In gaming, it's easy to criticize games that are critically panned and financial disappointments. It's also easy to commend games that are critically praised and financial hits. What you see less often are those who are willing to criticize games that are not only critically well-received, but financial juggernauts.

No other game fits this description better than World of Warcraft, which has accumulated nearly $10 billion in revenue as of last year. Not only is it exceptional for an MMO, it's exceptional for any game ever made. WoW, alone, has made Blizzard into the juggernaut it is today  far more than any other game.

But there's a dirty secret many either don't know, or would rather avoid even acknowledging. WoW killed the MMORPG genre, and it's likely the genre will never truly recover. What do I mean by this, you ask? How is it possible that one game could single-handedly kill all creativity and depth in a genre in a matter of years? It comes down to three things: timing, accessibility, and a little luck.

Before World of Warcraft existed (there were actually MMOs that preceded it), the MMO genre was far more niche, yet provided incredible experiences you would only dream of. Ranging from Anarchy Online, to Everquest, to Ultima Online, to Star Wars Galaxies, to Dark Age of Camelot, and many others, MMOs came in all different shapes and sizes with more depth and complexity than you could ever imagine.

Using Star Wars Galaxies as an example, it's the only Star Wars game to ever be created where you could truly live in the Star Wars Universe. Like many sandbox MMOs, its replay value was limitless as players created the experience and not the developer.

With over 34 unique professions to mix and match (combat and social) with a skill-based system, a full-fledged player housing and city-building system, the most in-depth crafting system I've ever experienced in any game (crafters made everything), the most complex space simulator in any MMORPG, massive open world PvP, and the most rewarding Jedi system to ever be conceived (Jedi was rare and they were powerful), there simply has never been another game like it.

Unfortunately, even with it's amazing sandbox, incredible player-driven economy, player-run events, and large open world planets, Star Wars Galaxies, like many other pre-WoW MMOs, lacked accessibility, luck, and unfortunate timing. What I mean by this is SWG came a decade too soon, and would unfortunately never have a chance to truly shine with the phenomenon that would become WoW.

SWG wasn't without faults. It had a steep learning curve. The game was incredibly time consuming, especially if you wanted to become a Jedi. It also was riddled with a messy launch, due to bugs and various other inconveniences.

This kind of situation wasn't unique to SWG, however. Most MMOs pre-WoW suffered from a lack of polish, a lack of accessibility, and poor latency due to slow internet (remember dial-up?) limiting what developers could create in the late 90's and early 2000's.

The player base for MMOs pre-WoW was also incredibly tiny. Any MMO would be lucky to even have 100,000 active players. The genre was still very much "indie" in its design, but this would all change quickly once WoW released in 2004.

Being largely based off of Everquest, World of Warcraft was a new kind of MMO - a theme park. It wasn't a sandbox. It didn't have depth or the same amount of replay value. It didn't have dozens upon dozens of classes. It didn't have player housing or player cities.

It really didn't have much of anything for its first few years. However, none of that mattered because WoW brought a whole new generation of gamers to the MMO genre. It was incredibly accessible, because WoW had dumbed down the MMO formula so much.

It made a genre that was historically impenetrable for many, something that anybody could participate in. It also refined and perfected raiding, which would become a staple in all MMOs thanks to WoW. The game would gain so much attention and praise, that it would quickly amass a player base larger than all other MMOs combined.

It was a tidal wave that couldn't be stopped, and when publishers saw how much money WoW was making, it was only a matter of time before they tried to follow suit. This marked the beginning of the end of complexity and uniqueness in the MMO genre, as all major AAA publishers hopelessly chased after a piece of the pie. This is where the infamous term "WoW clone" was born.

Gone were the days of player-driven MMOs, customization beyond your wildest dreams, and freedom and choice to play however you want. All games followed the WoW model, having fewer classes, a cookie cutter questing system, redundant raid content, instanced PvP, and content that you would blow through after a few months and be bored.

For all the things WoW did well, the theme park model has always suffered from never having enough content, because the developer has to create the entire experience for players. This leads to many getting bored, and eventually players leave the game. This was also true for the dozens of WoW clones that had been created post-WoW.

This over-saturation of the market with theme park MMOs and the impossibility of supplying enough content in a timely manner eventually began to eat away WoW's player base. Other MMO competitors also gave up on trying to compete with WoW directly, and decided to try different payment models (Free-To-Play, Buy-To-Play, etc.) instead of the traditional subscription fee for MMOs (only a handful of MMOs are sub-only these days).

Looking at the MMO industry in 2018, versus 2003, it's downright bizarre how MMOs actually offer less features, systems, and player choice than they did 15 years ago. I don't think any genre has regressed as much as the MMO genre has, and sadly I don't believe the damage can be reversed. Even with WoW now in its decline, it seems as though many gamers suffer from MMO fatigue, and the genre has had to find new ways of keeping itself relevant.

MMOs, such as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited, have had to resort to also being accessible to the console gaming market in order to be profitable. There's also less and less of a distinction between MMOs today and "Games as a Service," such as Destiny 2, The Division, and Grand Theft Auto: Online.

What was once a genre filled with boundless creativity and unique experiences has been diluted to offering the same experience over and over with a different coat of paint. It's why I've largely sworn off the entire genre, sticking to predominantly single player games and nothing else.

There are, of course, a few exceptions of MMOs that haven't fully embraced the theme park model. Whether you look at EVE, or several popular Korean MMOs (ArcheAge, Black Desert Online), they are able to sustain sandbox experiences in a genre that no longer embraces the philosophy. Of course, they aren't nearly as profitable as any of their theme park counterparts either.

I digress. The Golden Age of MMOs in the late 90's and early 2000's will never return. It's not as if Blizzard had malicious intent and wanted to destroy the genre either. They simply made a game that even they could never foresee would become so popular and influential. Corporations predictably try to chase the money, and that's how we get to our current landscape.

Even if I'm never able to play an MMORPG like SWG again, that doesn't mean other genres aren't picking up where sandbox MMOs left off. In particular, I've noticed many games embracing sandbox elements in a way they never have before. Star Citizen, as an example, is one sandbox experience that could truly be revolutionary, if it ever releases. The same goes for Cyberpunk 2077, if any of the rumors about the game are true, and also potentially Anthem.

I suppose the moral of the story is while it's a shame that WoW killed the MMO, it certainly has not killed video games as a creative medium. And who knows? Maybe some of these GaaS will lead to a revolution of the MMO genre yet again, much in the same way WoW did 14 years ago. It's unlikely, and it seems that AAA publishers have largely moved on from MMOs. You never quite know what the future has in store for us.