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WoW - Redefining Success in the PC Gaming Industry
The question of whether World of Warcraft is ruining the PC games industry is worth raising. Some people have suggested that WoW's success is a harbringer of worse things to come for PC games - For where the industry is headed, for what it could become, and for all of the good things that have arisen in the industry over the years. To begin understanding why people feel that this is the case, it's worth examining just what it is that WoW has accomplished.
Before WoW was released, the highest active player population for a MMORPG was held by Everquest - a MMORPG which at its peak had about 600k active subscribers. WoW's subscription numbers have been literally in the millions for several years in a row. Where Everquest made Sony millions of dollars in revenue, WoW made Blizzard billions of dollars in revenue, and they continue to rake in the dough even today. They went from a small gaming company that made perhaps a few million in revenue per year to creating a game which no doubt literally magnified their total yearly revenue by as much as 100 times what they were making before. What gaming company executive wouldn't want to jump on that train to success?
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The Problem? Corporate Executives Who Want to Control the Creative Process
The result of WoW's huge success was that everybody and their brother decided to make a MMORPG. This was driven by executives who want to make a lot of money rather than by the creative folks in these companies, and so what ultimately resulted was that the executives wanted to call the shots in the creative process of these games. In their minds WoW was a huge success, so if they made a game which was very similar to WoW, they would have success as well. Everyone wanted those million-subscriber numbers, and those billions in revenue.
In the end, the number of MMORPGs on the market literally doubled - perhaps quadrupled - in about 3-4 years' time. Most of these MMORPG's had very limited success. With 150 WoW clones on the market, it's rather reasonable to expect that the players aren't going to flock to the 43rd WoW clone, rather than the 87th WoW clone. With nothing unique to offer in their game, these companies found themselves with subscriber numbers perhaps in the 50k-100k player range if they made a decent game.
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The End of PC Gaming as We Know It?
So, is this big variance in game-creating methodology going to ultimately sound the death knell of PC gaming as we know it? It has definitely effected the industry adversely. Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of any content-based industry. If there isn't something new to do within the medium, the industry will go stale and ultimately people will stop buying games. But this isn't going to happen. While the companies that made the WoW clones may have hard times for awhile or go under, there is a whole underbelly of game designers in the gaming industry which is currently rising up to become the cream of the crop of the gaming industry.
We go into this further in the next section of this article.
This article series explores some of the negative aspects of World of Warcraft.