World Of Warcraft: Why Are Gamers Still Playing?

Adam Barnes


World Of Warcraft is nine years old, and yet still millions of players still sign in every day to play it. Why?

Published on Apr 4, 2013

Think of any game you’ve played recently – any – and ask yourself if you’ll still be playing it nine years down the line. Chances are the answer will always be no; why would you want to play the same game for nine years, after all?

World Of Warcraft released in 2004 – nearly a decade ago – and yet still people are playing it. Numerous MMOs have since risen to take on Blizzard and failed, either resorting to free-to-play or closing down entirely.

It’s rare for any game to appeal to such a large group of gamers for such an extended amount of time, but WoW has. WoW does.

But why? What is so special about Blizzard’s MMO that has kept gamers hooked all these years? We ask a group of regular WoW players to find out exactly why World Of Warcraft has such unprecedented longevity.

Why Do Gamers Still Play WoW?

"It's constantly innovating and breaking down content,” says Rhea Monique (Ashelia), site director at hugely important World Of Warcraft website Wowhead.

Whether it’s “taking from other games, thinking of new features, or simply just adding tons of new content,” Rhea believes Blizzard knows how to adapt its MMO.

Regular content has always been important to MMOs, but where most struggle just to stay afloat, the heavy number of subscribers gives Blizzard a little extra room to provide its fans with the content it deserves.

But surely that can’t be it?

“I think the fact that it hasn't seemed to have aged,” says Allan Shepherd (Lopsidedbee), “the regular graphics updates and graphics style have given it a longevity that I don't think anyone anticipated.

"At a time when SWTOR is beginning to look a little aged, and LOTRO looks positively ancient it's amazing that it still feels so fresh.”

But Jennifer Allen (Naiki) thinks it’s about the compulsive nature of its questing system: “It's simple to play and very cathartic. I treat it as a form of comfort gaming, really. I tend to mostly play when I'm tired, ill or just in need of escaping from life for a bit.

"I know much of the world like the back of my hand now so I can "switch off" as I play. It's very easy to level up too, so I enjoy the instant gratification and feeling that I've achieved something in a short time."

That’s perhaps the most important point here: WoW’s gamers know its world, they know its characters, its towns, its lore, its enemies, its… well, everything.

There’s something to be said for a game that is just comfortable. Like slipping on a pair of slippers and settling down to watch your soaps, there’s a warming nature to existing within the World Of Warcraft.

Part of that is thanks to the visual design of WoW, but there’s something soothing about recognition. It’s the reason Call Of Duty fans buy every year’s iteration, or Grand Theft Auto fans can’t get enough of the open world crime game. Familiarity feels safe.

“You also cannot take away the importance of the emotional investiture people make in a game,” says Alexander Barahona (Warspite). “A decade is a long time to play a game and build a character and it’s very hard to put it out to pasture.

True enough. If you’ve spent years playing as ‘Hordeslayer’, you’re going to care much more about their adventures than any character created for a triple-A blockbuster. That digital avatar becomes a ‘him’, a ‘she’ or a ‘they’.

So it’s the stories you tell, then: Like when you fought your friend over a rare mount, the evening your undead rogue ganked Alliance for fun in Stranglethorn Vale or the time you sold a level 35 rare axe to a twink for 1000G.

“I loved getting server first Feat of Strengths back in Wrath of the Lich King,” proudly claims Rhea Monique, “and I think in general Blizzard has done a good job of rewarding players for their involvement in PvE with achievements."

Is WoW Getting Easier?

At the height of its number of subscriptions, World Of Warcraft was a game heavy on strategy. The balancing of gear and tactics was important to any raid or PvP match, but as the years have gone on it begins to feel easier.

Accessibility is an important part of any MMO, but many gamers have criticised the simplicity of some of the changes that have been implemented over the years – even going so far for some to even cancel their subscription altogether.

But what about those that have stuck around? Is the game easier and, if so, has it made WoW worse?

For Ian Burnip (Toneeiommi), who has only been playing World Of Warcraft since Cataclysm, the simplicity of the mechanics have helped him to get into the overwhelming MMO.

“It's good for me,” he tells us, “because it allowed me to get on top of what I was doing quickly. I know two 'vanilla' players personally. One still plays and likes how much easier it is now. The other doesn't.

“I can see why the original community might be alienated,” Ian adds, “as the things they struggled to do are easier, but the new players might not have stuck around if it was harder.”

Those WoW gamers who have stuck around since its launch, however, aren’t all pleased with Blizzard’s approach to streamlining content. Meshell Brown (Llehsem) is in two minds on the matter, lamenting the now-easy dungeons but appreciating the wider-appeal the game now has to gamers.

“The dungeons in the newest expansion are a walk in the park compared to some of the old ones. Although I realise this was done because of the negative reaction the harder dungeons got I still feel it was a bit of a cop out.”

