Why Does Every New MMO Have to be a WoW Killer?

I’ve played MMOs a long time. Eleven years, to be precise. I started with Ultima Online in 1998, and I currently inhabit World of Warcraft, though I am honestly not sure for how much longer I will remain there. The only upcoming game to really pique my interest is Star Wars: The Old Republic, but there is doubt in my mind that game will be ready before 2011.

During my days of frequenting Ultima Online forums, every new MMO in development was the one to “kill” UO. Never could a game stand on its own merits and attract a parallel playerbase; it had to take all of the current top game’s subscribers and leave the older game a wasteland of diehard players who refuse jump on the new hotness. In eleven years, this trend hasn’t changed one little bit, nor has any one game spelled the doom for any other, so the perpetuation of this very specific kind of hype is absurd.

What’s funny to me is that SW:TOR is already being hailed by various forum trolls and bloggers as a WoW-killer, and it hasn’t even been a month since the first hands-on alpha was at E3 for very limited audiences. My question is this: Why can WoW and SW:TOR not peacefully coexist? Or more specifically, why can any new game and the ones already released not peacefully coexist? I wonder if online communities must consistently be in a constant state of flux and/or paranoia to function and survive. I see two sides to the game-killer argument: self-loathing and salvation.

On one hand, self-loathing gamers tend to say they pay for games and play them only because there are no better options. They hate (thus the self-loathing factor) that they spend the time and money on the game, constantly bashing it and its developers, and they hope that a new game will come out and completely destroy the currently successful MMO (which they play). They want nothing more for a fantastic game that they might or might not even play, just so long as the current game they’re subscribing to loses money and has to shut its servers down. The irony found in the self-loather is that even though they claim to be advocates of a particular game’s downfall, their detrimental posts are not on the upcoming game’s forums, but plastered all over the community belonging to the game they still play.

On the opposite side of the self-loathers who play a game they cannot stand and only want to see fail, there are those who look forward to the next big MMO as though it were the second coming of Christ. These are the kind of people who are constantly searching for the next big thing to deliver them from the mundane virtual life they find themselves stuck in. They’re generally content playing whatever game is considered the most polished, until the next one that is bigger and better than the last one they subscribed to is slated to come out. Any newly announced, unreleased game obviously has to be better than whatever is already on the market because the hype and PR say so. When the new game is finally released, their Messianic complex is shattered because there is no feasible way the game can live up to the ridiculous expectations those seeking salvation set for it. Their salvation is postponed until the next “next big thing” comes down the internet hypeline.

Warhammer Online was hailed as a WoW-killer by the PvP community for a very long time prior to its release. Instead of World of Warcraft, WoW began to stand for Waiting on Warhammer. When its release finally arrived, the game was good, but not great. It was a fun diversion for a couple of months, but it couldn’t keep my attention or my friends’ or many other people’s. Within three months of release, the game had to merge server populations to maintain playability. It was certainly no WoW-killer. WAR has its own dedicated following at this point who very much enjoy it, but the game itself lacked whatever sublime quality was needed to dethrone World of Warcraft as the top commercial MMO.

I don’t expect SW:TOR to dethrone WoW, either. And the funny thing is, I don’t want it to. I don’t care if the next big thing is bigger and better than what is currently popular. I don’t fall into the self-loather category, nor do I seek salvation from my MMO purgatory. My main concern is that that games I play are fun. If one game has features that make me think that it is more worthy of my time than another MMO, then I’ll switch. If not, then I won’t bother. It being designed to “kill” my MMO of choice doesn’t even enter the equation.

There are always going to be doomsayers crying “the end is nigh!” for any highly popular property. In the end, it doesn’t matter what games come out and which are hailed as “killers.” The new games will do some things better than other games on the market, and other games will keep doing other things better than the newcomers. In either case, both games will have some kind of playerbase and loyal community. Very few MMOs in the history of the genre have actually shut down. Some, like Dungeons & Dragons Online, adopt new marketing strategies like going partially Free2Play to stay afloat, but the point is that they do stay afloat.

People could say that World of Warcraft’s 11 million worldwide subscribers spell doom for other MMOs and that there is no reason to even try with such an elephant in the room, but that would be silly. Most MMOs are going at a solid rate, some tinker with new profit-making strategies, and they all have people playing them. Even MMOs I’ve left for what I consider “better” games (Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online) still have people playing them. That means that the SWG-killers and the UO-killers failed, and only leads me to conclude that the WoW-killers will fail. But they only failed (or will fail) in the respect that they did not wipe the floor with the games already on the market. From a business perspective, the games were successes because they must make a steady profit from the people who play them, otherwise they would be shut down. MMOs are a business, after all.

I don’t care if Star Wars: The Old Republic is hailed as the next WoW-killer. I don’t care if it triples the amount of people who are currently playing WoW. If it’s not fun for me, I’m not going to play it. If it happens to be a better time than WoW (or whatever game has my attention at that point), then I’ll play it. And so will other people. There will be people who prefer WoW for their own reasons, and there will be people who are still playing other MMOs despite SW:TOR’s release who could really not care less about the game because they’ve found their niche. The Old Republic being a hit doesn’t matter. What matters is that we all find the game we want to play and enjoy ourselves.

People are going to play any game that’s released, at least for a while. Some people will leave their games for greener pastures, and some people will stolidly resist change. But in the end, new games will not “kill” old ones. Communities will grow around new games completely independent of the success of other games on the market. So now, can we please move past this “killer” concept and actually enjoy playing a game for a change?