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No single game in the history of MMOs has enjoyed the success of World of Warcraft. Record numbers of subscribers and overwhelming critical acclaim have elevated WoW to the undisputed king of the MMO world.
Unprecedented success of this nature can’t help but have repercussions on the future of MMORPGs. Players who have enjoyed the many revolutionary features of World of Warcraft are unlikely to abandon it for another game that doesn’t posses certain qualities they have become accustomed to.
Whether in terms of customization options, questing and leveling, instanced encounters or item transfers between characters, these aspects of World of Warcraft are inevitably here to stay, changing the way we play MMOs forever.
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World of Warcraft offers an unprecedented ability for the player community to customize their interfaces and design helpful (and not so helpful) WoW addons.
You see, in the olden days before questhelper, players were forced to tab out of the game and open a web browser when unable to locate a quest objective. Often, we were forced to rely on the kindness of others when searching for a particularly well-hidden quarry.
There were no DPS meters or DOT timers back in the day. We took whoever we could find that filled the role we were searching for. We had to keep an eye on our spells and manage them manually, without the help of countdown timers. When we downed a boss, we simply crossed our fingers and hoped for something useful to drop, rather than knowing ahead of time exactly what to expect.
It was a different time. I don’t miss it. Fortunately, it appears that the ability to create addons is here to stay. Just ask anyone who plays Warhammer Online.
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The Auction House
Back in the Everquest days, players designated a certain low-level zone as the place to go to buy and sell goods. Hopeful merchants would station themselves near a certain small settlement and hawk their wares over the global channels, quickly filling up the screen of anyone attempting to quest in the zone with spam.
If a player needed a certain item, they were usually forced to acquire it themselves or ask a guildmate for help. There was no convenient centralized location in major cities to which players could turn. If you needed a certain drop, you went out and grinded mobs until you got it. Now, I can just run to the AH and buy it for a few gold.
WoW certainly wasn’t the first game to incorporate an Auction House. Final Fantasy XI had one, and practically every MUD ever invented had a similar system in place. WoW was simply the first game to bring the Auction House concept to a very large audience, and I doubt that audience will want to do without it going forward.
Check out page two to find out how WoW has changed the way we gain levels and think of dungeon encounters.
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The basic system of earning experience and gaining levels has been in place since the day Dungeons and Dragons was invented. Many games have attempted to adopt different systems (Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online initially used skill-based advancement) but there is a reason games seem to keep coming back to the level-based system. It’s simple, and it makes sense.
Still, while Blizzard hasn’t altered the basic leveling system, they have changed the way we gain those levels in some pretty significant ways. Questing for the majority of your XP is still a relatively-new concept.
In Everquest, for example, the best way to level up was to find a group and station yourselves near a spawn point for suitable-level mobs. The tank would pull mobs from the spawn one at a time and the group would burn it down before moving on to the next identical adversary. Besides the occasional bathroom break or pause to regain mana, this was basically what the entire game consisted of.
Quest-based leveling is not horribly different, players still complete the same basic set of actions over and over to gain experience, but it at least provides some variety and incentive to get out and see parts of the game world that wouldn’t normally be experienced. I sincerely doubt that any future game that doesn’t adopt a similar system will succeed in drawing the kind of numbers WoW now enjoys.
Another great innovation of Blizzard’s is the rested experience system. Players who take a break from playing no longer have to worry about falling far behind their friends, as they have an opportunity to catch up through boosted experience points.
The repercussions of this innovation have already started to show up, City of Heroes’ Day Job System, for example.
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One of my favorite aspects of Dark Age of Camelot was the Darkness Falls dungeon. Only whichever realm was currently enjoying the most success in the game’s Realm vs. Realm PvP content had access to it, and it was home to some of the best items in the game.
Unfortunately, everyone on the server wanted these rare items as much as I did, so the dungeon had a tendency to fill up as soon as control shifted to a new faction. This usually led to some pretty epic PvP encounters as the new faction cleaned out the old faction’s stragglers, but it also entailed a frustrating lack of mobs to kill.
You see, this was before the wonder of instanced encounters. If you wanted to take down a big boss in Everquest, you had to compete with the rest of the server for it. If you thought it might be cool to grind on some ogres deep in one of the dungeons in Ultima Online, twenty or thirty people probably had the exact same idea.
With instanced encounters, everyone gets their own personal copy of each dungeon. No longer do we need to fear high-level characters swooping in and killing all the mobs we are grinding on. They are safely tucked away in their own version of the same encounter.
There are disadvantages to the instanced system, as well. There is little chance nowadays of some random Samaritan swooping in to save your skin on an over pull, but overall it seems the benefits of privacy seem to outweigh the negative aspects.
Instanced encounters are here to stay, and we have WoW to thank for it.
Page three has more on how WoW has changed the way we move items between characters and some thoughts on the future of MMOs.
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Mail systems have been around since the dawn of MUDs. It just makes sense, a mail system is a great, easy way for players to send items or money between alts or get an item to a friend who is offline or in some far corner of the game world. Once I graduated to graphical MMOs I always wondered why none of them had adopted this amazingly-simple system.
In Everquest, players would drop items they wished to transfer in some out of the way place and hope that no random passerby picked them up before they could make it back with their alt. In Dark Age of Camelot, players needed the assistance of a trusted friend to transfer items, as dropped items could only be picked up by the character who dropped them.
Players hoping to sell items had to meet potential buyers face to face in a major city or predesignated auction zone. Anyone wishing to deliver an item to a friend or buyer in a far off place had to actually travel there and deliver it in person.
Now, in-game transfers between characters are instantenous and sellers can mail their items to players anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of Dalaran. The mail system is not all item transfers, either. Players can drop a line to a friend they haven't seen in awhile or send a scathing letter to some in-game jerk they've encountered.
The mail system has become such an essential part of the in-game lives of WoW players that I seriously doubt they will wish to play any game without it.
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The overwhelming success of World of Warcraft ensures that its influence will be felt throughout many subsequent generations of MMO games. Game developers would do well to stand up and take notice of its many amazing features.
The only conceivable way a future game will even be able to approach WoW’s subscriber numbers is to find a way to lure current players away. Such a task will not be possible for a game that doesn’t find a way to not only embrace the things WoW does so well, but also to innovate and improve these features in meaningful ways.
In short, they must do to WoW what WoW has done to all that came before. Of course, with Blizzard's constantly-added improvements, that may prove to be quite a monumental task.
A collection of articles on the history of World of Warcraft and how it has both evolved over time and caused other games to evolve as well.