– Because you know the world has no point…Really
A couple of weeks ago I went to a lecture about innovations. Innovation encompasses many things, but ‘boring’ is certainly not included. Everyone has their own opinion about innovations. What would be yours? Many music-loving teenagers would probably say ‘IPOD!’ followed by ‘IPHONE!’ and FACEBOOK!’ (this group usually talk in exited ways…) while a person like myself would probably say ‘my laptop’ or ‘bowling on the Wii – because now I can actually HIT the bowling pins with the bowling ball’…
So let’s talk about something that’s both popular and overlooked at as an innovation: World of Warcraft – a game whom a lot of gamers worldwird would agree is the best – and most exiting – thing which has happened since Everquest II or Ultima Online. It’s the game which has doomed many a girlfriend to pull out her hair while her boyfriend was occupied in Onyxia’s Lair, Sunwell Plateau or Icecrown Citadel. Since WoW was realeased in late 2004 it has reached a stunning 12 million players, measured in the amount of gaming accounts. As far as MMO’s go, thats gotta be something.
A lot has been said about WoW – even sung – and a lot of people love to hate it (which include a great bunch of lonely girlfriends); a lot aim to make a good profit by it and a lot – about 11-12 millions – love to play it. Why is that so? What could an application made of – basically – the numbers ‘0’ and ‘1’ actually do that entices so many people to spend their time on it?
Ewerett Rogers’ theory “The diffussion of innovations” offers a great way to understand the mass impact of the Warcraft Universe. According to Rogers an innovation must have five advantages or qualities which can determine its succes.
1. Relative advantage: To be adopted, something about the innovation must make it worthwhile to consider. It conveys more status than the alternatives, it’s easier to operate or the price is lower. Looking at World of Warcraft the game has certainly added some value. A lot has been said about MMO’s, but typically the games often lacks either content, game size (aka – the amount of hours you can play before you are through all the quests and reach maximum level) or interface options. Blizzard – which is the developer in charge of World of Warcraft – certainly knows how to beat all the abovementioned things and even outstrecthing them, maximizing the leveling time, content and the usability of the interface. Secondly – even though the date of release was delayed – the content was developed to a reasonable degree which gave the whole game experience an air of being very complete and thought through. And we haven’t even mentioned the very very beautiful scenic experince which is so typical for WoW: Bright, vibrant colours, varied landscape and a very pedagogical approach concerning quests and experience points.
2. Compatibility For an innovation to be succesfull it must fit into already existing arrangements – be they tehcnical, logistical, or whatever. More important: it must fit into cultural norms and traditions. RTS (Real Time Strategy) games like Warcraft I, II and III had been huge successes on the game market so the player base already knew the basics; they knew the background and story of the game and throughout the World of Warcraft game you find artifacts working as “callbacks” to the previous Warcraft games. That way the players would feel “at home” with the new game, already knowing the basic lore-stuff. Blizzard cleverly fitted the new game into the existing culture, norms and traditions even though the gamestyle shifted from RTS-view to 3rd player. (For an explanation, look here)
3. Complexity – According to Rogers the innovation cannot be perceived as too difficult to use or to understand. One thing World of Warcraft has had a huge influence on is the way we think about the Typical Gamer type. The today’s gamer in World of Warcraft consist of all types of people: From single mothers, tough girls and children. Before WoW the ‘geek’ was a boy – usually a teenager – sitting in front of his computerscreen, drinking cola with a skin so white he lit up in the dark. Not to mention his huge glasses and his distaste of vegtables and everything not containing the words ‘Pizza’ and ‘cola’. This view probably has its roots in the earlier games such as Everquest, where one single misstep (like death) meant you would lose all the new equipment and weapons that you had just spent hours sampling or crafting. It required skills and knowledge to play – and a lot of time! The intuitive interface and no-bad-consequence-for-you-approach in WoW meant A: New types of gamers emerged and B: An social-oriented games where there was room for missteps and different learning curves.
4. Ability to be tried – An innovation which can be tested on a limited basis without total commitment is more likely to be accepted, all other aspects being equal. To play WoW you would have to invest a small amount of money in a game at your game store. The game was not more expensive than other games – and the only thing required for playing it is a monthly fee to Blizz’s accounts. Sure – Blizzard laughs all the way to the bank every month if you calculate the size of the money flow from the subscribers’ fee – but you probably don’t care because you are in a battle trying to capture the Horde’s flag or you are going on a raid with 25 other people… All in all, spending time in WoW dont cost you pretty much more than your monthly fee to your telephone company.
5. Obervability. Rogers’ last argument for a succesful innovation to take place is based on its oberservability – aka the consequences of some innovations are readily revealed to others; if the use of it, benefits, drawbacks etc. are easy to grasp, the innovation is more likely to be adopted earlier. Well, if you’ve read the text above you would not even need to ask questions about this point in Rogers’ theory. All I can say about this is: It is obvious why WoW has had such a huge succes. Make the game available to your targetgroup, communicate with your fans and put up a buzz about the beta test. Remember the golden rule – the more exeeded your deadline is, the more buzz you get, as long as you remember to keep ’em happy with new content and most important: well-developed and ‘finished’ content which will make them feel valued and special.
So while we are waiting for Cataclysm lets just save a minute in silence to remember all the good times we’ve had in World of Warcraft… And as I tell my peeps who fails to see the deeper point: ‘Its like playing with your favorite doll – but now your doll can dance and do tricks with the snap of a single key…’