Back in the day, 'beating' World of Warcraft meant killing Kel'Thuzad. Now that a Taiwanese player has 'beaten' the game in WotLK, we can see how much deeper WoW has gotten since 2004.
A few days ago, a particularly interesting piece of news circulated most World of Warcraft communities, about a Taiwanese player, 小灰, who had, literally, beaten the game. According to his armoury page, this particularly ambitious Druid is boasting a massive 986 out of a possible 986 achievements, having just finished up the most recent Thanksgiving Event achievements on Thursday. Interestingly, while this was a fairly spectacular accomplishment in itself, it's personal success stories like these that really show how well designed World of Warcraft has become and how it's managed to remain millions of subscribers ahead of any other popular MMORPG: through the power of (no pun intended here) achievability and reward.
It always seems very odd to say "beat the game" in the same sentence as MMORPG, because one of the cardinal rules of this genre is the belief that nobody should be able to truly "beat" an MMO. It's uncertain when a rule like this was established, but if you ask any dedicated player out there, chances are high that they'd note that MMOs are designed around progression, and a viable conclusion to that progression is typically seen as bad news for the game. What is interesting, however, lies in how the definition of "beating the game" has evolved from a simple "killing the last boss," to finishing a massive list of achievements across every aspect of World of Warcraft.
You see, prior to WoW's first expansion, The Burning Crusade, there really wasn't much to do, aside from raiding and PvP. Endgame raiding required a huge amount of 'attunements' and up-to-date gear (remember, this was before tokens, and raids were 40 players!), and PvP required an incredible amount of grinding to get anywhere near the top ranks. Because of this, when players asserted that they had "beaten the game," it usually just meant that they had finally managed to down Kel'Thuzad in Naxxramas, or they had finally achieved the coveted Grand Marshall or High Warlord ranking in PvP.
Fast forward to World of Warcraft after two expansions, and it's quite easy to see how Blizzard has worked to broaden its avenues of progression. By implementing rewards through hundreds (almost a thousand!) of achievements, combined with all sorts of casual friendly systems that help players get into content faster, Blizzard has really made it possible for players to play the game in any way they want and still take pleasure in the amount of progression they make.
In this way, it seems as though a great strength of Blizzard's easier progression system is that players are now feeling more adventurous in their approach to the game. Some players are focusing purely on the WoW market, with raiding considered a side activity; other players have made it their goal to level to 80 without killing anything; and even more players are collecting mounts, pets or map exploration achievements because raiding, maintaining access to raids and 'progression' has been made easier to keep up.
Some of the more dedicated players have complained that World of Warcraft has become too easy to 'beat,' and they note just how quickly some guilds polish off endgame bosses, the moment they are released. On the other hand, however, while these small groups of players (remember, fewer than 5% of players had even seen Naxxramas before TBC!) may feel that their chosen "portion" of the game has shrunk, or gotten easier, there are millions of other players who are enjoying the huge variety of new activities being introduced by Blizzard monthly.
So in the end, the next time you hear someone lamenting that he's 'beaten the game' because the Lich King died a week after he came out, perhaps you should point him towards 小灰, and ask him if he's really seen all there is to the World of Warcraft.