Posted on August 30th, 2016 by | 7 Replies

5 worst things wow did mmorpgs

World of Warcraft is the beast that can’t be beaten. Well over a decade after launch, World of Warcraft has just released their sixth paid expansion pack. People like to point to declining numbers as the game’s demise, but populations naturally ebb and flow. The venerable MMORPG still boasts millions of monthly subscribers, a claim no other game can make. From all accounts, Legion will be the addictive experience people hoped for from Warlords of Draenor.

This massive success has been great for Blizzard but hasn’t been all rosy for the MMORPG landscape. Due to World of Warcraft’s success, certain design elements and player expectations have negatively impacted the genre as a whole. I’ve enjoyed my previous stints in virtual Azeroth, but when I look to new experiences, all I can see is World of Warcraft’s dark tendrils corrupting them. Fantasy MMOs in particular seem the most infected.

It’s as understandable as it is unfortunate.

Gear Treadmills

World of Warcraft made it extremely easy to hit max level. Progress flowed naturally as players moved from one zone to the next. Quests would reward players with higher level gear and monsters would drop loot to fill the gaps. Everything felt really good, but the entire tone of the game changed at max level. This led to some extreme “alt-itis”, but not everyone wanted to create new characters. For them, progress could only be found in endgame dungeons. Thus, the gear treadmill was born.

Up until World of Warcraft, hitting max level took a lot of dedication. There were some nice pieces of loot to be found in high level encounters of games like EverQuest, but it never felt like the focus. MMORPGs need progression though, so reaching max level fast could only lead to one of two things: alternative progression or canceled subscriptions. Obviously going with the former, WoW chose alternative progression in the form of gear. The problem with this progression is how stiff and repetitive it feels compared to the organic nature of quest progression. Improvements have been made to Warcraft since launch and their dungeon design is top notch. I just can’t help but feel MMO progression innovation has been seriously stifled by the gear treadmill.

Reputation Grinds

burning crusade reputation quests

Our article last week on “why reputation grinds suck and how to fix them” partially inspired this post. Reputation has been part of World of Warcraft for a while, though many may not remember it. Top tier raiders needed to grind reputation in vanilla for high end gear, but for most people reputation was just a number you could level up for the hell of it. These folks were already setting themselves to grind dungeons for gear so it wasn’t a big deal yet. When Burning Crusade launched, reputation became a universal form of progression. A very bad, very boring form of progression.

In order to play dungeons on the highest difficulty, keys were required. Keys could be acquired by running the dungeon on normal difficulty over and over to increase reputation. Additionally, many new dailies and reputation grinds opened up to players. High levels of reputation led to rewards like great gear and unique mounts. Reputation for WoW and MMORPGs has changed over the years, but they generally exhibit the same principles: repeat content to progress. One of the things that made World of Warcraft so enjoyable in the first place was trashing repetitive mob grinding. But here we are with them instilling lazily designed, repetitive progression into MMORPGs across the world.

Two Faction PvP

Alliance! Horde! Alliance! Horde!

Coming right off of Dark Age of Camelot and Shadowbane for World of Warcraft’s launch, I was a little skeptical of the two faction system. How could two factions compete against three or an open system? On the other hand, the immersion that Alliance vs. Horde offered obliterated previous competition. I loved Warcraft as a kid, and I was not alone. Maybe it would work out well after all?

It didn’t. Well, at least not for the genre.

Despite it’s name, World of Warcraft is not a serious PvP game. It’s a casual PvP game with accessible arenas and battlegrounds. Even on the PvP servers, PvP was little more than a diversion. Sure, it was fun training back and forth between Tarren Mill and Southshore. Sneaking into high level enemy towns had its moments. But there just wasn’t any weight to it. I think Blizzard realized the difficulty in balancing such a system so they turned to instanced PvP. And yet, MMORPGs such as Aion, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Allods Online, Warhammer Online, and a slew of less popular titles decided to run with the two faction system for their open world.

Two faction PvP does not work. It’s inherently unbalanced. One side will always outnumber the other side. The lack of dynamic alliances create repetitive scenarios. Blizzard saw the issues early on, but other publishers just saw the two faction system working.

