Blizzard has been doing a post-mortem on Cataclysm and MMO-Champion has some links to it all. Of all the items listed, this one quote sticks out to me.
Finally, we wanted to deliver all of this content more aggressively. We know players can only wait so long for something new to do before they start to get bored. This has been a goal for some time, but it has been a challenging one for us. When you compare the graphic fidelity of a raid like Firelands to an older raid like Molten Core, you can imagine how it takes both more time and more people to make a raid these days. That’s exactly the opposite of what we want to be doing though, which is providing players content at faster rates.
This is a point of considerable pain for Blizzard that has been largely ignored for years. UO and EQ didn’t really have this problem as the content was either so complex or hard that it was rarely consumed in its entirety by the next expansion. Blizzard followed that mentality up until the end of Burning Crusade and honestly, even the competition was in-line.
Flash forward to Lich King (late 2008) and the era of Facebook games. Even the iTunes store was starting to gain traction and Blizzard took the route of easy content that could be repeated in short time frames. Sadly, they kept their raid structure well out of reach of the “common” person until nearly 4 years later so that the actual content they pushed out in patches was never consumed nor even planned on being consumed. The “little details” like 1 dungeon every 4 months got consumed in 2 weeks and people just started quitting.
Move up to the start of Cataclysm and many, many games are on the market. F2P is all over the place and Rift is coming along nicely. Developers are keeping with the easy to consume aspect but also selling the content in small chunks at a rather rapid pace. Balance is certainly an issue but with a breath of content to explore and nearly all of it being modular, devs can get a significant patch out every 1-2 months. Blizzard remains firmly in the 3-4 month content race and when content does come out, it’s recycled content for 3-5 years ago. Quite a head scratcher.
So here we are in 2012 where the consumer is willing to buy content that will only last a few weeks, maybe a month and a bit, then move on. An MMO tourist if you will. Think about it, you could spend 15$ a month and easily play DCUO, LOTRO, DDO and Fallen Earth with cash to spare at the end. Rift has had 7 major content patches since launch. TOR has had 1 since launch (3 months now). Blizzard has had 3 since Cata launched 18 months ago (yes, 18 months already) and their next expansion is at least another 3 months down the road.
Looking at the structure of the MMO world today and Blizzard’s inability to stop the hemorrhage of players it’s fair, I think, to point the finger squarely at Blizzard and say “if you want me to pay you, give me something to pay for” as the alternatives are currently all more attractive. Blizzard has always seemed to be ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation but in this single regard, we’re looking at a lumbering behemoth trying to be agile. Time remains to see if they can actually put their words to action.