On the open Sunday thread there was some discussion about what Blizzard's next MMO could be. As they aren't saying much, the possibilities are near endless. But lets assume for a moment that Blizzard is a company that wants to make the maximum profit. Or, if you prefer the idealistic version, that they want to make the maximum number of players happy (which then results in maximum numbers of subscribers, and thus maximum profit). Based on that assumption, how would they design their next MMO?
The one thing Blizzard doesn't want is their new MMO cannibalizing players from World of Warcraft. If you want the maximum number of subscribers, you have to go for both people who aren't playing WoW, and for people willing to pay for two accounts and play both WoW and the new game. That is nearly impossible to achieve if your new game is very similar to the old one. To attract different players, or to offer something very different to existing WoW players, the new game would have to have a very different gameplay.
Thus I do not believe that whatever MMO Blizzard is working on will have you talking to NPCs with a golden exclamation mark over their head, who send you out to kill ten foozles, in a hotkey-based combat system with tanks, healers, and damage dealers. Even if, as some readers speculated, the thing would play in a steampunk world, the game would be too similar to WoW in gameplay if it was playing on the surface of some world, with lots of zones, monsters, and some dungeons.
So my bet would be a game based on star systems and spaceships, although those could be steam-powered for more originality. Think EVE for carebears, given that so many of EVE's players never leave safe space, there would certainly be a market for that. Especially if you make the start a lot more welcoming, which is one of the weak points of EVE, still after lots of improvement. Think Earth & Beyond done right, with the usual Blizzard attention to detail and polish. Players could still have avatars walking through space stations, but most of the game would be centered around their ships. A good system of ship tuning, in which you have to balance various advantages and disadvantages, and upgrade your ship with ever new parts found, could replace the gear hunt of WoW. Trading, crafting, consentual PvP, exploring the galaxy. Blizzard could, in their usual manner, take the best of every existing single- or multi-player space game and combine it into one glorious masterpiece. The "Elite Online" we've been waiting for. I'd play that, would you?