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WoW, just Wow

world-of-warcraft-iconWhat do I mean by that?  I will include a qualifier.  If we do not already live in a very much self obsessed naval gazing world in which one of the often quipped lines is “What is in it for ME”, the emphasis on the me.  In a time where we are becoming even more concerned with technology and what it could potentially do when taking a photo of my junk for Instagram or tinder.  And now, I read this.  Nothing too much about this other than a couple of items. 

So.  World of Warcraft prides itself on its expansive lore, massive stage, intricate levels for raids and an ever increasing number things that they aren’t boasting too much about, deaths from people playing extended periods without food or water, the proliferation of gold sellers and slave trade, oft in countries without strict laws around labour and even increasing number of addictive elements which means you keep throwing your $15 a month for the game boasting about 10 million players and they would never go free to play, even if releasing a WOW2, which they won’t, but I can explain that later.

So, how does this fit into the scheme of things.  World of Warcraft was bleeding genuine subscribers, as in people who play the game to advance and enjoy it.  These are not people who collect gold, sell gold or any.  I am sure these number in the millions, but Blizzard would never ever release those figures.  They released Mists of Pandaria to much derision among the gaming community and even those faithful to the lore.  Pandas was a word Echoed when the first trailer for the expansion emerged.  Then Pet battles a form of in game Pokémon for those who were not already addicted and ones with the OCD of must collect everything just had another area to go into, not to mention, many pets on offer, were to buy, not earned in game.

Warlords of Draenor have removed much of the crap that stuck on from the Panda release and has restored Blizzard to the top of the world.  Then is, Twitter, post information in twitter, linking items earned etc…  OK.  So all of this is now within the game client, so once, if someone desired that used an external device to communicate their achievements on Twitter meaning they had to leave the game client to do so, now don’t worry, we have you covered there.  So fear not to be attacked by an NPC of even another player if you are flagged for PvP, you can keep your eye on the game and send that important tweet.  OK.

Then this, S.E.L.F.I.E. camera.  Once upon a time I could position the camera in game, to look at my face and press Print Screen.  Then we find this was too much effort for some and that is why they didn’t use it.  Then they included this.  FOr those who feel that a physical “selfie” is perhaps not what the world wants simply because your physical persona might be more akin to…




So why not.  I am not entirely sure about this, certainly there are many who will use this.  But who are they aiming to use this.  Are they playing World of Warcraft or is this really a feature that the community at large ash flooded the forums in WOW to voice their concerns that they want a “selfie” of their digital beings in game and make it look like a proper “selfie”.  And also with the ability of offering lens to change the affect of what the character looks like.

I do jump into World of Warcraft occasionally, nothing to do other than just explore the new content, but this has been greatly reduced since Pandas and I was tempted to get the new expansion but then to see this coming in a patch.  Mmm, I am thinking I will stick to my SWTOR for now.

Addendum: World of Warcraft 2

This is purely my opinion and chances are I am wrong, oft I am when voicing my opinions public.  It is sure one way to assure that something the opposite what I said happens.  Anyway.  There has been speculation over the fate of World of Warcraft, this was prior to the release of the latest expansion pack, Warlords of Draenor ands it increase in subscribers.

Any MMO out there would love the subscribers of World of Warcraft, even half that.  I will not get into the numbers they report versus the actual numbers.  But, WoW was a game that one might not say redefined a genre since MMOs existed before that and were much the same but they popularised it and in some manner have turned this genre around where so many companies are wanting to have an MMO in order to have the massive success that Blizzard has had with World of Warcraft.

There has been a few updates of late that had spelled the direction of the game and what they are planning on doing with it.  Cataclysm was a time I very much waned from the WoW universe because of the massive changes they made to the game world.  Sure Deathwing strode, well more like flew in, carving the land asunder.  This moment in the lore was the perfect time to update the engine (the VERY OUTDATED ENGINE) running WoW to use DirectX 11.  They did this quietly in patch 4.1, the game will perform better on Windows 7 machines or newer because of the changes to the WDM /WDDM drivers for the cards that use the different versions of DirectX (a problem prevalent in SWTOR and certainly feature in a large number of my posts).

This change, is a massive change.  To update the underlying engine to us the DirectX 9 rendering pipeline or the DirectX 10/11 is no mean feat.  Blizzard have the cash but their reasoning behind it was not due to any need to.  Windows XP support ended 2014, therefore the release date of 2011 was hardly to mitigate the this end of life for XP.  Since you can still use the DirectX 9 engine with the selection or unselecting of the checkbox in the options.

