Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Wow versus Counterstrike

MMOGCHART has released a new update. Obviously World of Warcraft dominates the MMOG market, as these charts show (1, 2, 3, 4). This reminds me of another game that dominates it's respective genre, Counterstrike. If you check the Gamespy stats, you can see that the various incarnations of CS account for the largest chunk of FPS gamers playing online. Although CS activity has dropped in recent years, let's not forget that it was first released in 1999, almost seven years ago! That type of longevity is not to be laughed at. I suspect WoW will have a similar track, at least until WoW2 comes out, and considering the first expansion has not yet been released, I expect that will be years from now.

So what do these two games have in common that makes them so dominating in their respective fields? Both games are extremely easy to get into and play. They are easy to learn, but difficult to master, and the high level play in CS (both professionally in leagues like the CPL, and on normal pub servers) matches the high level of play that can be found in high end instances in WoW. Both of them are unbelievably addictive, as I can attest to personally. One other important reason is the breaking point in the history of both games where they became so popular that a tipping point was reached which contributed to the game's popularity by virtually forcing the formation of large gamer communities. For CS, that meant that many of your friends were playing, it was easy to find servers to play on, and countless clans and websites sprang up around this community. A similar spike in popularity occurred with WoW, although all servers are owned by Blizzard, but many players and guilds popped up. Contrast this with a game like Quake 4 which has almost nobody playing (according to Gamespy again, less players than Quake 3) and you can barely find a server to play on with a ping less than 200. Guess which one the average user is going to play, the one where he is playing with nobody he knows, or the one where his friends are playing.

Finally, the most important reason for their popularity is that they are both fun to play. Of course my idea of fun in WoW died out after 3 months, whereas I still play the occasional game of CS. Fun is a relative thing, but enough people found these games enjoyable, although they are not for everyone.

I haven't listed any of the details that made these two games so great, like simple and intuitive interfaces (although that's debatable in WoW), ability to ease newbie players into the game via training, the gentle learning curve (which ramps up exponentially) etc. However, I wish more game companies would pay attention to these details so that a larger selection of games at least matched the professionalism of CS and WoW (and it can't be that hard, CS was started by two guys as a Half-Life mod), even if they don't end up matching the overall popularity.

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