Why Does Every New MMO Have to be a WoW Killer?

I’ve played MMOs a long time. Eleven years, to be precise. I started with Ultima Online in 1998, and I currently inhabit World of Warcraft, though I am honestly not sure for how much longer I will remain there. The only upcoming game to really pique my interest is Star Wars: The Old Republic, but there is doubt in my mind that game will be ready before 2011.

During my days of frequenting Ultima Online forums, every new MMO in development was the one to “kill” UO. Never could a game stand on its own merits and attract a parallel playerbase; it had to take all of the current top game’s subscribers and leave the older game a wasteland of diehard players who refuse jump on the new hotness. In eleven years, this trend hasn’t changed one little bit, nor has any one game spelled the doom for any other, so the perpetuation of this very specific kind of hype is absurd.

What’s funny to me is that SW:TOR is already being hailed by various forum trolls and bloggers as a WoW-killer, and it hasn’t even been a month since the first hands-on alpha was at E3 for very limited audiences. My question is this: Why can WoW and SW:TOR not peacefully coexist? Or more specifically, why can any new game and the ones already released not peacefully coexist? I wonder if online communities must consistently be in a constant state of flux and/or paranoia to function and survive. I see two sides to the game-killer argument: self-loathing and salvation.

On one hand, self-loathing gamers tend to say they pay for games and play them only because there are no better options. They hate (thus the self-loathing factor) that they spend the time and money on the game, constantly bashing it and its developers, and they hope that a new game will come out and completely destroy the currently successful MMO (which they play). They want nothing more for a fantastic game that they might or might not even play, just so long as the current game they’re subscribing to loses money and has to shut its servers down. The irony found in the self-loather is that even though they claim to be advocates of a particular game’s downfall, their detrimental posts are not on the upcoming game’s forums, but plastered all over the community belonging to the game they still play.

On the opposite side of the self-loathers who play a game they cannot stand and only want to see fail, there are those who look forward to the next big MMO as though it were the second coming of Christ. These are the kind of people who are constantly searching for the next big thing to deliver them from the mundane virtual life they find themselves stuck in. They’re generally content playing whatever game is considered the most polished, until the next one that is bigger and better than the last one they subscribed to is slated to come out. Any newly announced, unreleased game obviously has to be better than whatever is already on the market because the hype and PR say so. When the new game is finally released, their Messianic complex is shattered because there is no feasible way the game can live up to the ridiculous expectations those seeking salvation set for it. Their salvation is postponed until the next “next big thing” comes down the internet hypeline.

Warhammer Online was hailed as a WoW-killer by the PvP community for a very long time prior to its release. Instead of World of Warcraft, WoW began to stand for Waiting on Warhammer. When its release finally arrived, the game was good, but not great. It was a fun diversion for a couple of months, but it couldn’t keep my attention or my friends’ or many other people’s. Within three months of release, the game had to merge server populations to maintain playability. It was certainly no WoW-killer. WAR has its own dedicated following at this point who very much enjoy it, but the game itself lacked whatever sublime quality was needed to dethrone World of Warcraft as the top commercial MMO.

I don’t expect SW:TOR to dethrone WoW, either. And the funny thing is, I don’t want it to. I don’t care if the next big thing is bigger and better than what is currently popular. I don’t fall into the self-loather category, nor do I seek salvation from my MMO purgatory. My main concern is that that games I play are fun. If one game has features that make me think that it is more worthy of my time than another MMO, then I’ll switch. If not, then I won’t bother. It being designed to “kill” my MMO of choice doesn’t even enter the equation.

There are always going to be doomsayers crying “the end is nigh!” for any highly popular property. In the end, it doesn’t matter what games come out and which are hailed as “killers.” The new games will do some things better than other games on the market, and other games will keep doing other things better than the newcomers. In either case, both games will have some kind of playerbase and loyal community. Very few MMOs in the history of the genre have actually shut down. Some, like Dungeons & Dragons Online, adopt new marketing strategies like going partially Free2Play to stay afloat, but the point is that they do stay afloat.

People could say that World of Warcraft’s 11 million worldwide subscribers spell doom for other MMOs and that there is no reason to even try with such an elephant in the room, but that would be silly. Most MMOs are going at a solid rate, some tinker with new profit-making strategies, and they all have people playing them. Even MMOs I’ve left for what I consider “better” games (Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online) still have people playing them. That means that the SWG-killers and the UO-killers failed, and only leads me to conclude that the WoW-killers will fail. But they only failed (or will fail) in the respect that they did not wipe the floor with the games already on the market. From a business perspective, the games were successes because they must make a steady profit from the people who play them, otherwise they would be shut down. MMOs are a business, after all.

I don’t care if Star Wars: The Old Republic is hailed as the next WoW-killer. I don’t care if it triples the amount of people who are currently playing WoW. If it’s not fun for me, I’m not going to play it. If it happens to be a better time than WoW (or whatever game has my attention at that point), then I’ll play it. And so will other people. There will be people who prefer WoW for their own reasons, and there will be people who are still playing other MMOs despite SW:TOR’s release who could really not care less about the game because they’ve found their niche. The Old Republic being a hit doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all find the game we want to play and enjoy ourselves.

