I started typing out a long winded response to this post over at Hardcore Casual (you can see a much snittier one further up in the comments), but decided I wanted to turn it into a blog post. One of the points made in the Hardcore Casual post is that, like McDonald's, the popularity of WoW says little about it's overall quality. However that misses the fact that popularity is one of a very few objective criteria by which competing products can be ranked.
For example . . .
Popularity: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.
Financial success: McDonald's and WoW win over most competing products.
Pooled ratings of professional critics: This is the closest thing that we have to an objective measure of "quality." However it cannot be equated to quality. The opinions of critics are also subjective, and are often overturned by the historians and critics of future generations. See the initial reaction to Stravinsky's the Rite of Spring, for example. When it get's right down to it, "quality" is always a somewhat subjective, and often context dependent. The best sport's car in the world is a useless piece of junk compared to a reliable jeep for many (if not most) humans.
In any case, McDonald's is a big loser in this category. Almost any town will have some place to dine that would be better regarded by food critics than McDonald's. However, here again WoW wins over most competing products. Few MMOs have ever received gamerankings or meta-critic scores in the ballpark of WoW.
From all of this we can see that WoW is superior to EVE (and indeed most MMOs) by several obvious objective criteria. But at this point the fans of EVE will be crying foul, because all of the criteria I listed depend somewhat on popularity and prevailing opinion. And we all know that popular things are rarely "the best" (unless of course by best you mean most popular, profitable, or highly rated by critics...).
So that brings us to . . .
Subjective Criteria (wherein analogies to food are dropped).
Innovation: Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. Any new MMO has some innovative features (if however minor), and many features found in past products. How do we weight the sum total of innovations in competing products? And what counts as an innovation, exactly? Does something have to be 100% new to be an innovation, or does an improvement to an existing system count? What about integrating old systems that have never coexisted in the same product, is that an innovation? What about bringing an off-line game concept online, is that innovation?
Many have argued that WoW is not innovative because it contains few core mechanics not found in previous MMOs. Others have argued that creating a game that is easy to pick up and play, that has solo friendly quest driven leveling, and is generally user friendly and polished is itself an innovation. That alone shows that there is no widely accepted functional definition of "innovative" when applied to MMO design. EVE is widely regarded as innovative. However, the single largest innovation is that the entire game takes place on a single server. And that's only innovative if you don't count MUDs.
Even if we accept that EVE is more innovative than WoW, is innovation really the most important factor in deciding whether one game is "better" than another? If that's the case, Puzzle Pirates and Endless Forest are arguably better than either EVE or WoW.
Quality: Again, it depends on what criteria you choose to apply. Even criteria that seem objective, such as "lack of game breaking bugs" can be hard to quantify. Some bugs clearly are game breakers, for example not being able to log on. However, some bugs are annoyances to some players and game breakers to others. Where do we draw the line?
More importantly, does quality include whether a game is fun? Since the primary purpose of most games is to serve as entertainment, I certainly believe it should. If so, quality is obviously subjective.
Value: Usually understood as the ratio of price to quality. However, quality is subjective.
Fun: The only criterion that matters to me in the slightest. And what constitutes fun is obviously completely and utterly in the eye of the beholder. One man's fun is another man's torture. See rep grinding in WoW and Mining in EVE.
So in summary . . .
By three obvious objective criteria WoW is a superior game to EVE. Of course by two out these three criteria McDonald's is also practically the best food in the world, right up there with bread and rice. By several subjective criteria, EVE might be better than WoW. Depends on who you ask.
You may be thinking that I am a fan of WoW at this point. That actually couldn't be further from the truth. A lot of the subjectives absolutely ruin WoW for me. I wouldn't log into WoW or EVE even if it were free, much less be willing to pay for the privilege.
The only point I'm trying to make, is that the only way a niche title with mediocre review scores like EVE online can be considered objectively superior to a game like WoW is if you think your subjective opinion is the only criterion worth considering. Of course, I suppose a lot of bloggers and message board ranters do feel that way.