For the longest time, the king of the roost of the MMORPG gaming space has been World of Warcraft. While it has its fair share of haters and detractors, the fact still remains that World of Warcraft is the 800-pound gorilla in the MMORPG room. Any new game would be compared to it. Any new game would be critiqued in light of World of Warcraft. It is that powerful. It is a very established brand. It has a large installed base of millions of people.
With that said, it has attracted quite a bit of criticism over the years. The graphics may seem too cartoonish for some MMORPG players, the storylines, and the overall cohesion of the game. For its part, Blizzard has been cranking out updates to great success. However, many of the criticisms are being leveled against Blizzard and World of Warcraft involves the next update: Mists of Pandaria. Some critics say that this update does not really fit the spirit or the essence of World of Warcraft. Be that as it may, it is already undergoing beta testing and its bugs are being worked out.
Still up in the air is whether this update featuring, of all things, pandas will continue to grow the World of Warcraft franchise or be a massive nail in its coffin. As we have reported earlier, World of Warcraft’s user base has seen some erosion from its peak membership highs several quarters back. The drive to retain and grow its membership is pushing the company to release updates and Mist of Pandaria is the latest of those updates. The open question is that was this the right direction to go? Regardless, Blizzard is already in too deep to turn back. We will know once Mists of Pandaria is officially released if this helps World of Warcraft.
If the past quarters’ subscriber erosions are the little nails on World of Warcraft’s coffin, then the Elder Scrolls online might yet prove to be the hammer. There is a world of difference between the Elder Scrolls series and World of Warcraft. WOW, you have to remember, was built on a lore and game base that is for the most part, a real time strategy (RTS) game. The Warcraft series is an RTS game. They just expanded on it, stripped off some elements and made it an RPG and put it on a massively multiplayer platform.
Despite the massive tweaks, World of Warcraft became very successful. The point is it was not a pure play going in. That is one key element the Elder Scrolls online has going for it. The Elder Scrolls series has always been an RPG. Transforming its lore and its game play to an MMORPG platform will take fewer tweaks and is less of a leap than from Warcraft to World of Warcraft.
Another key strategic advantage it has coming in to the MMORPG game is its art style. Many of RPG players are looking for semi-realistic art styles, and the Elder Scrolls art sensibility is more in line with traditional RPG art styles whereas World of Warcraft has a cartoonish feel to it. The rendering base images have a cartoon or caricature dimension. Putting these two factors together, it would be a shock if the Elder Scrolls online did not manage to snag a large user base, some of it at the expense of World of Warcraft. With all that said, both games face a major crossroad. The MMORPG business model has shifted from a paid subscriber model to a free to play format. This has changed how MMORPGs are approached, marketed and dealt with by players. As we have mentioned in our MMORPG guide, there are advantages and disadvantages for both developers and players regarding free to play. It will definitely be interesting to see how these two games adapt to a fast changing MMORPG business model landscape.