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10 Ways World of Warcraft Changed MMOs Forever

Updated on December 31, 2014

Regardless of whether or not you like World of Warcraft, you have to admit that it was extremely influential. There's a reason it experienced such a surge of popularity; this list is aimed at explaining why.

I'm not claiming that Blizzard was the first to do anything on this list; I'm saying that their execution basically made the entire videogame industry sit up and pay attention. It also helped shape players' expectations for all games that followed.

10: Accessibility

For the average person in 2004, MMOs could seem fiddly and annoying. They appealed mostly to devoted (or "hardcore") gamers. If you could go back in time and play Everquest or Asheron's Call 2, you'd be astounded at how hard it was to simply use the interface, find quests and get into groups. Unless you were willing to alt-tab between the game and a detailed FAQ, you could count on spending the first dozen hours of the game just learning where to quest. MMOs felt slow and painful to most people, and they accordingly were less popular.

The exclamation mark is now ubiquitous
The exclamation mark is now ubiquitous | Source

9: Quests for All

As mentioned above, it could be extremely difficult to find quests in some pre-WoW MMOs. I personally remember playing Asheron's Call 2 and repeating the same quest half a dozen times because it was the only one I could find. World of Warcraft popularized the "overhead exclamation mark" questing system. Players could find quests the moment they entered a new area, and quests could only be completed once.

8: Skill Trees

As far as I can tell, Blizzard didn't invent the notion of skill trees. In Diablo 2 each class had three to choose from, each specializing a character for a particular role. In WoW, they took this idea much farther. These days, most games include a skill progression of some kind. Even games like Call of Duty 4 have something like this in the form of customizable perks. Rift took the idea of skill trees and added a few interesting ideas, but it was obvious they were building on WoW's foundation.

7: Solo Play

Until you hit the max level, World of Warcraft feels almost like a single player game. In fact, if you choose to ignore all chat channels and dungeons, it actually is one. When Blizzard was designing the game, one of the prevailing ideas was that it should be playable solo. Nobody likes being forced into unwanted social interaction. Sometimes you just wanna kill some goblins by yourself. WoW embraced its inner hermit and players loved it.

Think You'd Play This?

6: Content Updates

Again, Blizzard wasn't doing anything new here, but frequent content patches brought an obscene amount of content into the game thanks to a large budget. Today the game is almost unrecognizable from its 1.0 release. Take a look at the modern update page to understand just how much stuff Blizzard is constantly making for this game.

5: Instances

Although not technically invented by Blizzard, instanced content was uncommon before becoming popularized in WoW. Only two games, Anarchy Online and an expansion for Everquest called Lost Dungeons of Norrath had this kind of technology. Classically, if players wanted to team up and kill a dragon, they'd have to compete with everyone else who wanted to do the same thing. Giving every group their own private copy of the world was a tremendous boon, giving many thousands of players a chance of earning powerful items from bosses like Onyxia or Deathwing.

4: Consensual PVP

Unlike Ultima Online, Blizzard didn't want to see players terrorizing other players. The player-versus-player combat in WoW would always be consensual (unless you decided to play on a PVP server). It was a nice middle ground between Everquest's total lack of PVP and Ultima Online's "anything goes" murderfest.

This is much less intimidating to casual players, who might not understand how or why they're being murdered. Most modern MMOs have adopted this stance for PVP, allowing players to choose whether or not they play in a competitive environment.

Many environments look like a painting
Many environments look like a painting | Source

3: Stylized Graphics

Blizzard really can't take credit for inventing stylized graphics, but it was a breath of fresh air compared to other fantasy MMOs at the time. Warcraft 2 had cartoony graphics akin to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Warcraft 3 refined the look. World of Warcraft brought the tiny characters from the RTS to life in a big way.

Eight years later, the game has aged significantly better than other games released in 2004. These days, stylistic games are so commonplace that people complain that about them looking "too much like WoW."

2: UI Mods

I'm sure that there were interface mods for all of the MMOs prior to WoW, but the sheer volume of quality modifications for the game's UI was staggering. The WoW interface community is strong to this day, and many of the mods have been rolled into the base UI.

