World of Warcraft big in Europe

Over the weekend I learned of Gamma Fodder’s wholesale plunge into World of Warcraft. Though I was basically labelled as the dealer of some hyper addictive drug, I can’t blame him for wanting to try it out.

Interest in this game doesn’t seem to be letting up: the European launch press release cites sales of 280,000 copies last Friday, with 380,000 by the end of the first weekend. Not suprisingly, the official site for WoW Europe warned of choppy seas ahead, as the account creation site was out of order like the North American release, with players experiencing wait times just to be able to get into the game. I find it a bit concerning that Blizzard’s European team was not able to foresee this kind of response with so much evidence to support the tidal wave of new users that would hit its servers at launch. Though things appear to have settled down it doesn’t negate the fact that they were once again unprepared.

I’m not sure if this is a global sales tactic by Blizzard, where they firmly establish that their product is unplayable so that new users are deterred, but it’s not working. People flock to this game with blinders on, eager to drink the sweet, sweet nectar of an MMORPG that is actually fun to play. I fully acknowledge this as indisputable; World of Warcraft injected into every MMORPG fan’s mainline exactly what they were looking for – when they can play it. Though when gamers continue to line up for the high-population servers only to have to wait or trudge through a lag-crippled session, it calls into question the reasoning of the gamers themselves.

Due to its level of accessibility and favourable conditions for short game sessions, I plan on getting into World of Warcraft eventually. However at this time I’m finding it more beneficial to observe this growing community from the outside. It seems to me that the game still revolves around a discrete model of “Player vs. Everything”, where inter-player communication and cooperation is almost unnecessary. As it stands, World of Warcraft could operate interchangably as a locally-run game. To me, the Battlegrounds are simply something they’ve been dangling in front of players to convince them that they’ve made the right decision. These are tactics SOE used when Star Wars Galaxies first launched. The Galactic Civil War was going to change the way people played the game, making Galaxies a true representation of the war-torn universe shown in the films. Though this never happened, and instead the development team pushed out a space expansion while they tried to alleviate the more important class balancing and changes to the combat system, because that’s what the players wanted.

After just over two months, it’s impossible to predict how World of Warcraft will weather the test of time. I know first hand there is plenty of material in the game to keep players busy, but there are only so many quests you can throw at a player before they start realizing that what they do has little effect on their surroundings. Indeed, waiting while a quest “boss” respawns is enough to remove me from a game world that hinges solely on a player’s desire for more experience. Those that have fallen in with guilds have had better experiences in community building, but is the game world deep enough to secure long term interest? For the sake of the players, I’d like to see Blizzard use World of Warcraft’s success to build something worthy of its name and not simply rely on its short-term addictive qualities. It’s obvious Blizzard can get players to jump in. The real test will be to see if they stay there.