It is no secret that I am not a big fan of the World of Warcraft expansions, neither the Burning Crusade nor the Wrath of the Lich King. I find they are mostly "more of the same", lack innovation, and add too little content with far too much time in between. I do not think that adding 10 more levels in every expansion is a viable strategy to keep World of Warcraft interesting for a long time. But some comments on recent posts made me realize: What if Blizzard doesn't *want* to keep World of Warcraft interesting for a long time? What if they just put a small team on developing WoW expansion to do the minimum to keep it alive, and put a much bigger team on developing World of Warcraft 2. Or World of Starcraft. Or World of Diablo. Whatever.
Sooner or later all MMORPGs decline. Yes, Ultima Online and Everquest are still around, but their subscription numbers have fallen far from the peak. EA certainly regrets earlier decisions to have cancelled UO2 twice, because now the Ultima brand is dying. SOE did better with EQ2, which while having "lost" against WoW which was released in the same month, still is profitable with 200k subscribers.
With time players grow bored of any game. The graphics engine becomes more and more outdated every year. And by adding more content you inevitably dilute the existing content, creating large empty landscapes. The diehard fans will keep playing anyway, but attracting new customers for a game that is several years old is getting increasingly hard. Sooner or later a new game comes along with new content, fancier graphics, new ideas, and it steals your customers away as well as attracting new players. If you were leading a game company, wouldn't you want that new game to be yours? If Blizzard brings out WotLK end of 2008, and announces WoW2 in 2009 for release in 2010, they could keep their position of top dog for many years to come. WoW would be kept alive, and would probably still have millions of players, albeit less than now. But WoW2 could easily become even bigger than WoW1, and together the two games could keep dominating the market.
Blizzard certainly believes that they have the secret sauce recipe of how to make a successful game. And I don't know of any company that doesn't want to grow. What looks like a more likely successful growth strategy to you: Creating regular expansions for World of Warcraft, or making a successor game, be it WoW2 or WoS or WoD?