Killing Groups

World of Warcraft changed how we leveled in MMORPGs in a huge fashion. At first, I welcomed this change. No longer was I dependent on finding a group to level. No longer did I need to dedicate several hours in an evening to sense accomplishment. World of Warcraft’s quest system let players progress at their own pace and accomplish something on every login. While adventuring through Azeroth, I never considered this an issue. It wasn’t until much later that I saw the ramifications.

just some typical wow quest grinding

Allowing almost all content to be defeated individually destroys the need for a group. The only people I knew playing WoW were people I knew before I started playing. Outside of friends of friends who joined our guild, I didn’t really meet anyone. The game wasn’t structured for that. Then max level comes along (with that damnable gear treadmill) and now all of the sudden a big guild was needed to keep advancing. The game went from lighthearted individualistic leveling experience to hardcore group based content at the flip of a switch. I can imagine how frustrating it was for those getting along just fine by themselves.

This set the standard for MMORPGs who wanted to be the “next WoW” (Hint: no one will ever be the next WoW). Level up via solo quests, then funnel people into group based dungeon activities at level cap. People in World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) now feel less like people and more like tools. Dedicated grouping has been on life support in the genre for a while, and WoW is largely to blame.


Perhaps the worst thing World of Warcraft did to MMORPGs is set the expectation levels too high. WoW didn’t have the greatest launch, but Blizzard quickly turned the game into a powerhouse. In true Blizzard fashion, they didn’t revolutionize so much as evolve. They took what made EverQuest great (the largest Western MMO at the time), polished it to the nth degree, and made it widely accessible. And say what you want about the company, but polish is something near synonymous with Blizzard now. The game is intuitive and well designed with few ambiguities. It never gets in it’s own way, something many other MMORPGs are guilty of.

Obviously, that polish is a good thing for World of Warcraft. However, it also set the expectations unrealistically high for first time MMOers. In the MMORPGs that followed, almost all of them were multiple tier levels lower in presentation quality. Some great ideas and concepts were passed over by the masses because of rougher designs. I think in many ways, WoW just set expectations too high with that classic Blizzard polish.

Double Edged Sword

World of Warcraft is a fantastic MMORPG. It does what it does very well. I’m not arguing that. Unfortunately, success breeds copycats. In the MMORPG genre, that’s not really good for anyone.

7 thoughts on “5 Worst Things WoW Did for MMORPGs

  1. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    You are correct that the problem with a lot of games that aspired to be the “next WoW” had was with the social fabric. If people didn’t play together, they didn’t bond. And once the paucity of content ran out, they’d go back to WoW which had a ton of designers cranking out a ton of content to support it.

    Why didn’t WoW suffer this same fate? Because they imported a lot of the social fabric from previous games. Top tier raiding guilds from EQ1 came over to WoW, and a lot of other guilds followed. So, WoW essentially imported their social fabric and never had to build it up internally. I think this is a massive problem that so many games overlooked.

    1. The Bro Post author

      That’s a great point. WoW started with basically all of the heavy hitter PvE players. Any MMO after it has to build their base almost from scratch.

  2. Shandren

    2 quick comments:

    First off, I love and adore reputations! It is my absolute favourite bar to grind 🙂 Just wanted to get it out there so you know not everyone hates them.

    Secondly. I am not certain about the grouping point. Vanilla warcraft was very different in this regard. Sure you could solo, But you had to skip a lot, and duoing was almost always more effective. It was very different from the levelling groups grind from EQ and earlier, but it wasn’t the solo funnel to max level you seem to be suggesting. It is true it became so later (very much so indeed), but the original game was not as explicitly different from levelling to endgame.
    It may still be that the other mmorpgs you mention copied the later wow though, I am a little fuzzy on the chronology.

    Shandren out

    1. The Bro Post author

      Touche on reputations!

      Maybe my memory has failed me, and I’m remembering more of “later WoW”. I recall most of my WoW progression being a solo quest oriented experience. There were a few where a partner helped and dungeons needed a group, but for the most part I felt like it was pretty solo heavy. Either way, WoW definitely plays a large role in MMORPGs since then going solo heavy.

