Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Lord of the Rings Online vs. World of Warcraft
Is Lord of the Rings Online (LotRO) the "WoW killer"? Or is it just a "WoW clone"? Since the NDA was lifted yesterday, the positive buzz in the blogosphere about LotRO is rising to hype-level. Most people who played the beta like it a lot (including me). And unlike other games, like Vanguard, that target a completely different market segment, Lord of the Rings Online is placing itself in direct competition with World of Warcraft for the same demographic of casual to enthusiastic players.
That the makers of LotRO have played WoW is evident. Much of the user-interface is very similar, and even most keyboard commands do exactly the same thing in the two games. The basic gameplay, with its emphasis on questing, strongly resembles that of WoW. Nevertheless LotRO is far more than just a "WoW clone". The developers obviously learned from World of Warcraft, but that just means they realized how and where to WoW moved the genre forward. Following that trend toward greater accessibility and user-friendliness is an obviously good strategy, if you don't want to limit your game into a niche existance before it even started. If you were able to play WoW, and liked it, you will be able to play LotRO, and in all likelyhood like it as well. That gives LotRO access to a huge potential pool of customers.
Lord of the Rings Online is definitely the "next big thing", and it will outsell any previous Turbine game. But it won't "kill" World of Warcraft. Nobody can kill WoW, except Blizzard. The best LotRO can hope to achieve is to come close to the success of World of Warcraft, selling several million copies. And it is far too early to predict whether it will get there, because that depends on many things we don't know about yet. Will the servers be stable at release and afterwards? How will the end-game of LotRO be? How many hours can you play LotRO before it becomes boring?
The reason why Lord of the Rings Online will be a hit is not that it is better than World of Warcraft. But it is similar enough in quality to WoW, with the exact ranking of who is better probably the subject of years of discussion on blogs and game forums. Millions of people bought the Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft, and by the time Lord of the Rings Online comes out on April 24th, many of them will have grown bored of WoW again. The Burning Crusade is nice enough as an expansion; but while it adds lots of content to WoW, that content is very similar in style to the old WoW. The Burning Crusade expands World of Warcraft, but doesn't reinvent it. Lord of the Rings Online reinvents WoW, taking the same basic gameplay and adding lots of new classes, new spells and abilities, and new game mechanics to it.
And that is probably the best way to do it. Making the "anti-WoW" is a recipe for failure. You can't hope to compete with the biggest PC game success ever by making everything radically different than it. But making a total clone wouldn't work either, especially not if it is a cheap clone. Lord of the Rings Online is definitely not a cheap clone, it oozes quality, but it isn't the anti-WoW either. It manages to inherit many of the strengths of WoW, while adding sufficient new material to it to make it a viable alternative. Having a strong license behind it, one considerably better known than the Warcraft universe, doesn't hurt (except with some purists).
I don't think there will be a mass exodus of WoW players towards LotRO. But World of Warcraft will be two-and-a-half years old in April, and lots of people will have burned out and looking for a similar-but-new game. And Lord of the Rings Online is exactly that, similar-but-new. Most people who play or played World of Warcraft like it. I like World of Warcraft. But that doesn't mean that I'm not looking for a new game after 3,000 hours of WoW. The average MMORPG player gets tired of his favorite game after a couple of thousand hours. Lord of the Rings Online is placed well to inherit many of these players, plus a couple of people more who are attracted by the lore. Turbine has a winner on their hands here, which will make them filthy rich if they can handle the expected traffic.