The Daily Grind: What if World of Warcraft had never happened?


Yesterday, in the comments of our Daily Grind about nice things we can say about games we don’t like, MOP commenter Squid posted a provocative comment that spawned some fun discussion that I thought would make a good Daily Grind question all to itself.

WoW is probably the only reason this genre still exists,” he wrote (and he meant it as a good thing!).

I’m not entirely sure I agree; I’ve argued that World of Warcraft sucked a lot of the air out of the room in terms of investment and innovation, setting the genre on some pretty narrow rails that busted up the diversity of the MMO field back in those early years.

On the other hand, without WoW, it’s not entirely clear how many other studios would have entered the mad rush to copy WoW. “Would Elder Scrolls ever gone MMO if not for WoW?” Squid mused. “Would Trion exist without WoW?”

What do you think? What would the MMO genre look like in 2018 without WoW? What if World of Warcraft had never happened?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Rolan Storm

Amen, it did. I am with you 100% – WoW did exactly what you said. And it is not the “only reason genre exists”. “Rich, please.” :D By far.

Mr Ish

A few more people would still be alive I’d take a punt at.

On a happy note though, perhaps my beloved DAoC would have a bigger playerbase :p


The genre existed before (and without) WoW. It was showing no signs of “dying” at the launch of WoW. It would have continued to exist without it. Would it have brouight in millions of screaming RTS fans and people who play games for narcissism? Probably not.

WoW lit a fire under the money grubbing executives and investors that wanted to strike it rich under the next “WoW Killer”. The only thing killed was the initial spirit under which the tag MMORPG was born: that of creating an online world that allowed players to be anything from farmer to four star general.

Max Sand

Impossible to say. Would other genre contenders have taken off? OR, would they have not been made in the first place without a proven success in the genre? Many many WoW players that would never be found on sites like MOP would never have touched an mmo at all if not for the IP, the “Blizzard Polish” or the marketing behind WoW, so we can’t say they would never touch an MMO, but we can say WoW was the one they did touch. It doesn’t suggest they all would have piled into another title. You can’t really prove a lost sale in that case. Even if it is the only variable you remove from the equation, there are other factors that are unknown. Some might say it would have lead to their Utopian perfect games flourishing, others will say the genre would never have taken off. It’s hard to tell either camp they are wrong….or right.

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I do wonder whether some games, like Warhammer Online might have been given a bit more time in development if studios around that time weren’t so desperate to have a “WoW Killer” out ASAP whether the game was ready to launch or not…

maydrock .

We would have had to upgrade our computers to play EQ and EQN would still be a thing.

Sally Bowls

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same)

The mysterious, puzzle-laden adventure went on to become the best-selling game title of its era, inspiring a devoted following and multiple sequels. But for all the people who loved Myst, it was disrespected by many in the gaming industry, who found it less engaging than previous adventures and even blamed it for killing of the earlier genre of more action-packed adventuring.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

Honestly, I don’t think much would have changed — just the title of the game that we lay all the sins of the genre on. Without WoW, another company would have made another game – maybe EverQuest, or Funcom, or DAoC would have rocketed into the public psyche and become a cultural phenomenon. WoW was just … first.

The early commercial success of WoW was less a product of being the best, and more a case of happenstance and inevitability. If it wasn’t WoW, it was going to be something else. The only real unique thing that Blizzard brought to the table were a well-known IP, and a well-known developer. The rest of the game was good, but not significantly different than other offers available at the time. WoW was just in the right place, at the right time to become the face of the gaming epoch.

The promise of virtual worlds and playing with people from all over the world was always going to be realized by someone — it become a watershed moment in the evolution of on-line gaming, which up until that point had been mostly relegated to LAN parties or lobby-style match-making. Someone was always going to capitalize on it.

I don’t think the resulting landscape would have been significantly different. We’d still have a ton of copycat games for whatever cultural landmark was the first to hit it big. The market would skew wildly in the direction of whatever the game was as people kept hoping lightning would strike twice (which it never did, and still hasn’t).

The ‘dumbing down’ of the genre (a phrase which quite frankly pisses me off – get off your bloody high horse and realize that a game doesn’t need to make your eyes bleed and make you want to fling your keyboard at the wall to be meaningful)….Ahem, anway. The so-called dumbing down of the genre had almost nothing to do with WoW, as the movement for accessible game-play and gaming going mainstream were already underway in other similar markets (like Mobile, for example). That would have happened any road, and was always the natural outcome of gaming going mainstream. It’s hard to argue that more people playing MMOs could ever be a bad thing.

You can see similar games in other watershed moments for genres–Minecraft wasn’t the first to do what it did, probably wasn’t even the best, but it is still a watershed moment for the survival genre. Or LoL for MOBAs, or Fortnite for BattleRoyales. Every new gaming epoch has it’s own game that embodies that Epoch. A bunch of other games try to out-do that game at being … itself. Then the genre starts to spread out and diversify. The names may change, but the pattern sure doesn’t.

In short, everything would be different, but nothing would have really changed from where we are today. The names would be different, but the same issues would plague us now as then.

Sally Bowls

WoW never existing would still not overly alter the “winner take all” aspect of MMOs.

And spreading out fixed costs and “economy of scale” means larger games have advantages. If you spend $5M on one SuperBowl ad (like Bethesda did) or developing some fraud detection software, then that is $1 per customer for games with 5M customers but $10 for games with .5M.

More importantly, there is network effect. FB with 2B users is worth more than FB & MySpace each having 1B. 70% of your friends playing a single MMO is more valuable than those friends spread over dozens of games.

Raph even argues there is a tendency to smooth out the curves amongst game sizes.

MMO long tails

If WoW never existed, there would probably still be a dominant MMO.

Sally Bowls

As others have said:
tl;dr: the names would be different but the results would be about the same. (I originally wrote “and the games you loved would still be moribund/dead”)

What if McDonald’s (actually Ray Kroc) never existed? It’s not that billions of organic, locally sourced kale salads would have been sold in place of cheeseburgers. Just that the names of the companies selling the billions of cheeseburgers would be different. Even employees as unskilled in business as game designers would have eventually figured out there were more profitable things to sell than 20-minute waits for boat rides.

Blizzard’s gameplay did not change what customers wanted. Customer’s wants are what drove Blizzard’s designs, not vice versa. The consumer preferences would be the same regardless of whether WoW existed are not.

Sally Bowls

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.