Without jumping the gun too much here, I feel that it’s past time we just come out and say it: 2011 is the unofficial end of the WoW era.
Not to say that the game isn’t still rabidly popular, influential or significant, but more and more I’m getting that the general consensus is that it’s ceased to dominate as it once did. This is not me engaging in some bitter schadenfreude as an ex-player or saying anything as foolhearty as “this game is dying,” but simply putting on virtual paper what I’ve been thinking for some time now.
It’s hard to argue that WoW is riding strong right now, as whatever excitement from Cataclysm has long since worn out, the content updates continue to be developed at a snail’s pace, hundreds of thousands of players have exited the game, and other strong contenders — both current and upcoming — merit more headlines than Blizzard’s golden goose.
If I may indulge in a bit of reading between the lines, one can see Blizzard realizing that it no longer leads the pack but is merely one of the pack — and it’s going to have to adapt and innovate faster to stay relevant instead of expecting everyone to follow in its wake like lackeys. Other companies are no longer dropping WoW’s name in every second sentence as they once did, but instead are looking elsewhere for ideas to emulate and nurture.
And hey, it had to happen sooner or later. It’s honestly amazing that World of Warcraft came to define the better part of an entire decade of gaming the way it has, and that’s to its credit. But there’s also the sense that gamers and developers alike have grown tired of always having WoW hovering over their heads as if this was the be-all, end-all of the industry, which led to a fervent desire to move on and get out of its shadow. Plus, there’s always the backlash against whatever people see as “too” popular and untouchable, which is human nature that goes well beyond this genre.
Yes, this is a subjective position, but it’s made after a long period of observations in the industry, and I feel comfortable saying it. And you know what? This could be the best thing in the world for Blizzard right now. In my opinion, the company needed to be jolted out of complacency and simply try harder. It needed to see other MMOs as competition once again instead of pesky bi-planes that it could swat down as it hung off the Empire State Building. And most of all, it needed to stop taking its customers for granted but instead cherish them, listen to them, and work to provide for their desires.
Just because the WoW era might be over doesn’t mean WoW is, and even after this next year’s worth of releases, it’ll still be alive and strong. I just hope that as it rejoins the MMO crowd, WoW will forgo an ego about its former position and embrace a new, smarter attitude. I think we could see great things if it did.