It was done to ensure longevity of the game.  With DirectX 12 coming in Windows 10, 2015, this meant that using DirectX 11 meant the game was still going to run on newer and newer version of the operating system (I know it runs on Mac but that doesn’t use DirectX).  It was also not long after the DirectX changes came the changes to use 64bit code.  So, we have a change to DirectX 11 and a change to the client (which you can select either 64bit or 32bit clients) which enables a greater use of memory if available.

We also now have the release of updated player models. 


As you can see in the image, the changes are drastic.  This isn’t just a change to the models this also pertains to the expressions on their faces for emotes and the like.  If there was any chance that World of Warcraft 2 was coming even in the next couple of years their changes to all of these elements was not really required.  From a business perspective, you don’t pay for an outlay unless there is a return on that outlay.

One might say that this could also be a test bed, releasing all of these changes to the engine and the game will serve to provide a stable footing for World of Warcraft 2.  But to release a new user pays MMO in a market where unless you force the addicted players of World of Warcraft to shift they won’t go anywhere and if the game is the same why change at all.

I believe we will have another 5 or more years of World of Warcraft, but as now I have said there won’t be, chances are we will see it from Blizzard this coming E3.


The 3 Top…

This is based on information I have gleaned from all over the web for MMORPGs and which are the top in terms of population.  It is difficult to truly define what is the top MMO when games like World of Warcraft like to boast their numbers in excess of 10 million are now not so boastful that the number has dropped well below that mark.  That said it is possibly still the most populous virtual world out there, but in terms of actual numbers no company really wants to throw out how many are playing the game unless that are the number 1.

So, I have looked at various web sites, looked at some financial information, especially for companies who are publically listed and I have determined that 3 most popular MMOs are;

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Star Wars: The Old Republic
  3. Lord of the Rings Online

I am sure there would be many people who would claim different.  What about games like Maple Story, or Runscape, but I am not truly including these for a couple of reason.  The numbers ever quoted are difficult to get reliable information from, in that I mean substantiated numbers, found in several different areas or in legally binding information (such as annual reports etc.).   Stating numbers like 8 million accounts in 2011, well I am sure WOW has still 12 million accounts but it is really active accounts or concurrent players and the numbers I have seen are old, 2008, or 2011. 

It is interesting to see however that SWTOR and LOTOR have free to play models and the majority of their populations are the free players.  WOW doesn’t and it is also unknown how many are made up of the massive gold farming community.  I would be curious if you have more information on this I would be happy to amend this.  And certainly Wikipedia though a wonderful source of information is and has been prone to being updated for periods of time by people who do not have impartiality in making things look better for businesses.

So, the reason though I am going through these is not to incite an MMO argument or war as to which is better since I am not saying any of these are better or worse these are purely based on population numbers I can get.  But my purpose is to go over these and look at each of the elements of the games and how well they stack up against each other.  It is like a comparison of such for the various aspects, sounds and graphics, gameplay and lore, depth of game and playability, grind and feel and many different things.

Compare Apples to Custard Apples

Well, in a manner of speaking how can one compare graphics of a game released in 2011 to one released in 2008 or 2004 for that matter, well you look at things beyond the simple look of the game.  How well does the graphics immerse you in the game the artwork, add or detract from it, notable features for the graphics, etc. What can I change, provide the best look for my system.

So one of the things I will kick off with is reception, releasing public and critical, the success and the smoothness of the game.

WoW_Box_Art1World of Warcraft

Released November 2004 and was meet with largely positive reviews by the critics but the system was initially marred by server downtimes and user’s inability to log in.  The was never immediately popular and gathered a slow build up in the population over time, the gaming landscape had changed substantially since 2004 to now.

MMOs had been developed before WOW but without a doubt World of Warcraft became synonymous with what defined an MMO and its popularity grew as more and more people realised how deep things were getting with each release of the game.

The game possibly did hit its full stride until some 12 to 18 months after release.  But this also made things more frustrating as highly populated servers were plagued with things like high latency and the inability to grind out the quests as there were so many players vying for each kill to nearly empty servers were you could not see a single player for days, which also lead to frustration as there was no one to help when trying to do the harder quests.

More servers were added, server transfers started free to help alleviate the load, and the latency started to gather traction until things smoother out.  But a a few more hurdles were hit when Blizzard released their Asia Pacific Servers.  This saw a massive uptake in the Asian population, but the latency of these servers were no better than those of the US servers and in some cases much worse.  It was later found that these actual servers were in the US and there was not benefit to switching to a server that did not make playing the game better. 

