raiding if they’re ever going to see the cool storylines or get the best loot.

FR looks to have great production values, be very accessible, be focus grouped to death about what casual MMO players want, be a friendly environment where people can easily play with their families/ less hardcore players. And of course, it’s free — or at least you can do most of the stuff you’d want for free, with options to pay for extras.

You just have to look at the comments to this Massively post which asked what people were looking forwards to about Free Realms to see how many gamers would like a relaxing environment to play with less game-crazed family members.

There’s an opening there for a lot of players to move to a game they’d find suited their preferences more than WoW.  I might wish that more virtual worlds might be generated that were a bit less childish, because cartoon animals and generic cuteness don’t do much for me (and I’m really not that desperate to socialise with 12 year olds unless they are actually family), but to a lot of people and a lot of kids, that has a high appeal.  I’ll certainly be trying it out, if only to hang out with friends who aren’t hardcore MMO players but might be tempted into this one.

Sony’s main competition with FR is probably more the social worlds aimed at kids than it is WoW but that just means that there’s a huge market out there for them to tap into. Can they attract players from Habbo Hotel to their new offering?  They’ll certainly try.

I know I’m looking forwards to playing (and writing about) it when it does go live.

Diablo III

D3 could appeal to a different segment of current WoW players. It will almost certainly have a grimmer, gritter, more gothic atmosphere than Warcraft (admittedly not difficult). It has a vast built-in fanbase, based on players who loved the previous game. It’s made by Blizzard so will be prominently advertised all over the official sites.

And it will take the core group gameplay of WoW and distill it into its purest essence. A lot of WoW players aren’t really interested in socialising, or trying to earn gold, or immersing themselves into a virtual world.

All Blizzard have to do is let the online version of D3 have access to some kind of auction house, a way to mail gear to your alts, and more fully featured chat than Diablo II and that alone will fulful a lot of the player interaction options that many current WoW players want.

They want to group up easily and find some action when they feel like it. They want to be able to buy and sell on an auction house. And they may want some light chat inbetween. But a lot of people don’t care about exploring, don’t want the hassle of being tied to a guild, and don’t want deep interactions. It will be like all the fun casual gaming parts of WoW without any of the hassle. And if they are more in a mood to play solo, then it has a cracking solo mode too. Of course you can play the whole game solo, that’s what it is.

It may even be that the downloadable content model will let Blizzard offer the equivalent of raid content for Diablo III.

(Note: this assumes that it’s a good game, of course.)

Why D3 and not any of the other current games with online multiplayer options? Because it’s not a shooter. Because it has that massive built in fanbase. Because the concept of talent trees came from Diablo in the first place. Because of the loot. Because it’s dark fantasy.

And I would love to be a fly on the wall in Blizzard HQ as they try to figure out whether or not to give D3 the things it needs to succeed (ie. auction house, mail, etc) or whether doing so might threaten their cashcow.

Both Free Realms and Diablo III offer a (potentially) better version of some aspect of a virtual world or game where WoW falls down. That has to appeal to people. Heck, it appeals to me, and I love the whole idea of virtual worlds. I think they both stand to challenge WoW to decide exactly what it does have to offer to casual players.

I was thinking myself that it would be a bad thing if Ulduar turned out to be too hard. Because if you’re bored with Naxx and slamming your head against a wall in Ulduar, what else is there to do in endgame? It’s a consequence of pushing more of the population into raiding instead of providing more casual endgame activities that Blizzard itself is now in a Raid-or-Die loop with Warcraft. If players can’t raid, perhaps the game itself will die … slowly …

But there will never be a WoW-beater. And the reason is that many WoW players dont’ see themselves as gamers and certainly not MMO gamers. They are WoW players. It has become a hobby in itself. When they get bored, they won’t necessarily switch to another computer game at all.

What do you think? If you had the chance to switch to a game that just offered the core parts of WoW that you loved and none of the bits you dislike, would you go?

15 thoughts on “2 games that could be WoW-beaters

  1. While I agree that Free Realms and Diablo 3 are likely to be pretty huge games, my feeling is that neither game will appeal to the majority of current WoW players as a long term prospect.

    Free Realms has much going for it as a casual and fun experience, but it is unlikely to offer the depth and challenge that is available in more traditional MMORPGs. Blizzard nailed the right level of challenge for a mass of potential MMORPG players, but there is no guarantee that there is another mass of potential players out there looking for an even less challenging experience. I’m guessing that many current WoW players would probably enjoy something slightly more challenging to match their growing competence.

    Diablo 3 will certainly appeal to most of those players as a short term proposition. Something they can focus solidly on for anything from several weeks to several months, but not something they’ll stick with for several years. I think the lack of long-term character progression in a persistent world will ensure that players will more readily move on to something else when they’ve exhausted the experience.

    As you said, we probably won’t see another MMORPG being as popular as WoW in the west, but the two that are most likely to get anywhere close are Blizzard’s next effort, where it seems almost unthinkable that it won’t be huge, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Bioware’s pedigree and EA’s determination to have a serious WoW competitor should not be underestimated.

    Anecdotally, I have several gaming enthusiast friends that have zero interest in any upcoming MMORPGs except SWTOR, and I think they are representative of a significant male demographic out there that love Star Wars and/or Bioware, but have so far shied away from MMORPGs. If Bioware can draw them in with the promise of a compelling single player experience, and then hook them in with the multiplayer aspects, SWTOR could be huge despite how great Blizzard’s game is.

  2. There’s a lot of buzz about Free Realms now, and Sony is definitely putting their marketing muscle behind it, but I’m not sure it’ll be that big. Fusion Fall is in many ways a similar title (kid friendly, launches from a browser, free-to-play) and it has the Cartoon Network license (and presumably it gets advertised on the Cartoon Network) but it doesn’t seem to be taking off.

    I do think Diablo III will be huge, but it isn’t a persistent world (well, at least D1 & D2 weren’t) so I’m not sure it qualifies as a WoW killer. Is any multiplayer game in the running? If so, I bet CounterStrike or TF2 have already beat WoW.

    People still play Diablo 2, though, and quite enthusiastically, so I think Diablo 3 could be something that people move to for years, if Blizzard nails it.

  3. I think WoW is in the business of selling ego. It’s like a subscription-based massage service for the emotionally bruised (which is everyone).

    It does this by offering different paths to success and to some extent by diluting those paths.

    They established owning purples as something to be proud of then gave everyone purples. They established being a raider as something to be proud of then made everyone raiders.

    Even though I “see through” this it still works on me. I know that raiding is cheap and no longer means you’re a great player – I still feel great when we take down a raid boss.

    That’s a very hard model to kill.

    The problem with Free Realms is that no one is going to feel they are getting rewards because they are doing something special, something that marks them out as a player a cut above the run of the mill. Likewise with Diablo 3 it’s not a MMO so there’s less measuring yourself against others in the same way. If it’s anything like Diablo 2 then being the best simply means being FOTM. For a while it was Necros, then Barbs, then Sorcs then Amazons. It wasn’t hard to level a character and the FOTM class was MILES better than any other class. Diablo 3 will be a game for altoholics unless they fix that issue.

    I think to “kill” WOW you need to supply that feel-good factor and it’s not simply a matter of acquiring a cute pet or getting a bad-ass sword. You need to be admired for getting that pet or that sword and I’m not sure either of these contenders will do that better than WoW does.

  4. I have a feeling Free Realms won’t be that appealing to wow gamers, though it is an interesting concept. I at least need goals to reach when I’m playing something.

    Diablo III is a game I am eagerly awaiting also, having my first online gaming experience many years ago with original Diablo and later Diablo II. 🙂

    D3 though falls into a different category I feel than WoW, and like Pete S comments, if we include other massive online hits then yes.. Counterstrike, even Starcraft I am sure are very close in copies sold.

    And Spinks, I would make the switch in a heartbeat if I see a game that has everything I love in WoW and none of the bad sides. Let me know if you find it!

  5. I think the only thing that will bring down WoW at the moment is time. Because of the social aspects, as long as there are new things to do and people to do it with, WoW will continue to dominate. Unless they have some kind of Star Wars Galaxies moment (a self created catastrophe), only the slow bleed off of players will eventually mean WoW’s demise. By that time, there will be another MMO that will step up, likely one made by Blizzard as they have built a powerful brand that will be trusted by most of the former fan base.

    The thing that seems to distinguish Free Realms is that it is not directly competing with WoW in terms of demographics. That means it might be able to co-exist more successfully with WoW, not that it is going to beat it.

  6. I don’t actually think there will ever be a WoW-beater. I think WoW is similar to D&D, it’s just a jump in the evolutionary continuum. D&D was people + paper + RNG (dice) = fun. WoW is people + computer generated environment + RNG = fun. That’s basically it.

    In the past, D&D players were considered the geekiest of the geeks. WoW is the next evolution- WoW players are still considered geeks, but we’re not (all) the fat, pimple-filled lumoxes you see in SouthPark. In fact, it’s becoming more obvious to people that “normal” people play- parents, grandparents, school kids, college kids, just-started-my-career-and-am-not-a-kid kids…it’s slowly becoming more socially acceptable.

    The thing is: people still play D&D. The same will be true for the next evolutionary step- people will still play WoW.

