When World of Warcraft established itself in the early years of the new millennium, it caused a sensation the likes of which few titles have ever achieved. While it was not the first MMORPG by any measure – both Everquest and Runescape predated it by a number of years – it was the first to achieve widespread mainstream success.
Much of this came at the hands of its intuitive game-design, ambitious world building, and a case of being in the right place, at the right time. That’s because WoW went on sale right around the time that broadband internet began to roll out, paving the way for online gaming to become more widespread and viable to larger audiences.
So successful was WoW in its early years, that journalists and the public alike came to think of MMORPGs as the be-all-and-end-all of online gaming, in spite of the fact that arena shooters and tac-FPS games like Counter-Strike 1.6 were already beginning to give rise to the early online esports community.
Fast forward to today, and we see a gaming industry completely reoriented around online play – so much so that many ostensibly offline titles can only be played on devices with a live internet connection. All of this raises the question of whether the age of the MMORPG has passed, and if so, what could be thought to have replaced it?
One of the biggest changes to the games industry since the launch of WoW is the arrival of the smartphone and its accompanying app and gaming ecosystem. In fact, today over 50% of all gaming revenues come by way of mobile games and their microtransaction sales.
It can be difficult to speak of mobile gaming as a monolithic category, in much the same way that no two PC games are alike. What’s more, in spite of many of the most popular mobile games today having little to do with MMORPGs, some of the most ambitious titles available today on Android and iOS can be thought of as direct ancestors to the likes of WoW.
Genshin Impact, for example, is widely considered to be the most graphically rich and large mobile game ever. Launched in 2020 on both mobile and PC, this large-scale open world MMORPG is one of the best examples of the survival and flourishing of this classic genre on any platform today.
Early MMORPGs did much to create systems, monetization processes and server technology that underpin diverse online games across a huge range of genres. Nowhere is the extent of games like WoW’s influence more apparent than the world of iGaming.
Games belonging to this genre typically coalesce around digital versions of real-money casino games, with directories springing up furnishing a huge array of welcome bonuses and sign-up offers on the best online casinos in Canada and other large “very online” markets.
While these titles may have little in common with a game like WoW on the surface, they would not enjoy the popularity they do today without getting to benefit from both the technological innovation, and the impact on public opinion of online gaming, that early MMORPGs pioneered.
Free to Play and Esports
If there’s one sector that can be thought of as the greatest beneficiary of the MMORPG, it’s got to be the Free to Play and Esports category. From cutting edge competitive games like League of Legends, to large-scale battle royales that carry the torch for massive multiplayer online experiences, this burgeoning category represents the most popular descendent of the first wave of MMORPG.
While these games are ostensibly more bounded than the likes of World of Warcraft, with their gameplay being consigned to discrete ‘matches’ rather than a persistent world, the player numbers of these titles are truly impressive. For example, Call of Duty: Warzone II can handle a max player count of up to 150 players competing on the same map at a time.
While this sounds like comparably little when one compares it with the thousands of players that can reside on a single WoW server at any one-time, anybody who has tried to lag their way through Orgrimmar on a busy day will know that smooth frame-rates are hardly a guarantee when more than a raid’s worth of players congregate in one place.