People are going to play any game that’s released, at least for a while. Some people will leave their games for greener pastures, and some people will stolidly resist change. But in the end, new games will not “kill” old ones. Communities will grow around new games completely independent of the success of other games on the market. So now, can we please move past this “killer” concept and actually enjoy playing a game for a change?

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. I remember people talking about the "EQ killer" back in 2001 and it never happened – EQ is still alive and kicking.

    I don't think WoW will ever die. It's obviously got enough momentum to last for years and years and if subscription numbers degrade, Blizzard will just reduce the number of servers and staff who work on it.

    I honestly think there's enough room in the market for any MMO to survive – depending on it's expectations. However, I do think the only MMO we'll see that comes near to WoWs number of subscribers will be the next MMO from Blizzard.

  2. I just want a DIKU killer MMO. Specifically, I want one that does away with most DIKU staples, but still finds a huge, successful audience. If it used multiple monetization options (sub, microtransaction, dual currency, all in one, like Wizard 101), so much the better.

    Of course, I don't want to abolish the existing DIKU games, I just want a dev house to completely kill the DIKU mentality for *their game*, and find success with it. The genre really needs new blood, and even SWTOR's "storytelling" focus isn't enough.

    I think that the genre is stuck in a morass of DIKU drudgery, and that part of the call for a WoW killer is a reaction to that broken record gameplay in the genre. Then again, some players really do want more of the same, which is where the loathers and self-loathers come from.

    There's definitely room for a variety of games, and the notion that the audience is a zero-sum mess that requires internecine squabbling is silly. There will definitely be some poaching and fractured loyalties (a concern given the monopolistic nature of an MMO), but the industry at large has plenty of room for different games.

    Of course, that will mean that some will have to temper their expectations, and build with a sustainable business model, rather than shoot for the moon. Puzzle Pirates and EVE are good examples of modest design that has later expanded. If anything, such non-WoW MMO design is healthier for the future of the genre.

  3. I agree. I look forward to seeing where the genre goes from this point. I love WoW and I liked EQ, but there is only so far that the typical MMO system can go. Without some revolutionary refinements (and I do think the storytelling focus in TOR is a step in the right direction, even if it isn't the end result we desire), the genre could become stagnant for veteran players. New users would always start up again, but there would be a soft-cap simply based on the "been there, done that" mentality.

    That's why I am incredibly interested in F2P games these days. I hope that I find one of them that does one new thing exceedingly well that makes me want to stick around and actually give them money instead of the current "buy the client and we give you 30 days" model.

    That said, I don't see the MMO industry hitting critical mass for quite a while, stagnation or not, which is why the "killer" games idea is ludicrous.

  4. http://hudshideout.com/blog/?p=2716

    Well said and on par with what I gripe about a lot. The problem is now that WoW is king developers shove crap at us everyday and as long as it is like "WOW" they think we will gobble it up and sadly they are sometimes right

  5. They are right about that to an extent. I'd rather stick with the devil I know with only decent features than the devil I don't where there might be a few better features and as-yet-unknown staying power.

  6. Oh you left out Age of Conan, when I started playing AoC (because I am a HUGE RE Howard fan) there was not a single day that someone did not say "This game is so much better than WoW" or "This game will totally kill WoW" something along those lines… AoC was fun, the combat system was totally awesome! But as you can see, it doesn't even come up in the conversation of current WoW killers.

    Personally, I stand as an advocate for increasing the f2p game quality. I see no reason why there should be a monthly fee on enjoying yourself with your own friends, on your own computer, at your own home… Paying for that just does not seem right to me. There are so many good f2p games that with a little tweeking, would be hella fun. To often, though, they try to attract a playerbase with only an original concept, and end up slacking on content. Guild Wars being a perfect example.

    I love the character classes, and "expansion" system in GW, and the world storyline is an old plot with a new twist. It has everything in the right place… Until you start playing, and you hit level cap in a week, then hit skill cap the next, and by the end of the month you have beaten all three game modules and Eye of the North.

    I started playing GW, and within the month, had surpassed my veteran GW friends who have been playing since the game started.

    Serious lack of content, but could have been such a great game.

    If there ever is to be a "WoW Killer" it would be in the game's profit system. Just as Beej says, games will adopt a new model, and stay afloat. And to bring a giant down, you take out his legs. If there ever is a "WoW Killer" it will be a game that includes a f2p system, and not just demo style gameplay. Full game content access, no payment needed.

    But in the f2p market, there is another branch that is gaining just as much strength as the "WoW Killers" in the general MMO market. And that is the "WoW Clones." Runes of Magic for example. The game is amazing, once again content an issue. The great thing is (so far) they are constantly evolving the game, creating better quality content. But they don't do it by trying to out do WoW, instead, they take what WoW has done, and build on it.

    It is like a parasite, feeding off of WoW's ideas (as well as other MMOs) and giving them in a f2p format. Not only that, but they also take a lot of WoW's aspects, and improve them. Ever want your own player house in WoW? Then move right in to Runes of Magic estates.

    The funny thing is the games that try to be original "WoW Killers" will continue to butt heads with the giant, but in the end, it could be the "WoW Clones" that actually bring down the beast by sucking it's blood until it's to weak to stand.

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