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As former president and co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, Mike Morhaime has a storied past in the game industry.
In an interview at the virtual GamesBeat Summit 2020, he took a moment to reflect on his company's biggest game, World of Warcraft, and to think about what made it a success. For him, it all boils down to how the game brought players together in a highly social way.
"The power of being able to share those [game] experiences with other people is something that we think is core to the experience that we try to make," he said. "So the meaning [of a game] kind of comes from being able to share those experiences."
He said when Blizzard launched World of Warcraft in 2004, he was surprised by its initial popularity—he had yet to realize the power of the game's social component.
"I thought in making an…MMORPG that we were, at least in the beginning, going to reach a smaller audience and then maybe have to grow from there," he said. "And right off the bat, the curve was just a lot steeper than I ever imagined.
"My takeaway from that was that World of Warcraft was the most social of all of our games up to that point, because you had groups of people experiencing that together."
He explained how when the MMO first launched, players had to be part of a guild to experience some of the game's content. Morhaime said that's what made it such a mass market experience. "I think the social experience, the ability to share your entertainment with others is core," he said.
Today, MMOs in the style of World of Warcraft aren't as popular as they were in their heyday. Morhaime speculated that could be because, in the pursuit of accessibility, MMO design abandoned important social aspects.
"I think that's a question of accessibility and time investment," he said when asked about the waning popularity of the genre. "I wouldn't say that MMOs wouldn't have a resurgence in the future, but maybe there are other types of games that are able to capture the social experience even more."
He added, "I would also just observe that as World of Warcraft evolved over the years, it actually kind of became less social, because in an effort to achieve more accessibility, we removed some of the reasons why you need to play with the same group of people over and over."