One wonders how long World of Warcraft will remain viable. It is quite possible that my warlock will still be going strong decades down the line. Of one thing, however, I am certain: I will be playing some sort of MMORPG for as long as I'm able to tweak my spec. But will that game be WoW?
My friends and I muse about what it would take to switch to another game. That game would have to build upon WoW's legacy and offer something new and amazing to boot. Speaking of boots, I'd wager my Prelate's Snowshoes that the new game will be some incarnation of WoW itself, as Blizzard has proven so willing and able to adapt and grow with its fan base.
What makes WoW so popular and enduring? For starters, the game is so accommodating, with plenty to offer noobs and leets alike. Players can feel a sense of accomplishment from merely questing, while others can savor the challenge of working through multiple levels of high-end raid content. I can feel the delight of one-shotting a low-health rogue sneaking around the lumber mill or experience the soul-destroying chaos of getting quickly roasted in arena. And those of us with creaking, overworked CPUs are able to take part in the fun.
The power of people and players
WoW's most powerful legacy is its community. Imagine all of the man-hours spent creating the artwork, addons, comics, machinima, websites and endless forum posts (BTW, I think I figured out an awesome new demo spec). In my humble opinion, the most exciting part of the whole experience is the out-of-game time spent researching, theorycrafting and just plain daydreaming about the game. It is an imagination engine, a fantasy facilitator (an alternate existence?). Blizzard actively encourages this community by shaking things up on a regular basis -- rebalancing the classes, adding new content, giving and taking away. And we are allowed to create our own programs that enhance the experience, which gives us a glimpse into the future of MMOs: user-created content.
The web at large has been moving in the direction of user-created content for years. Why should online games be any different? My son plays a game called Roblox that allows the users to create their own environments in which other players may participate. Seemingly very simple, some of the user-created game spaces are devilishly complex and interesting. Ratchet this up to a Blizzard-like level of complexity and creativity, and we have the future! Imagine the possibilities ...
The player-created dungeons, battlegrounds, grottoes, panopticons and so on might be too difficult for some, too easy for others, downright boring or wondrous. The WoW community would guide us to the best of the lot, which we know would end up being mind-blowingly ingenious. For all the greatness of the Blizzard designers, there is some misfit out there willing to "waste" countless hours to design a delight to knock your socks off. Perhaps Blizzard could get out of the design business altogether and simply be in charge of the uber-rules and basic design pieces.
Nothing is as creative as the collective overmind of those who wish to build for the love of it. This, my fellow fantasists, is where we are bound.
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