World of Warcraft did not define any type of standard. Blizzard made an MMO that people love to play, and everyone feels they can capitalize off of that success by making inferior, or direct copy, clones.
The main problem here is that people are afraid to try anything new, and how can you really blame them? It takes time and money, possibly more so than a regular game, and the chance of failure is higher than normal since the market is just so saturated with free to play MMO’s, the juggernaut, and a handful of fairly successful paid MMO’s.
As I see it, there are three kinds of games with three unique objectives:
- Mindless fun- You play this because it’s a diversion. I played Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory because it was absurdly fun. Didn’t learn anything, didn’t accomplish anything, but I stalked enemies for hours fucking with their heads and had a blast with my little sadistic metagames.
- Sense of raw accomplishment- You play because it lets you achieve something for the sake of achieving something. When I played WoW, I was a raider. I was a damn good raider. Rogue class lead in one of the top guilds on a server of thousands. Every night that I played, we killed a boss that took 25 well-coordinated people or did a massive battle in Alterac Valley.
- Sense of technical achievement- I don’t play the Total War series because it’s fun. It is, but that couldn’t matter less to me. I don’t play flight sims or Arma because they’re fun either. I play games like this because they’re extremely detailed and highly technical things that require a lot of time, skill, and patience to become good at. I’m a citizen of a country where guns are illegal and don’t want to join the military, so on Arma I can be the sniper or the pilot. I was born in the post-imperial age, so on Empire: Total War I can be the Napoleon or the Catherine.
WoW isn’t particularly fun, but over the years it’s found the perfect balance between time spent and reward gained. If you spend ten minutes playing, you beat a quest, save some slaves, and get a green quality item. If you spend an hour playing, you complete a chain, save a city, and get a blue quality item. If you spend obscene amounts of time playing, you kill Hitler and get a purple quality item or a title that will make other people trying to get the same recognise you.
An MMO needs rewards that take a very long time or a very high level of skill to earn. You don’t play with other people because you like the company, you play because you want to one-up a thousand people. You don’t raid because you want others to succeed, you raid because you want to boost your own character. PVP, nobody gives a shit about team effort- it’s individual progression utilising the support of the rest of the team.
Grinds exist because they have to. That’s the nature of the game. You will never win an MMO, you wouldn’t want to because that means others can too.
Below flowchart is a little outdated, but it sums up the history of “MMO standards” pretty well: