When it comes to games that have endured the test of time, only a few have been successful. Following the release of the first ever MMOs back in 1996, games like RuneScape, Halo and Call of Duty have managed to stick around since the early 2000s, and remain some of the most popular games in the world today.
In particular, a game that has managed to stand the test of time is World of Warcraft – released way back in 2004, the game has managed to maintain its place within the gaming world, and in 2021 is still in the top games in the world (based on active players) – some even call it the most successful game ever made. At its peak, it had 12 million concurrent subscribers.
Yes, other games might have more coverage in the esports world. Looking at certain countries, esports earnings in Australia (and esports earnings worldwide) are at all time highs across fast paced competitive games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2. However, World of Warcraft continues to be one of the most popular choices for streamers and gamers more broadly.
Here is how World of Warcraft has maintained its popularity over the years.
Appeal to New Players and Non Gamers
First and foremost, one of the reasons as to why World of Warcraft has managed to stick around for so long is thanks to design that appeals to both new players and non gamers. WoW developers have managed to consider everything from how easy it is to get stuck into the game, to the unbelievable amount of content that gives gamers a reason to keep coming back.
From the very beginning, new players will go through a brief and entertaining tutorial – from here, they dive straight into questing and leveling their character, where NPC dialogue ensures players know exactly what to do while also contributing to the immersive World of Warcraft experience.
An intriguing aspect of how World of Warcraft manages to keep such a wide audience happy is in how the game has been designed with both a low skill floor and a high skill ceiling. While experienced players are able to continue to progress and perfect their skills in arenas and heroic raids, new players are able to go through a guided, flexible leveling process, and can even get into some PvP as well, matched to other players of the same level
When you also consider that new players get a 20 level trial and don’t have to commit to high one time pricing (thanks to subscription based pricing), it is clear that World of Warcraft appeals to new players as well as old ones.
Game Design for the Players
Next, World of Warcraft developers have done an amazingly consistent job of designing the game in a way that focuses on the players, and is constantly updated to maintain that focus.
Consider the vast amount of options and ways to play – World of Warcraft has been designed so that gamers can play on their own, with friends, or even with strangers – whether they want to quest, work on their skills or get into some PvP. Players are able to choose between leveling up, getting better gear, working on their play style, building relationships with guilds, and focusing on their in-game money making skills.
While this playability is one thing, World of Warcraft developers have ensured that this appeal has remained through constant updates and expansions – so far, 7 expansions have been implemented in an ever changing and growing game world. A great example of this is the 2019 re-release of World of Warcraft Classic – the very first version of the game. This was of extremely high demand amongst the World of Warcraft fanbase, and the lead up to its release saw players boasting time off work and posting about their gaming preparations. As a result, old players got to experience nostalgia and revisit their previous gaming hobby, while new players were able to experience World of Warcraft as it originally was.
Immersive World Building
Finally, World of Warcraft can attribute much of its success to its world building. As one of the most immersive and extensive online worlds ever made, World of Warcraft has an unbelievably huge map, complete with a number of races, cultures and classes. You’ll be able to make many trips by foot, but longer distances will require you to catch a flight, and others even require a longer boat ride.
The sheer size of the in-game world isn’t the only thing that makes World of Warcraft immersive – you’ll come across hundreds (if not thousands) of creatures and characters throughout the world, and a ridiculous number of them have their own backstory and place within the overall storyline. The depth of the game’s lore means that players can learn about the history of the game world, how characters are related and the meaning behind what they are doing. This is even supported with cinematic experiences and extensive supportive content – and while it didn’t contribute to game lore, World of Warcraft even once collaborated with the TV show South Park in an Emmy winning episode.
A Strong Community
In addition to the NPCs and in-game environment, another factor that contributes to the immersion of the game is the community. World of Warcraft encourages teamwork and community building all the time, in quests, dungeons and raids where you can work with familiar and unfamiliar players, and in PvP as well. Other community features, like parties and guilds, mean that players can become part of their own in-game family, and can level and progress alongside each other. As a result, new players are able to play alongside those that are more experienced. Not to mention, World of Warcraft even has a fully functioning in-game economy and market place.