Both McDonald's and World of Warcraft are intended to appeal to the masses. WoW boasts about its millions of players and McDonald's about its billions served. They both epitomize their respective industries, but has Word of Warcraft truly turned into the McDonald's of MMOs? And moreover, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
When WoW first launched, it was touted as the next big step in MMORPGs, but it was more of an incorporation than an innovation. It borrowed elements from its direct predecessors, such as EQ and DAoC, and similar games from other genres, such as Diablo. Likewise, McDonald's did not invent the burger, pre-packaged goods, or the efficiency of assembly line-like production, but it certainly put all of these facets together. It is this amalgam of tried-and-true elements that perhaps has given these businesses such success.
So what's the point of the comparison? I'm not writing this to suggest that gnomes and orcs should make an appearance in McDonald's next batch of Happy Meals, or to advocate the creation a "Gamer Meal," featuring nuggets, a burger, and fries all in an easy dip-no-drip tray, including a plastic flagon of neon-flavored energy swill. The intent of this post is to point out two groups of players that WoW has alienated with its super-status, which can be easily related to certain demographics that McDonald's has lost for similar reasons.
The first of the two groups are the gaming equivalent of foodies; we can call them gamies, if you can stomach the term. Just as foodies may find McDonald's cuisine beneath their epicurean palates, gamies may find World of Warcraft beneath their sophisticated tastes in MMOs.
You don't have to poke around many forums to find gamies expressing their indignant biases against WoW. Looking down upon the most successful MMO of all time may seem absurd to some, but to this group of gamers it's no different than laughing a McDonald's entry from a culinary competition.
However, in WoW and McDonald's defense, the reason they've both come to seem so pedestrian to the connoisseur is because of the vast amount of imitators.
The Health Nuts
The reason I don't eat much fast food is not because I don't like it -- I can't get enough of it -- but because I don't want to rely on a Rascal Scooter (Forklift Edition) as a means of conveyance. Similarly, there are many potential players of WoW that have refrained from ever trying the game because they're afraid of becoming addicted. The resulting sedentary lifestyle can have very similar effects on a person's weight and health; and before you know it, it's Rascal time again.
A lesson the MMO industry can learn from the mistakes of fast food franchises is not to try to coerce these lost consumers back with false promises. For instance, when McDonald's introduced Chicken Selects, they were billed as "premium-quality, 100 percent white chicken breast meat." They were suppose to provide consumers with an alternative to their infamous nuggets, but a quick look into their nutritional facts reveals that they're even worse for you.
Gamers are a notoriously jaded group of consumers. Employing similar tactics in the gaming industry will not only sharpen their bias, but is generally followed by a vociferous backlash, sweeping across forums and blogs across the net.
This problem extends to the implicit promises of expansions and sequels. Players often expect more from these installments than is intended by their developers, as demonstrated by the recent Left4Dead 2 boycott.
In the end, you can't please everyone. But will the Goblins and Worgen in WoW's next expansion, Cataclysm, be the Chicken Selects of the MMO industry? Personally, I think they're more like the McRib.