  3. Eph

    As a form of vertical progression, a gear-based system is superior to XP trademill, if only because it enables player economy, crafting and social interactions. If power upgrades are tied to items, you can forge a sword for your friend, sell an exotic blaster you looted from pirates to other enterprising adventurers or pool the resources of a guild to quickly empower specific champions. On other hand, if power upgrades are internal and can result only from one’s own grinding/questing/EVE-style offline leveling, that takes an entire layer of interactions out of the game.

    (Incidentally, games with horizontal progression *also* favor gear-based systems. If there are X pieces of gear to choose from (each providing a unique benefit), but only Y slots, you’ve got an built-in immersive explanation for the limits and restrictions that, in turn, enable interesting choices).

    As for your complaint about organic questing experience being disrupted by repetitive grinding, the problem here lies not with gear, but with the ‘organic questing experience’ part. Much like no writer can churn out books faster than they get read, it is impossible for a video game studio to create handcrafted one-time quest content faster than it is consumed. As much as we’d all love to progress for 12 years straight entirely through unique quests, it’s simply not sustainable. Sandbox games can try to circumvent this problem by focusing on player-created or procedurally generated content, but each of these options comes with its own set of worm-filled cans. For everyone else, repetitive grind-based content is pretty much unavoidable.

    From Akkalabeth and Wizardry 1 to Everquest, the traditional approach was to make repetitive grinds purely combat-based and spread them liberally throughout the game between the chunks of handcrafted questing. You’d progress along the plot, then go grind a few levels, do some more of the plot, grind a few more levels, and so forth. Even vanilla WoW levelling worked this way: if you check the levelling guides from that era, you’ll find plenty of advice along the lines of “and then go grind in until you ding”. Blizzard’s decision to sequester most of its repetitive grinds into a separate endgame segment may be controversial – but then again, most bold and innovative moves are.

    1. The Bro Post author

      I don’t agree that a gear-based system is superior to XP trademill. It’s entirely possible to develop strong player economy, crafting and social interactions without it. In fact, I’d argue it’s even healthier without the typical endgame gear treadmill. You mention Eve Online’s offline leveling as a point, but it has the most organic player run marketplace in the genre.

      Another good example with “active XP leveling” (unlike Eve) is pre-cu Star Wars Galaxies. The best gear was crafted and either needed to be repaired or replaced somewhat frequently. It was easier to get the top gear vs. WoW, but required more maintenance to keep it.

      There’s certainly plenty good to WoW’s gear treadmill. The power ramp keeps up better than SWG, getting new gear is more exciting, it takes longer so there’s “something to do”, and it generally works better for the game. It’s just also bled out into almost all other MMORPGs when it shouldn’t have.

  4. Hanzo

    On the gear treadmill:

    Players want to feel powerful. They want to feel like the time they’ve invested was worth it. In early WoW, the further you were into endgame, the more powerful you were — and was easily proven by stepping into a battleground. Those who chose an alternate path to endgame were bitter, which led to Blizzard becoming more accommodating. Eventually, there were many ways to become “powerful”, but any actualized difference between invested and uninvested players was negligible (at best).

    It’s unfortunate, because both design paths are paradoxically hypocritical of the other. Make your game like Vanilla WoW, and the most powerful players will be the ones with the biggest investment / best gear, representing a very small % of the gaming pop. Or, make it like Cataclysm, and nearly everyone will have the most powerful gear with next-to-no investment. The side-effect? They won’t actually *feel* powerful. True power in-game will only be found by a select few with the skills necessary to stand out from the masses…*another* small % of the gaming pop. Each design claims the other only caters to a small group — in practice, they’re more the same than they are different.

    You’ll get players on either side of this argument, but in the end, it only matters which direction the game company wishes to go. It’s especially frustrating when they go one way, and then suddenly change directions. Frustrating because while they’ll always have a huge percentage of players complaining for “stuff they don’t/can’t have”, it is *that small % of their customer base* that they need to listen to. And listening to the smallest cohort of your customer base isn’t something any business is particularly keen on, esp. when there are hundreds of millions of dollars to make, as opposed to simply millions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *