Playing WoW again recently, it dawned on me why it’s been so popular. It’s a good game and all, and it’s more addictive than blue meth, but I think that one of the main things that pushes it over the top from niche game to mainstream hit is: It doesn’t take itself seriously.
Most people would probably be embarassed to admit that they play a game involving elves and dwarves and knights and dragons. Society tells us that those things are for kids, or hardcore D&D nerds, and those guys are weird. (At least they were when I was growing up.) WoW said to the world, hey all that stuff is stupid, right? We’re going to make fun of that in our game. We’re going to put in quests with ridiculous characters who say silly things and make meta jokes about pop culture and anything we can think of to keep this from being a serious fantasy world. Our trolls are going to be Jamaican stoners. Our Undead are going to be necrophiliacs. Our dwarves are going to be Scottish highlanders. It’s all just going to be a big silly cartoon. So nobody will have to pretend that they’re really playing in a fantasy world, and it’ll be okay for normal people to enjoy it. (Normal as in not a D&D nerd.)
Well, it’s a theory. Most MMOs try to build an immersive fantasy world and an immersive story where you are the hero that saves the world. But when you run around reading the quests in WoW, they are so silly that it’s impossible to take them seriously. I’m thinking of the Gnomeregan dungeon where all the inhabitants are thinly-disguised references to the 80s show The A-Team.
I think my theory will be put to the test when WildStar comes out. My inital reaction so far has been, "Ewww, that looks just like WoW." And all the promotional material thusfar has had the same cartoony, doesn’t-take-itself-seriously attitude as WoW. So based on my theory, WildStar should be a runaway hit and ESO, which is a more traditional, immersive fantasy world for D&D nerds, will become an afterthought.