/played. 95 days, 15 hours, 24 minutes, 16 seconds and counting. That’s over a quarter of a year spent on World of Warcraft, and that’s just one character. In comparison to many other WoW players out there this probably seems mild, so what is it that makes this MMORPG so addictive?
Having played on and off since Vanilla (original game in 2004), I’ve recently returned from a two year break despite claiming I’d never go back (sound familiar?). Being a big MMO fan, I have tried many other games in this genre;Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes, DnD Online, DC Universe, the list goes on and on. The problem is, none of them captured me like WoW did, even ones I started out really enjoying, I played for a couple of months and then quit, feeling jaded and dissatisfied. Inevitably I always end up back where I started; with Emsey on World of Warcraft.
This experience got me to thinking, what sets this game apart from the others? Why are people constantly coming back? I decided to do some investigation and spoke to a number of WoW players, both ex and current to get their opinions and personal experiences.
One of the first people I spoke to, Sarah Dyer, had a similar story to mine. Having tried games like Rift and Age of Conan, she got bored after a few levels and just kept thinking back to World of Warcraft which she has played intermittently for around five years. Sarah pointed out that, in comparison to other games, WoW has a relatively gentle learning curve. The simplicity of the game allows players to jump in appreciate the beautiful environment and fantastic story and characters. She goes on to say that, due to spending so much time in Azeroth, she has “learnt so much about the game that [she] feel[s] at home there”, it’s familiar.
Certainly many of the players I spoke to felt the same way as Sarah; Neil “Wedge” Hetherington, also mentioned about the “pick up and play nature of the game”, something that is just a breeze to get into, no frustrating initial gameplay.
So is it just the laid-back approach to WoW that makes it so unforgettable? Definitely at first, but of course that is more of an aid to sinking into the game to begin with. What I find really interesting is why people who have left “for good” just keep coming back.
Martyn Elwell, who has enjoyed Azeroth since practically day one has played sporadically since, but the one thing, or rather person that kept calling him back was his warlock, Taloc. “I missed my warlock!”, he said and went on to explain that he spent a great deal of time building, forging and levelling, not just Taloc, but his other characters and he was eager to see how they would progress or change on the release of a new expansion or content patch.
This attachment to characters seems to be a common theme as other players spoke about the emotional investment that goes into levelling them, and a lot of people said that they missed playing their paladins, druids etc.
It’s not just the avatars that people miss though, the players become a huge part of your life too. I met my best friend through World of Warcraft, and even relocated cities so that we could live nearer to one another. Guilds are an incredible thing, much like a family, they bicker and help each other out, have a blast and overcome the hardest of battles together.
The beautiful thing about your relationship with your guildies, is that they are formed rather unusually. In real life, you meet someone and instantly, (subconsciously or not so much) make judgements based on their appearance. Even on social media, we base opinions on people’s pictures and “About” section. In World of Warcraft the people you meet are from around the world, and are not restricted to just people you meet in whatever city/town you happen to live in.
Another lady I spoke to, Lydia Morris, puts it beautifully: “You become close to them in a way quite unlike that of your relationship with your [real life] buddies... Maybe because you've come to know them in a fairly unadulterated fashion - you have something significant in common, you complete tasks with each other's help and you're not influenced by the way they look, their job or their friends (or not quite so much, anyway) - and I have certainly felt less judged by those I've come to care about in WoW.”
It’s true that you can be anyone in World of Warcraft, but more importantly, you can be yourself. Babbling for hours after the raid finished on Ventrilo, or wardrobing different chest-pieces in guild chat, to get opinions on which suits your character best, there’s no worrying about what people think, you don’t have to get out of your pajamas, or put makeup on, because you know as soon as you login there will be your faithful guildies, happy to greet you, regardless of what you wear or look like.
Of course this can be a drawback too, as Ian Plumpton told me. He has gone back in the past, “for the social element”, but now that they are no longer playing, he has left once again, “for good this time”. So the social side of things can either draw you back in, or keep you away, depending on what your situation is.
Some come back anyway, knowing that none of their old friends, or very few are still playing, and it can be quite hard. Chris White, who has recently come back says he misses “the family feeling that the guilds had” and now finds himself “craving the conversation and the social interaction”.
So it’s obvious that the relationships, and social side of World of Warcraft seem to be a big part, if the not the main part of what people love about the game, but because of the ever-changing nature of the player-base, it can’t be that alone that brings people back, or even sets it apart from other MMOs.
There was still something missing, something important that I couldn’t put my finger on, so I decided to talk to someone who had played WoW, but not gone back to it. Harrie Bailey played World of Warcraft in the past, but “wasn’t in a guild because [she] only played for a short time” and because of this there was never really any pull to go back, finding enjoyment in other games.
I also spoke to Daniel Bain who plays to be able to keep in contact with a real life friend: “The main reason I play is because it’s the best way for me and my good friend Izzyknight, to hang out as he lives half way up the country. Of course there are a lot of social websites and free MMOs to play that we could do this, but we have been playing [WoW] together for a long time, building a guild together, trying to complete end of game patches.”
Something in both of these conversations really stood out for me. Time. The reason Dan still plays WoW and not something else, perhaps cheaper, is because he and he friend have played it for a long time, developing memories. The reason why Harrie wasn’t fussed about going back was because she only played for a short while and did so without a guild, meaning less opportunity to create stand-out memories.
This, I believe is why World of Warcraft is so much more popular from other MMOs, and why it is set apart from the rest. The game has been around for so long, and that is something that can never be taken away. Things may change, players may change, but one thing never will: the nine years of fond memories that are associated with it.
It is a like a long-term relationship. You may have broken-up now, maybe even multiple times, but you have this huge part of you, that remembers all the great things about it. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and like any relationship, the bad memories fade into the shadows with only the good ones remaining. The great thing here too, is that WoW has much more scope to improve, and resolve past problems, leaving a constantly progressing game, with a massive history that no one can ever take away.
So there are many things that make World of Warcraft great; beautiful environments, epically crafted lore, its pick-up-and-play nature, easy to love characters, a family of guildies, and the thing that ties it all together: its past and the nine years of memories that over seven million people have made whilst playing.
What's your /played?