To get guilds like that to move, you need to create something so
very attractive – and which offers the same social benefits as WoW –
that the vast majority of the guild are committed to moving. Then those
who are less keen will either quit altogether, or come along as Azeroth
begins to feel terribly empty. If Blizzard continues to put out enough
content to keep everyone occupied and enjoying the game, than even a
significantly superior game won’t be enough to overcome the social
Think of WoW as a local pub, if you like. You can drop in there
whenever you want, and pretty much guarantee finding someone you know
to chat to. Now, a newer, more shiny bar may open down the road, but
the sofa you and your mates normally sit on isn’t there, and the first
couple of times you swing by, there’s no-one you know about. Not much
incentive to switch, even if they are serving better beer, is there? It
will take either a focused decision to switch, or a gentle migration
over time, for the new pub to displace the old one. And the only thing
that’s likely to drive either is dissatisfaction with the current game.
The Mac Factor
And don’t under-estimate the drag factor of the Mac users. WoW is
the only MMoRPG that has been available on both Mac and Windows from
the start and, unlike previous efforts, allows both PC and Mac owners
to play on the same server. Now, Macs may be under 10% of the computers
sold, but when you factor out business sales, they’re a much larger
proportion. So, if, say 20% of your guild is on Macs, you have an
additional drag factor to stop wholesale switching.
A World of World of Warcraft
There’s more to it than just the micro social aspect, though.
There’s clearly a macro social factor, too. The game has such a large
international player base that elements of the game have become a
strong shared cultural vocabulary. The key iconography of the game is
recognisable all over the world, even if some of the names aren’t.
Warhammer, or Star Trek, for all their well-known IPs, come
pre-bundled with loads of baggage. For those who aren’t part of the
existing fanbase, they’re "spotty teenage boy" and "no life geeks"
stereotypes, which will be hard to shake. For those who are fans,
dealing with players not taking beloved settings seriously will be an
problem (I like to call this the DarthPwnsU issue…).
Warcraft is an IP that was designed for a game, and which has only
spread slightly outside that. Few people will be coming to the IP
through the spin-offs rather than the games. It has a strong element of
humour and silliness from the start, that makes the intrustion of lame
player humour all the less jarring.
In other words, people don’t come for the IP – but they stay for it. One of the reasons for the rapid growth of the WoW blogosphere has been that shared, worldwide community who can interact around shared concepts. And
that very blogosphere becomes another reason to stay – it extends out
the in-game social experience to a broader social experience. You can
now interact with other players on forums, blogs, podcasts, conferences
This is How a Game Dies
WoW’s growth was sudden and unexpected. People who were watching the
early days of the game will remember the struggles Blizz had to get
enough servers up, and then the dreadful login queues we used to
encounter. They were so bad on the EU instance of Argent Dawn that my
guild transferred wholesale to Steamwheedle Cartel when the option of a
free transfer came up.
The WoW-killer will not be as sudden a success. It will be a slow build to a tipping point where enough people have moved to provide as rich a social environment as WoW. The game will be one that has as much mainstream appeal as WoW, and one that emphasises a fun environment over gritty game-play detail.
And, right now, there’s a better than average chance that the WoW-killer will come from Blizz itself.
Simply put – this game is now Blizzard’s to lose, because it’ll take
a lot more than a pretty good game to get people to switch social