First up is the "It's Not WoW" syndrome. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons that games that try to break away from the design of Warcraft tend to have a high degree of failure. The concept behind this is quite simple: A Warcraft player drops away from WoW to seek a new title to play, picks up the game, and then immediately drops it when it presents a foreign game design that make take some work to understand. They don't want to learn something new, they just want to do what they've always done.
WoW changed how people play MMOs, and it's done it so well that everyone thinks that all of our games should do something similar. We cry out for innovation, yet when something truly innovative is brought to the genre, like The Chronicles of Spellborn's combat for example, no one plays it. The game fails and people begin to think innovation is useless. People just don't want to deal with having to learn something new, which leads us to developers doing:
It's too much like WoW!
In an attempt to garner the attention of World of Warcraft fans, developers choose to follow in the design footsteps of Warcraft. Aion did it, Warhammer Online did it, Age of Conan did it, Lord of the Rings did it, etc, etc. We try to keep things the same so they're easily understandable and accessible for anyone who's even touched Warcraft for two seconds.
Yet, after playing these titles, things begin to muddle together and feel the same. Even the most unique setting begins to feel like a rehash of, unsurprisingly, Warcraft. It's at that point that gamers looking for something different drop out of the game, simply because they left Warcraft to get away from Warcraft, not play it in a brand new form with a different setting. Plus, they begin to whine and call the game a "WoW-ripoff." Even I'm guilty of doing that.
The Million Subscriber Success
Thirdly, related to the two problems above, people seem to hold this stupid notion that a game is only worth playing if it has a stupidly high number of players. Even worse, some game companies are expecting to get millions of subscribers instead of playing it safe and shooting for a moderate amount of players. It's no secret that Electronic Arts was unhappy with Warhammer Online's 300,000 subscribers. Oh teh noes! Only 300k!
We all know people who attempt to fire on a game for "only having X number of players." That's like trying to say that "X game must suck because it only sold 300,000 copies." Does that mean games like Psychonauts or Beyond Good and Evil are not fun titles because they didn't sell well? (Reality check, these two games are amazing and should have been played.)
We're chasing success and trying to replicate Warcraft, when that is the exact opposite of what we should as an industry be trying to do. You can't beat Warcraft at it's own system -- how many times do we all have to say it?
Follow in Warcraft's philosophy, not it's design
Here's the bottom line: We don't have to (and we shouldn't) be mired by the existence of Warcraft. This is, however, a two-fold process that would require sweeping change in both how we as players approach games and how the industry produces them. In short, it means that it's never going to happen.
On the development side, follow the design tenants of Warcraft -- and I don't mean the physical design. Warcraft shot for quality in gameplay, user accessibility, and careful refinement of the moments players loved to play. If more games would do that instead of simply attempting to copy the formula, we'd get something different and innovative while still being familiar and easy to play. It's that double-edged sword that made Warcraft the success it is today, and it's that type of thinking that can move the industry forward to new things.
On the player side, we need to give things a chance. Sometimes we shut them down so quickly because they're not amazing at launch or because they don't play like Warcraft. Perhaps taking a look at how people group is worth considering, or looking into how we tell stories, or how we shrug off the leveling and focus on the endgame. We shouldn't shut those ideas out because they're contrary to our current beliefs -- rather we should give them the chance.
And... lastly... just because a game doesn't have millions of subscribers doesn't make it an un-fun game. Go out, explore, you might find some fun.
Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who really wants to move onwards and upwards. When she's not writing here for Massively, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an e-mail at seraphina AT massively DOT com. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.