Monday, January 31, 2011

World of Warcraft in 2020

It is the year 2020 and World of Warcraft has 20 million players, a hundred times a many as the closest competitor. How did a 15-year old game manage to climb to such a dominant position? After a meteoric rise, there was a period of stagnation nearly a decade ago, during the time of the Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm expansions. Anything Blizzard tried to get people to play together failed: Easy dungeons, hard dungeons, automatic group finding, added guild perks, all these measures only increased the amount of acrimony in the community. "Pickup group" became a kind of a curse word, and dungeon queues grew to 2 hours length, as most tanks and healers quit the game or switched to DPS, fed up of constantly being blamed for the faults of others. As raiding died due to lack of tanks and healers, only 3 guilds ever managed to finish the final Cataclysm raid encounter, in spite of repeated nerfs.

The breakthrough came in 2012, with the 4th expansion, as Blizzard had realized a fundamental truth: Players simply do not want to play with others. Having always been good at "borrowing" ideas from other games, Blizzard took the henchman concept from Guild Wars, and enabled players to do dungeons and raids solo, accompanied only by NPC henchmen. That concept was expanded with time, and today players exclusively solo playing a raid group of 5 to 10 characters, being able to control one of them at will, while the AI does a great job at playing the other 4 to 9. That was a huge success, because not only are players now able to solo their way up to the final raid boss of an expansion, but they now also can use practically all gear drops to equip their small army.

These small armies of avatars controlled by a single player are now called "guilds". The old sort of guilds, having several players in them, crumbled due to players not needing each other any more, and was abolished in the 2014 expansion. When crafting for NPC henchmen was introduced, the player-run economy wasn't necessary any more either. The auction house was removed from the game in 2016. With chat then only being used for exchanging insults, chat functionality was removed from WoW in 2018.

It is the year 2020 and World of Warcraft has 20 million players, all of them playing in splendid isolation from each other. Competitors games, which still try outmoded concepts like players interacting with each other don't stand a chance. Welcome to the future of MMORPGs, now simply called OGs, because there is neither massively multiplayer interaction, nor role playing.

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