Mists of Pandaria releases in a day or so and WoW will see it’s 4th expansion sell like hotcakes, without doubt. It will also see the largest player drop ever by Christmas so that it ends up below where it was pre-expansion.
Today’s MMO landscape if filled with F2P games that offer more, less or the same amount of content as WoW, just with differing levels of polish. WoW’s major strength is that it was first at the plate with a polished, solo-friendly game and people find solace in that familiarity. (As an aside, in the IT field it’s often said that launching early, even if there are massive bugs, is worth the hassle if you are first to field. The money is just too big.)
Where WoW’s major problem occurs is that it cannot compete with the content delivery structure and payment models that F2P offers. If I can get the same gaming experience (PvE themepark) with a steady stream of content for free (or piecemeal), then that’s a much better deal. SWTOR will likely make more money in a F2P model that it could ever have in a P2P model.
WoW’s content delivery schedule is notoriously lengthy. Polish means the world when you’re the only one providing the item. It is no longer the only one on the field and getting 3 content patches in 2 years (1 of which was a complete rehash of old content) is poor money. We’re talking about 180$ a year, or 60$ a patch. I could play Rift for the 180$ a year and get 10 patches, with more content.
People don’t need a new raid every 2 months. They do need something though! A patch of social, a patch of dungeons, a patch of raids…break it up. Find a way to get people wanting to log in for something to do. MoP will either bring WoW back from a drain with content patches on a 6-8 week schedule or put the F2P machine in gear with 6-12 month patch spans.
I so hope it can do the former.