A year ago, during the Christmas break, I got myself a trial account of World of Warcraft in the hopes of getting to know the biggest player in the MMO market. I always liked Blizzard products and their philosophy on making games, and knowing that WoW had taken its genre by storm, I wanted to know first-hand what it was all about.
And so began one year of obsession with the game. I wasn’t even sure I would last until the end of my trial subscription, and here I am, a year later, with my own epicced-out level 70 Blood Elf Warlock. What the hell happened?
What happened is a good game, plain and simple. There’s good reason why WoW overtook the MMO genre so dramatically: it’s simply that good. Sure, the license – the Warcraft universe – was a strong setting, but that doesn’t explain how WoW thrives when fan favorites Star Wars and Lord of the Rings fail to leave a dent. And with 9.5 million subscribers worldwide, a large portion of WoW‘s fanbase had no idea who Illidan, Arthas and company were before they first logged onto the game.
But beyond the attention to details and the flavor of the setting, there’s one thing that made sure so many people got hooked to the world of Azeroth: accessibility.
Accessibility means making sure the player has a pleasant experience every step of the way when he plays a game, from the first moments until the end (or, more aptly in the case of WoW, until he’s hopelessly hooked.) The first 20 levels in WoW are a testament to that philosophy. When you start the game, you’re not overwhelmed with options and abilities. You’re simply asked to customize your avatar, then are trust in the game, where you’re handheld through the first levels of the game. As it stands, the first 20 levels are as pleasant, if not more, as many other games outside the MMO genre. And that is why Blizzard wins.
In a world where games are still thought of by some developers as difficult challenges and elitist playgrounds, it’s a good sign for gamers everywhere that Blizzard was able to overcome the most hardcore of market segments with accessibility. Be that a lesson to all game developers out there.
So there you have it. Add my name to the long list of WoW addicts, inside and outside the industry; and ask around, we are legion. It’s weird to play WoW, because you end up spending so much time in it that even hardcore videogame players look at you like you’re a a freak with no life. And amongst ourselves, we recognize one another with strange expressions and a tendency to argue which is between between Alliance and Horde (answer: Horde, of course.)
And if you see a Blood Elf Warlock called Ashmael on the Kul Tiras server, don’t hesitate to say hello. Or /wave if you’re Alliance.
You know, so I know who to kill.