There is a constant low hum going on in the gaming media and the MMO blog community about World of Warcraft and how a given past/present/future competitor stacks up.
The most common list of comparisons are the bullet points from Rob Pardo’s keynote at AGC last year. Passion. Polish. Scope. Accessibility.
All of those are key items, and I have no doubt that they have played into the success of the game.
But do you know the real, number one reason that World of Warcraft is the top dog in the MMO market?
It is because Blizzard is a successful software game company with a track record of very good, hugely successful games under their belt.
Before WoW was holding that #1 sales spot most weeks of the year, Warcraft III and its expansion were up there. And before that, Diablo II and its expansion. And before that there was StarCraft, StarCraft Brood War, and Diablo.
The combined sales of these games, the games that have set the community expectation for Blizzard products, are huge. Blizzard is a winning team. The record says that buying a game from Bilzzard is a safe bet for a fun product. A lot of people will buy whatever they ship just because it has their name on the box.
Compare this to SOE and EverQuest II. The captive audience for EQ2, the people who will buy an SOE game merely because of their reputation is relatively minuscule compared to Blizzard’s core of players. The total number of accounts created for EverQuest was quoted by Brad McQuaid as being around 2 million. That would have to be the primary pool from which to draw for a sequel. Star Wars Galaxies was also a potential source, though to a much lesser degree I would imagine, both because of the genre change and because of the level of dissatisfaction in the user base.
Given this comparison, it isn’t much of a leap to think that EQ2 really never had a chance of matching WoW in subscribers no matter how polished the game was. The user base that was willing… that is willing… to invest in an SOE game is just not big enough.
So the next time somebody poses the question about whether a given game is a potential “WoW Beater,” look at the track record of the company in question. Do they consistently make high quality, best selling games?
I don’t think anybody has a track record quite like Blizzard’s, but does anybody come close? Who else has a large and dedicated following?