They still have these Asia/Pacific servers available for play on and their population is decent but they are a far cry from the servers that are in the US.  The game has also been marred in some controversy in the later years with Blizzard having psychologists on their payroll working on addiction but certainly not in a good way, as they work to make it more addictive.  Other controversy surrounds the game with this addiction coming into prominence as people have been found to have neglected their real lives in order to log on and play World of Warcraft and with serious consequences, where deaths of infants have been involved.

Of course Blizzard has denied any wrong doing in these cases and rightfully so.  But certainly one cannot take away the fact that they might not be directly involved but there is involvement in directly as they work out ways to help players playing.  Their only bonus for logging out is to increase XP gained while killing beasts, but it is accrued at such a slow rate (more if you log out in an Inn).  This is also only a benefit for players who have not reached max level.  Those at this level there is no bonus for logging out.

World of Warcraft is the top MMO now and it is difficult to see if any future MMO (including any successor of WOW) will ever beat the numbers it had in its heyday.  This will be possibly in many top 10 best MMOs of all time, if not their number 1, but is it the quality that makes it that, or a deep seeded love that only comes from spending so long with something that it is difficult to any to see the quality beyond the obsession.

Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar250px-Lotro_box

The Tolkien lore holds a great deal of love in my heart, has done since reading the Lord of the Rings a long time ago and most fantasy writers have ever tried to aspire to achieve such a literary work but alas to no avail.  Like Star Wars I have deep understanding of the stories and lore of the work and like Star Wars is ripe for a quality game.

LOTRO was possibly one of the better ones written about the text but it is not without its flaws.  The game was received positively from the critics though there were dissenters from the masses, those who felt everything in competition to WOW was trying to be WOW and not good enough, the members who felt the developers failed to capture the essence of Tolkien (which has been said about a great many games based on his works).

But the positive reviews gave people a reason for having a look.  There was a lot there to like but with most pay to play models, unless it has the same amount of content as World of Warcraft, why do you want me to pay for this as well.  Releases were not coming out fast enough and despite having an offer for a lifetime subscription model for $200 (I know it isn’t available now, but unsure that if you bought it when available if you still no longer need to pay subscription fees).

This massive down turn saw the game looking shaky and there was rumblings that it would soon shut up shop.  Then September 2010, the game become free to play and it was announced with their very first TV add and it was a relatively cheesy affair as well but it served the purpose and the game saw a new lease on life and a massive uptake in players and it started to show the MMO world that the days of the pay to play only model was heading the way of the dinosaurs.

So now the game is a nice earner with a combination of free to play and pay to play options and still one of the top MMOs currently and would be considered in many top 10 best MMOs. 

The Free to Play TV ad for LOTRO.

220px-Star_Wars-_The_Old_Republic_coverStar Wars: The Old Republic

Billed as the potential WOW killer, video game heavyweights BioWare had the pedigree in making great games and great Star Wars games and great RPGs, could they cross into the realm of MMO and unseat the king, many thought so. Even Blizzard who seemed undaunted by any MMO release possibly stood up and took notice of this one so much notice that before the release of SWTOR, Blizzard announced a new Expansion, Mists of Pandaria which to many was the start of the decline1 of the once great MMO.

Star Wars, like Lord of the Rings is ripe for a quality MMO the amount of lore available, all from the mind of one person is astounding.  But to date we haven’t seen it.  Star Wars Galaxies was a mildly successful MMO but was more of a cult following more than anything but they became vocal when the writing was on the wall that LucasArts was going to shut down SWG and with that it happened.

December 2011 the game was release and was the largest MMO game release in history with about 2 million users logging in day 1.  With the critics praising the game but marking down for the lack of content (this is an odd thing as the amount of content released day one surpassed that of WOW day one).  The servers remain stable, some queuing issues for many people as it would with this many people logging in day one but everything seemed to be good for SWTOR.

But like LOTRO, the amount of content available to the game started to become a hindrance, paying to play for a small amount of content started to make people log off, interestingly they numbers at initial release would return but certainly it took a 180 degree flip of constant negation of a free to play model that when it was announced the decline was about 2/3 to 3/4 of the initial launch number.  More problems came from one of the things that made the game a successful launch, high capacity servers a quite a few of them.  Soon as the numbers dropped people found it difficult to find groups for the new content being added, this forced BioWare’s hand to merge servers into newer higher capacity servers which was not without issues, especially latency and the complaints about LAG spiked.

SWTOR went going to go free to play and many scorned BioWare for the restrictions placed onto free to play players, but these are any more or less restricted than other free to play v subscription models2, like LOTRO.  The game saw a resurgence and the popularity of the game grew.  BioWare was now making more money, though about $7.2 million a month is nothing to be sneezed at and it seems also like LOTRO that this game for the near future is hear to stay. 

