Stormrage update first. Queues were under 1000 people and times under 15 minutes. Fun fact, on starter edition you can see the queue but you’re always pushed to the back. Funner fact, WoW tokens are server-specific and if you can’t log into a server, you can’t buy a token, so you stay in the queue. Funnerer fact, Blizzard has had 3 days of server crashes/DDOS events. Onto less facts.
Where Zynga excelled (aside from stealing ideas) was in putting time gates everywhere in their games, then charging you to speed it up. Charging made them money, but the time gates had people continue to log in for longer periods and spread their focus around. It drastically slowed down content consumption. Clash of Clans (and all its clones) follow the exact same model. This provides a “long tail” to the game, where you may have seen bits and pieces of everything, but you haven’t seen it all.
This model works exceptionally well for casual players and frustrates the living heck of out hardcore players. Imagine if Battlefield players started each map with 10 lives, and restored at a rate of 1 per minute. That would be a game changer. Or imagine Overwatch only allowing you to queue once every 30 minutes?
What other methods exist to provide a long tail? There are a few, though most have fallen out of favor.
Attunement was an older method, where you needed to jump through a specific set of hoops in order to move on. Sure, it’s still there a bit, what with ilvl requirements, or just plain level requirements, but the days of the BC attunement process are long gone. Thank goodness.
The other main method is randomness, or as I like to say, praying to RNGsus. Action RPGs (like Diablo, Grim Dawn, or Path of Exile) breathe this model. MMOs have varying success here. Lich King managed it somewhat with the badge system, Warlords was strong on random numbers on gear drops, and Legion sort of tried to find a middle ground with simple stats to roll and upgrades all over the place. RNG works to a point. Gating content behind stats, which is what RNG gives you, only motivates people so far. All stick and no carrot, tends to turn people away (D3 at launch, amirite?).
All the methods of extending a game make sense.
Dailies have been a part of WoW for a long time, though they only really took off in Lich King (due to the massive money generation at the time), and they use all 3 of the methods to work. In Legion, world quests are available daily, the tasks and rewards are random, and access to them requires faction attunement (which further rewards faction).
Dungeons, pet battles, raids, crafting… all of it. While you can certainly play for 24 hours straight, a specific measure of content only lasts so long before you need to try something else.
The trick is finding the right balance of it all. Making sure that the time gates are not too long, that the content within a gate matches a “play session”, that attunement is not exclusive and punitive, and that the randomness can be offset through other means (gear comes from factions, quests, dungeons and crafting). I’m rather surprised at the level of balance achieved so far. MoP taught Blizz some hard lessons about gating, and Warlords some lessons around attunement (grinding) and randomness (simplified rolls).
I’m turning more to the mindset that Legion is what Warlords should have been, mechanically at least. The majority of those missteps have been corrected.
Well, except for Hunters and Warlocks blowing chunks. But who cares about them?