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Morhaime says WoW accessibility push hurt social experience

Ex-Blizzard head says social gameplay unlocked mass market, but push for further growth worked against original appeal

Blizzard's push to expand the audience of World of Warcraft in latter years may have been coming at the expense of what made it successful in the first place.

That's according to former Blizzard president Mike Morhaime, who spoke during the GamesBeat Summit 2020 earlier today.

When asked what his big takeaways about game loops and player behavior were after his stint with Blizzard, Morhaime focused on how much the company's games benefited from the social experiences they created for players.

"I think the power of being able to share those experiences with other people has become something we think is core to the experience that we try to make," Morhaime said. "So the meaning comes from being able to share those experiences."

He recalled the launch of World of Warcraft, which he had believed would click with a small audience and gradually expand. When it arrived, it far surpassed all his expectations and changed the way he thought about the company's games.

"My takeaway from that was that World of Warcraft was actually the most social of all of our games to that point, because you had groups of people experiencing it together," Morhaime said. "Especially in the beginning, you needed to join a guild to experience some of that content, and that made it a more mass market experience than some of the previous games."

When asked about why traditional MMOs seem to be less popular these days, Morhaime first suggested it was a question of accessibility and time investment, saying that other types of games have been able to capture social experiences better.

"I would also 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 kind of removed some of the reasons why you needed to play with the same group of people over and over," Morhaime said.

He added, "I think it takes away some of the reasons for some people of why they play, and why they might want to continue playing."

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