My roommate loves video games. He owns a PC and a PS4 and plays a wide variety of games. When a new game gets revealed that he is interested in he gets excited and counts down the days until it comes out. He tells me that he used to play World of Warcraft with his then-girlfriend. He says they used to run around the world doing quests together as they approach the max level. They never got to the highest level, but he insists he enjoyed the game.
I started playing MMOs with Guild Wars. I didn’t have a credit card so WoW wasn’t an option, but I played a lot of Guild Wars. When I finally started playing WoW I understood MMOs very well. I thought that leveling would be a quick and painless process and I would join my friends for endgame content. Boy was I wrong; what followed would be a slow painful tutorial of eighty levels, but it was that: a tutorial. WoW is viewed in two different ways. For the casual gamer the whole game is an experience full of cool new things to see, enemies to beat, and friends to make. To this player your achievements are only limited by your time. The hardcore gamer views it as a tutorial-slash-entry barrier at the beginning; then, when you reach the max level, you can actually start playing the game. This player will tell you that some people no matter how much they play WoW are still bad. When I finally started raiding with my friends I knew that this was one of the most rewarding experiences in video games I would ever have.
Moments are important. They are the stories you remember and talk about with your friends later. When we were raiding in the previous patch my guild (many of which I call my friends in and out of WoW) were stuck on one particular boss for a couple of weeks. I play a healer and this fight was very healing-intensive. When we finally killed that damned hydra after not progressing for many nights, I cheered into the Skype call and leaned back in my chair in relief with a huge smile on my face. Never before had I felt like I’d accomplished something in a video game as I did in that moment. WoW may have been founded on wonder and discovery, but it was made profitable by dedication and tenacity. The expansions were not made to attract new players they were made to keep old players interested or at least bring them back. There’s a reason that World of Warcraft has always been the most popular MMO: they gave hardcore gamers an actual game to play after the longest tutorial in gaming history. Not to mention that the endgame content, both PvP and PvE, were extremely deep and rewarding. It was a game that we could really sink our teeth into.
So then why are they dying and why have they been replaced by MOBAs? For starters, it’s just been a long time and with no game successfully redefining the genre it has become slightly stale. WoW did it so right the first time, whenever a newcomer would come and add something new and great to the genre Blizzard had no problem adding it to their game and usually making it better. In the presence of an unregulated monopoly alternatives are certain to eventually arise. With nobody else capable of making an MMO good enough to usurp WoW even though all the old players have had a decade’s worth of killing Deathwing, Illidan, the Lich King, Deathwing again, some evil panda spirits, and time travelling orcs, something new was destined to become king even if it didn’t come from the same genre. As to why MOBAs, well, that’s not so hard. Many are entirely free to play, removing the initial hurdle for even trying a game. They are team-based, which means they are inherently social and allow you to play with your friends, one of the original draws of MMOs. They are good for casual gamers (as long as the matchmaking system is working well) because it allows them to play a game at their skill level for mostly fun. On the other hand, MOBAs also have an incredible amount of depth. The Dota 2 rabbit hole is incredibly deep, easily keeping the attention of hardcore gamers trying to flex their skills against appropriately skilled opponents.
It’s not that WoW is bad, its just getting old. Like your 1991 Ford Taurus, it still runs alright and gets you from Point A to Point B. We just want something newer. MOBAs have managed to grab everyone’s attention. They’re free and easy to get into, and are still complex and engaging. For the first time casual and hardcore gamers are both seeing the game the same way. I play Dota the same way you play Dota, I just do it much better than you.
Tyler Morse is a Contributing Editor for aybonline.com.