To say that WoW is a great success would be a colossal understatement. For 13 years, it has maintained its place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most popular MMORPG of all time. In fact, the astronomical success of WoW has transcended the world of video games to make a genuine cultural impact by spawning a South Park episode, and more recently, a movie franchise.
So, what is it about WoW that makes it so popular and able to thrive for so long in one of the fastest-moving industries of all?
Let’s take a look at some of the lessons every game development studio can learn from its success:
Lesson #1. Build and Lead a Strong Community
Back in the nineties, playing video games was mostly a solo affair or activity shared with a small group of friends . But by the early 2000s, MMOs had become a social phenomenon, creating virtual worlds for wider-reaching audiences. The genre found its niche, one that was less receptive to new players early on.
World of Warcraft changed all that. It sold the concept of massive multiplayer gaming to a wider audience, and it did this by building a strong player-driven community.
Blizzard Entertainment has earned its reputation as a video game developer that gives its community a voice. One way it has demonstrated this is by acceding to a number of community-requested modifications to the game over the years..
Lesson #2. Reward Players
Every player wants to feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete a game or reach a milestone. Blizzard introduced achievements with the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion pack.
These achievements, which are awarded by completing arbitrary challenges, give players a way to share their experience with other players. It also allows them to set goals to work towards once they feel they’ve run out of ways to progress.
Although Blizzard wasn’t the first developer to introduce achievements, the reward system in WoW has proven to be so successful that such trophies have become a modern gaming standard.
Lesson #3. Offer Different Ways to Play
A decade ago, video games were something you would set aside once you reached the end. Today, players almost expect games to offer a degree of replayability, preferably without having to fork out for expansions or DLCs.
One of the biggest reasons for WoW’s success is that it offers practically unlimited replayability. There’s no right or wrong way to play. Whether you want to cycle through all the available classes, complete quests, or meet new goals laid out by the in-game achievement system, it’s practically impossible to run out of things to do.
Lesson #4. Create a Dynamic Virtual World
Just like movies and TV series, video games can get stale pretty quickly, even if they do offer a great deal of replayability. This is because players eventually run out of things to do when the developers stop supporting the game.
WoW’s creation of - and continued involvement in - a living, dynamic world is easily the biggest reason behind their enduring success. Few games can claim success spanning seven expansion packs released over 13 years. With in-game holidays that reflect real-world ones, WoW feels even more alive.
Lesson #5. Keep Clear of Pay to Win
It’s perhaps the most obnoxious trend in gaming – the ability to buy power-ups for real money and, in the case of multiplayer games, a competitive advantage over other players.
Blizzard has been careful not to give players an advantage based on how much they’re prepared to spend. Instead, it makes additional revenue by selling purely cosmetic items through the in-game store and makes the most powerful in-game items available only to those who complete specific goals.
World of Warcraft certainly isn’t perfect, but over the course of 13 years, nothing has managed to rival it in terms of subscriber numbers or even its status as a cultural phenomenon. That’s why every developer should be looking to WoW as a model for success in the highly competitive world of gaming.