Rhea Monique is only happy for WoW to become simpler, however: “I was a hardcore raider back in the day and in the top US guild. It was extremely hard. I devoted dozens of hours each week to the lifestyle. 

“I remember at first I was really sad as World of Warcraft became easier, but I quickly realised it had to if it wanted to remain popular.”

As WoW’s gamers grew up, however, its free time decreased. Rhea admits, telling us that “spending thirty hours a week in the depths of Naxxramas simply wasn’t feasible”.

Is It The Endgame That Keeps WoW Gamers Hooked?

If you’ve been playing WoW for years you’ve almost certainly dabbled in endgame content. Whether it’s raiding, gear grinding, PvP or painfully ticking off reputation dailies, there’s something out there for everyone to stick around long after reaching max level.

“I've been all over the place with this,” says Rhea. “PvE (raiding) always spoke to me, but PvP has been a big part of my involvement as well. For me it was always about Achievements.

“Nowadays the rewards are expanded. There's virtually something for everyone to grind out. From challenge mode rewards to battle pets, you can really tackle any aspect of the game and make your mark known.”

Alexander Barahona also dabbles in both PvE and PvP endgame, but admits to finding himself “to be well behind the curve” after not playing for a while.

“I appreciate that’s on me and I don’t begrudge it,” says Alexander, “in fact it’s nice to find an environment where it’s not spoon fed to you (even if gear is rather easy to come by)."

Jennifer Allen opts out of most endgame content, though: “When I started out, I did a fair bit of raiding and enjoyed it but I don't really have the time or enthusiasm to commit to an evening's raiding.

“I do miss the gear grinding,” she adds, “and the sense of camaraderie. As a level 90, I spend my time exploring for the sake of it and collecting Achievements or mastering professions. It suits me.”

Achievements are a big part of endgame for Meshell Brown, too, while Allan Shepherd and Ian Burnip both prefer gear-grinding in raids for “awesome looking stuff to transmogrify”.

The Secret To WoW’s Longevity

Despite all of this, however, there seems to be one truth that most WoW gamers appreciate – the social aspect of the game.

“It's everything to me,” says Allan Shepherd. “Four years ago, when I joined that first gaming guild I was a little anxious as to the prospect of talking to strangers online.”

But now Allan find he’s chatting to his guild-mates more than some of his family members, “I got married 18 months ago, and when I came to think about who I'd be inviting, there was no doubt that I wanted to invite the guys I spend 15 hours a week hanging out with.”

Meshell Brown believes the social aspect of WoW is why the game is so important. “I LOVE the social element of WoW,” she says. “Although I have tried many [MMOs] I always come back to WoW and I think that the fact that my friends play is a big part of that. All the people I have met through my guild in Warcraft I now also see on a social basis.”

It’s the “main reason” that Ian Burnip plays WoW over other MMOs, in fact: “When my friends have breaks or are on it less, I find I am too. I've only played brief bits of other MMOs, but the social side of WoW seems better - at least on my server. Everyone is fun, and there's a lot of "we're all in this together" type spirit.”

But how is World Of Warcraft’s social side any different – or better, even – than any other MMO?

“I think guilds in WoW are by far one of the more social elements,” claims Rhea Monique. “The only other game I can think of that really was social for me was Asheron's Call and EverQuest back in the day.”

Rhea adds that “the sheer volume of players in World of Warcraft easily makes it a lot more social.

“Plus Blizzard has been constantly trying to make it more social: features such as cross realm zones, LFR, and more let you meet a wider group of players and network with people off your server.”

It seems this is the reason so many play World Of Warcraft, then. It’s like the choice between Call Of Duty or Battlefield, you’ll invariably pick the one that most of your friends play.

Is World Of Warcraft Still Worth A Subscription Fee?

When the rest of the world seems to be adopting free-to-play as a viable alternative to MMOs, Blizzard has remained stoic in its insistence on charging for access to the game, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

According to our diehard WoW gamers, that’s not necessary. Blizzard proves its MMO is more than worthy of the monthly fee, whether it’s the constant content updates, regular patches or friendly, helpful (and quick) GMs.

In the face of free-to-play MMOs, World Of Warcraft has earned its fans’ devotion.

“When a game is free to download and free to play,” says Allan Shepherd, “you tend to get a lot of trolls, a lot of goldsellers, and a lack of commitment.”

Jennifer Allen agrees, stating that though she’d rather it was a little cheaper WoW “still offers better content than the free to play MMOs.”

Alexander Barahona finds free-to-play “nauseating”, and would “I would rather [WoW] stayed subscription and you had to earn titles, mounts, toys etc.”

Each and everyone prefer WoW’s subscription strategy over any other free-to-play alternative.

Simply put, World Of Warcraft might well be nine years old, yet it’s anything but old.

Sure it might be an entirely different beast from when it first began, but it still has millions of gamers keen on diving into Azeroth at every opportunity.

Whether it’s for future raids, PvP combat or simply gaming with friends – WoW still has it all and it looks like that’s going to continue for a very long time.



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