"WoW Killers" (That Didn't Kill WoW)

by Tyler Edwards, February 1 2012

World of Warcraft is the undisputed king of the MMO world. It has millions of subscribers – far more than all other MMO games – and rakes in the almost unimaginable profits. But success breeds jealousy. Developers, gaming journalists, and consumers have spent years searching for the mythical WoW-killer, the game that will end World of Warcraft's reign and become the new juggernaut of the industry. Many games have been given the crown of WoW-killer before their release, but yet Warcraft still reigns supreme. Some WoW-killers crashed and burned spectacularly, while others went on to their own modest successes, but none have toppled the king from his throne.

5: Warhammer Online:

warhammer online wow killer

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning – commonly abbreviated as WAR – showed promise as a potential rival to World of Warcraft. Like Warcraft, it was based on a popular gaming franchise and had a rich universe to draw upon – a universe that, coincidentally enough, was one of the main inspirations for the Warcraft universe. Whereas WoW is known as being mostly a PvE game, WAR promised a greater emphasis on player versus player, with epic worldwide conflicts and the ability to jump into the fight immediately at level one.

But WAR stumbled right out of the gate. Its developer, Mythic Entertainment, attempted to ease server strain during the launch by spreading the population out over a wide number of servers, but this led to a universal problem of low server population. In a game based around epic player versus player combat, this was a crippling flaw.

That, coupled with a number of technical issues and class imbalance problems, caused the game's subscriptions to plummet before WAR had even seen its first anniversary, and no amount of server merges helped to stop the bleeding. WAR is currently down to roughly one server per continent, and is for all intents and purposes dying a slow and painful death.

4: Age of Conan:

age of conan wow killer

Imagine a game where one can venture into a forgotten age, a wild land of savage conflict and mighty barbarian warriors. A game with beautiful graphics and sound design, and a unique combat system more dynamic and realistic than has been seen in any other MMO.

Sounds good, doesn't it? In fact, it sounds so good that many bestowed the crown of WoW-killer upon Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures before its release. So what happened?

It got released. And unlike some of the other examples in this article, Age of Conan suffered from more than just the inevitable disappointment that comes when fans of a new game build it up to something of messianic proportions. Simply put, AoC wasn't ready when it was released. It was plagued with crippling, widespread bugs, game-breaking exploits, missing zones, and a near total lack of end game content. As a result, the game essentially crashed and burned shortly after launch.

Since then, many improvements have been made to AoC, and most of its crippling flaws have been smoothed out, making for what is, by all reports, a fairly solid MMO. But first impressions are lasting impressions, and any hope it had of being a runaway hit that could threaten World of Warcraft have long since become as vanished and forgotten as the land of Hyboria itself.

3: Aion:

aion wow killer

Korean MMO Aion is another game that generated enough buzz around its release for some to place the mantle of WoW-killer upon it. It attempted to seduce WoW players away from their mistress with its tantalizing graphics, unique end game that combined player versus player and player versus environment elements, and dynamic combat system based around combinations.

It also gave characters wings, allowing them to fly around the world. Granted, World of Warcraft also allows flight via the use of drakes and other aerial mounts, but Aion promised to make flight a core game mechanic, making it a key part of combat and questing. And also the characters have wings.

Aion had a very successful launch and certainly did not fall flat on its face as did WAR and AoC, but it inevitably failed to live up to the fevered anticipation that had been built around it, and it never came near the level of success Warcraft enjoys. The most common reason given for this is generally the time-consuming grinding the game requires. While not as grind-intensive as most other Asian-produced MMOs, Aion still requires more than a lot of Western gamers are used to, and the game is eternally dogged by the stigma of being "too Asian."

Furthermore, while Aion does boast some unique features versus WoW, it still isn't enough of a departure from the standard Warcraft model to really shake up the genre or entice droves of new players.

2: Rift:

rift wow killer

Rift is a game whose developers clearly set out to challenge World of Warcraft from the beginning. They may not have said, "We're trying to kill WoW" in so many words, but it was the clear message behind their bold statements of innovative classes and a dynamic world, and even more so their oft-stated advertising slogan, "We're not in Azeroth anymore."

Unlike some other games on this list, Rift did not crash and burn, dying early in a blaze of failure. It's a polished and well-made game with a respectably sized subscriber base. But it did not even come close to being the fabled WoW-killer. Why?

Because Rift is Warcraft. Oh, sure, it has its rifts, invasions, and dynamic events and a few other unique features, but when you get down to the core of its gameplay, it's pretty much the exact same grind we're all familiar with from years of WoW. Even details such as the interface, the races, the factions, and the environments heavily smack of Warcraft.

Rift may have refined the Warcraft model in some ways, but WoW has the advantages of a massive player base and years of inertia on its side. Any game seeking to usurp its place will need some major innovations, and Rift just couldn't deliver in that regard. In the end, it was more WoW clone than WoW-killer.

1: Star Wars: The Old Republic:

swtor wow killer

It may seem a bit premature to already declare The Old Republic as a failed WoW-killer. After all, it's only been out for a few weeks, and the full extent of its success or failure has yet to be determined.

But as the rest of this article has shown, many a WoW-killer has come and gone without toppling the giant, and it's hard to believe SW:TOR will do any different. We don't doubt it will prove popular with Star Wars fans and gamers alike and will probably do well for many years to come, but it's got about a snowball's chance on Tatooine of killing World of Warcraft.

It's been said many times by many people, but nothing can kill WoW but WoW. It's been so popular for so long that it has a massive amount of inertia on its side. It would take some spectacular failures on the part of its developers to drive away its millions of loyal customers. At the very least, the game would have to fall far behind the curve of innovation in the MMO industry, and while some games have one-upped WoW in some areas, that hasn't really happened yet. Which is more a commentary on the MMO industry as a whole than Warcraft's ability to innovate.

This is not to say that World of Warcraft's monopoly will never be broken. As one character said at the end of its Wrath of the Lich King expansion, "No king rules forever." Sooner or later, Warcraft will either make an unforgivable blunder or, more likely, simply be passed up by more advanced games.

But even then, it will not be the end. EverQuest, which was WoW's predecessor as the MMO king, is still operating and making money for its developer, Sony Online Entertainment, and is currently in its eighteenth expansion. So even once WoW is finally "killed," it will probably continue for many years to come.