    What is the next step? No one can say. There are some staples we can base our speculation on: rewards (i did this for an NPC and i got this phat kewl sword!1!), vanity (do0d look at my helmet/haircut/shave), slight learning/steep mastering curve, and some sort of social aspect. Some way of differentiating yourself from others is always going to be necessary (titles, arena, ranking, #KBs, epeen) because without that…well…how am I going to show everyone else how much better then them I am? Beyond that…what else is there in WoW? Finding out is as easy as cracking a Psych textbook…Blizzard did and look what they have. The next company will do exactly the same and come up with the next new dose of cyber-crack for the masses.

  7. It is time for a true MMO experience. WoW is the daily drug for addicted gourmands, but I expect something more from a MMO.

    I am a bit surprised that you list Diablo 3 as a WoW killer. I would say it appeals to a different audience, but you are right somewhat, some people that play WoW at the moment would for sure prefer Diablo 3.

    I would prefer a more interesting and detailed virtual world not so much based on pure combat and achievement grind.

    But well, till then I will probably play Diablo 3 and I really wonder what ArenaNet is about to do with Guild Wars 2.

  8. A MORE SOCIAL, LESS DIFFICULT game will defeat WoW?

    LFG terrorist group with weapons of mass destruction

    PS: how can a game be less difficult? You zone in, the monsters throw away their loot and run away?

  9. @unwise: I think the next Blizzard MMO and Bioware’s star wars game will be great (well, dunno anything about Blizzard’s plans but no reason to doubt them). But really what I’m thiniking here is a lot of people play WoW who might be happier playing an non-MMO with multiplayer features but they won’t realise until the right game comes along.

    Pete S: Good point about Sony’s marketing muscle. I guess we’ll see soon enough how effective it is. And yeah, I was thinking that people happily played Diablo 2 for years. It still sometimes gets on the top 20 for PC games sold list.

    Stabs: Good point. It does feel good to get achievements and kills in WoW, even if you know logically you’re not doing anything special. Although you could argue that even basic teamwork is still teamwork. People enjoy playing competitive football in local low level leagues, so why should gaming only make you feel good if you are in the top 10%? 🙂 I’ll be surprised if FR doesn’t have some kind of way to get rare items and show them off though.

    @Vad: I don’t really know with FR. I think it has the potential to lure people away. And I’m sure there are lots of social players in WoW who’d prefer that style of game. But who knows? One thing I do think is that both Diablo and FR could probably easily be played alongside WoW, they’re also both cheaper. So when you get bored of WoW, it would be so easy to skip it for a month (save the sub) and just play the other games until the next content patch

    @Tarsus: Good point, but I do think that people are getting bored more quickly with each expansion. I think it may have less time than we think. Or at least that more players would be interested in looking around at other games now that used to be the case.

    @Knife: Funny you should say that because I was actually playing D&D last night (first time in ages, 4th Ed looks amazing). I guess you’re right about evolution, but in one sense it makes me happy that gaming is evolving but is still recognisably gaming.

    @Longasc:I’m with you, and it’d make me very happy if Blizzard’s new project turned out to be a more accessible version of Second Life (but I doubt it will). I do think though that a lot of current MMO players will decide, when given the choice, that they prefer other types of online game.

    @Gevlon: Haha, yes. But I’m not sure if you understand why so many people find it so hard ot hit the various dps requirements or why they balk at being told they have to have the right specs, rotations, glyphs, etc. I really believe a lot of WoW players just don’t want to play like that. It’s not so much difficulty as they don’t want to play that game at all.

    @all: Thanks for all the comments, I know it’s made me think.

  10. Shortly after the release of the new G.I. Joe movie.. make that into a massive online game.

    There is so many different awesome characters that i remember as a kid for G.I. Joe you have plenty to work with.

    Now you just have to have an appealing game design that can pull the masses. Yo Joe! (haha)

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  12. Free Realms will be one to watch, but I don’t think it’s a WOW beater.

    There are already a lot of big MMOs vying for that mainstream MMO audience, it’s just that most of them don’t ping on the core gamer radar. And more of them are appearing every day.

    Sony is taking a big media approach, but I’m not sure it’s going to pull much of the WOW audience directly.

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  15. I think the WoWkiller will ultimately be WoW itself.

    I think it’s desire is starting to wear out on people. Especially those that have played since 1st release.

    Sure people have been saying that they hate the grind since that time as well, but it is just all starting to feel a little mediocre.

    I think at some point the players will just start to seep from the game and turn to other activities, not enmass, but little by little. As Larisa says, not off to another “WoW”, but another all consuming activity.

    I can’t say I am a Diablo lover, not that I gave it a huge go, but I doubt it will have the goods to keep me hooked for 6 years.

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