SWTOR–Free to Play Launch

The Skinny

Release Success – Out of the 3 the most successful was SWTOR.  2 million day one user logging in and relative stability across all servers.   One might say that the gaming landscape has changed so much in the time since WOW and LOTRO was released, but even for the times it was released the numbers didn’t reflect the sheer popularity that SWTOR did when it was released.

Post Release Success – Hands down to World of Warcraft.  With both SWTOR and LOTRO having large declines in population until their free to play models came out and then LOTRO had little impact on WOW and SWTOR possibly responsible for the largest decline in its population still didn’t get up to the same numbers. 

One of the reasons and in my opinion the main reason for the large population of players on WOW is due to the massive gold selling market.  These are very prevalent in LOTRO and WOW and less so in SWTOR.  WOW and LOTRO have an auto attack mechanism that when being attacked the player will respond with their simple attack.  This is never enough to defeat on level or higher NPCs but lower levels in areas that are often use for gold farming helps.  This hasn’t prevented Gold Farming from existing in SWTOR since there has been other methods to get credits in SWTOR that help.  Since LOTRO and SWTOR have free to play accounts they include restrictions on the amount of gold you can transfer, hold in an account, transfer from escrow and so on.  You can PAY to unlock these but since the gold farming market rely on the free accounts this will eat into their margins which means they will not be as common.  With WOW, since it is the number 1 in population and will remain that way in the near future this will always be a reason why possibly a million maybe more accounts are that of the gold farmers.

Expansion Success – This one is more difficult to assess, World of Warcraft has had 3 quality expansions, The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm.  LOTRO has had 4 quality expansions Mines of Moria, Siege of Mirkwood, Rise of Isenguard and Riders of Rohan with a 5th coming in end 2013 Helms Deep which is making this game just massive.  SWTOR, has 1 physical expansion, Rise of the Hutt Cartel, which was a well received a decent expansion, with a new one coming but isn’t expanding the ground world much.  This one goes to in my opinion Lord of the Rings Online, and this is down purely to Mists and Pandaria otherwise I might have called it a tie.  Mists was such a let down in comparison to the other 3 expansions released for WOW.

So, in the releasing of the games, each has a point in this battle, and these are my opinions.  Get a WOW addict and it will all go to WOW, get a Cosplaying LOTRO fan who can speak Elvish and I am sure it will go to LOTRO, change the prior to be Star Wars geek who knows the lines of each movie and book by heart and they will say SWTOR.

Lord of the Rings Online 1
Star Wars: The Old Republic 1
World of Warcraft 1

More to come.

1 When announced some thought this to be an extension of an April fools joke, but the 1 April was long gone when this came out.  What made matters worse was the success of the Dreamworks film Kung Fu Panda and the new to be release sequel certainly added more fuel to the fire that Blizzard had lost their way.  Some might have thought so too, with this release another butt of many WOW jokes was released, pet battles and another form of revenue for Blizzard (like they needed any more) was people could spend more money on buying pets and special pets and things for their pets to take into their fights, vis-à-vis Pokémon.  Many believed it was the first nail in the coffin for the hugely successful game but execs from Blizzard tried to defend the moves with previous announcement back in the Warcraft 3 days of the Panda race (though this was a April fools joke when it first came out).

2 SWTOR and LOTRO both impose restrictions on free to play, premium/preferred and subscript/VIP players.  Being a subscriber certainly in my opinion provides many more benefits than simply unrestricted access to the content.  Experience, in SWTOR there is reduced XP in levelling and though this can be mitigated a great deal by getting the experience buff and legacy unlocks for experience (in fact using both the XP buffs and all of the Legacy perks you can bring yourself up to the same amount of XP as an un-buffed non perked subscriber, which helps.  But then a subscriber can also get these legacy perks and buffs which accelerates your growth.  (Keep and eye out for Double XP promotions for both).

Points/Cartel Coins, most of the unlocks to bring your character from the meagre existence of free to play player to that of a preferred/premium and then some is buying these virtual items and buying them from their virtual stores.  As subscribers both give you free coins/points per month, 500 for each (SWTOR offers 100 more if you have a security key on the account which I recommend).  This is about an average 5 dollars free per month which brings down the effective subscription cost in total spend a month. 

The real restriction I have found is with SWTOR and their UI restrictions, you can buy unlocks for them, they even have a pack that includes these unlocks which brings you up to a decent level within the free to play community.  But to lock the available quick bars to 2, when some classes have MORE abilities that what 2 bars can handle, my Jedi Sentinel uses more than 2 for standard and I use all 6 if I look into Legacy.