Players now expect a moddable interface in their MMOs, and cry foul when it's not allowed.

A player using a custom interface
A player using a custom interface | Source

1: Millions of Players

Before World of Warcraft, MMOs were considered a niche market. Before 2004, the most successful MMO of all time had been Everquest with just over 400,000 subscribers. WoW broke every record by achieving eleven million subscribers at its peak. This garnered the attention of not only the video game industry, but of popular media in general. MMOs have become a big part of video game and internet culture, and the world has changed because of that.

It's safe to say that many people had never played an MMO before World of Warcraft. Today, many dozens of games simply wouldn't have been made if not for WoW's influence (for better or for worse).


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    • CYong74 profile image

      Kuan Leong Yong 

      2 years ago from Singapore

      Almost every game nowadays feels related to WoW. Maybe Blizz didn't invent the system (quests, reput, etc), but they certainly made it the safe default for other companies to rely on.

    • William157 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California

      @Karl23: Cool, I'll update the article to reflect that information.

    • karl23 profile image


      6 years ago

      WOW was not the first mmo with instances

      Anarchy Online in 2001 did that

      Everquest added instanced dungeons in 2003 with Lost Dungeons of Norrath

    • Anna Betliskey profile image

      Anna Betliskey 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Awesome article, I have to agree with John. I have heard more times than I can count on your hands AND mine how horrible WoW is because it is too cartoony. I came from Everquest and when I saw WoW's graphics, I was truly impressed. I loved the graphics! I felt they were much brighter and such. Not just that, but smoother. I can't stand gritty textures it bothers me to death. Voted up!

    • BraidedZero profile image

      James Robertson 

      6 years ago from Texas

      I personally never played WoW. My brother was addicted to it, spending many days and months on the game. I knew my kind of personality and I kept myself from the game so that I could actually have a life. I love the game and would have played it had I felt I would have been able to put it down.

      Wow is definitely one of the ground breakers in the MMO field. They were not the first but they did dominate the industry and bring it to a whole new level of gameplay.

      I loved your article. Great read.

    • Keith Engel profile image

      Keith Engel 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      Well I just finished my hub on this very topic if you want to give it a read through it and comment. All the other articles pretty much will be spawning from this one article, and pretty much explore the topic of Genre stagnation. These are also going to closely tied to GW 2 to show how at least that game is trying to move forward.

    • William157 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Southern California

      @Keith Engel: It's funny that the success of WoW has basically caused the entire genre to stagnate. We need the next big thing to break us out of this rut, but few companies are willing to take the financial risk.

    • Keith Engel profile image

      Keith Engel 

      6 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      I actually started playing MMOs with Lord of the Rings Online, then switched over to WoW. The one issue that has bugged MMOs now though since WoW is the one issue you bring up as your number 7 point, Solo Play and being able to play solo through the entire game, but then the Devs not building enough interesting content at end game to continue on in this fashion.

      It has become one of the biggest issues I think in the Genre as a whole and I am redoing an entire article series on the matter, not just WoW, but of the MMO Genre as whole. WoW's success as you stated has both had a very positive effect on the genre, it definitely won't be as popular as it is today with out WoW, but it has spawned countless of people trying to copy its model to capture its success instead of seeing devs willing to take risks with in the genre.

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 

      6 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      Valid points there, each I agree with. I'm sick of people's complaints about the game being "too cartoony", when it is in fact the most diverse option - it allows players of all computer specs to run the game absolutely fine. The reason is because the environments and character models are hand-drawn, and not coded in via computer and such. These're just original, hand-drawn images used to create some of the finest environments I've ever seen.

      While WoW has its flaws, mostly its popularity and bringing in "all sorts" (I don't consider myself a noble, don't worry), it's still a dominant game. But developers need to grow a pair and experiment instead of going off formulas that work, but not that well.

      I'll give Two Worlds credit for being a "Bad" game because it was different to the average RPG. It was new, experimental, and the sequel brought so much more and made it better than Fable 3 by a long shot.

      Voted up, interesting, awesome and useful ^^


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