Lots of games have said they’ll dethrone WoW … I think I’ve correctly called on all of them :) I think pundits are making these speculations based on trending in past media, like television, single player games and (not-MMO) multi-player games.
WoW’s advantage is inertia. Moving MMO is more akin to moving house than changing channel. If you’re in a neighborhood where you know people well, have ties, maybe family, a good route to work, etc, etc; most people will find themselves putting off moving house.
The very large userbase means there’s always someone to draw you back at some point, or someone to connect with if you do return.
It’s what tends to tide people over through the rough patches and keep them connected with an MMO, is the neighborhood.
I think some recent changes, such as “Random Dungeon Finder” may have undermined that some, so I think the potential for unseating (but probably not dethroning) WoW is a little more likely now.
WoW wasn’t really “better” than it’s peers when it came out. If you go back and compare, most other games look pretty rough compared to LK these days, but then they haven’t had nearly the ongoing funding or the size of dev team continuing to maintain them.
What super-charged WoW’s success was a very sensible and pragmatic launchpad:
- The House: Blizzard. Huge public awareness in the gaming sector through their various games,
- The IP: Warcraft. Years old with a hand in multiple demographics of gamers,
- The Flirtation: A steady progression from single player to multiplayer games and online gaming services (battle.net) that prepared them for many of the challenges of taking it MMO,
- The Platform: Blizzard aimed low as far as MMOs went, seeking to advance their existing IP and skills into the sector; pre-BC WoW sucked in many ways – as an MMO – but it had a successful platform to build off of that kept people playing (*),
- The Practicality: By aiming to bring their platform forward, Blizzard was able to deliver a large amount of well-QAed content forward,
- The Finance: 1, 2 and 3 gave Blizzard plenty of its own money, but all of the above made it a smart investment and one thing WoW has never wanted for was funding.
(* And since so many of the consumers had never experienced an MMO, they didn’t know what a bum deal they were getting; this is why WoW didn’t kill the other MMOs as pundits were speculating)
SW:TOR can potentially replicate several of these. Bioware + Star Wars + KOTOR — that’s a large initial audience. The great thing about “Old Republic” is that it brings together the two halves of the Star Wars franchise in a way that George Lucas wasn’t able to do (a lot of division in demographics between the original 3 movies and the second 3).
I know from friends at Bioware and Lucas Arts that the development practices are likely to produce a very polished product. We know from Bioware that they are capable of producing some highly saleable storylining.
For me, the unknown quantity is their online experience, maybe Neverwinter Nights is their Diablo… But I don’t think of it as a success on anywhere near the scale of Diablo, and Diablo/Battle.net prepared Blizzard in physical infrastructure terms too.
SW:TOR faces two initial hurdles. a/ The stigma of SWG amongst Star Wars fans, b/ The stigma of Star Wars amongst the sort of “civilian” gamers that WoW has somehow vacuumed in.
SWG was actually populated by lots of people who really didn’t care about Star Wars. Instead, they found niches for themselves in Galaxies (especially crafting types), which kept them going for a long time until their friendships etc took them out into the game at large and they said “WTF?”.
I remember one SWG-friend, Lula Luvlee, who despised all things Star Wars, but loved Galaxies to bits as she tried out a few of the more obscure roles capable in SWG (she started out mostly as a dancer, but moved into interior decoration and other roles). She also dabbled in the larger game but it was a very slow progression as she was simply more interested in having fun.
The first time I went back to SWG before NWE, Lula and her in-game buddy were grinding to get her to Jedi. I seem to remember posting a video of my experience with hundreds of people camping the Jedi mob spawns in a sub-1-fps macro fest to try and get credit and rack up enough points.
It made me incredibly angry to see her being taught that “MMO” mean’t “slot machine with dolls housing”.
The amount of grind that SWG wound up with was just staggering.
If SWG had gone differently, it could easily have been the first WoW-scale MMO. Once the loyal Star Wars fan base was invested, the Word of Mouth would have drawn in people you wouldn’t expect to play on a massive scale rather than as a trickle. WoW is full of non-gamers (those I referred to as “civilian” before) and people who don’t like fantasy games (“but wow isn’t fantasy, is it?”)
So – while I don’t know if SW:TOR can actually usurp WoW, and infact I think probably only Blizzard can do that at this point, I think it will certainly finally meet Blizzard’s call for challengers.