The Warcraft killer.
It's been a long time coming and has been predicted in much the same manner as the guy on the New York street corner insisting the end of the world is nigh. Many gamers have wanted you to repent your MMO sins and believe that their particular game is the warcraft killer. So far it just hasn't happened yet. Warcraft has been the unstoppable juggernaut in a pond of small MMO fish, and a killer app similarly hasn't materialized to challenge its rule.
That train comes to a halt later this year.
How can one accurate predict the coming of the warcraft slayer? By watching Warcraft subscription policy. In that, Blizzard is like any other MMORPG purveyor: They will won't weaken their marketing position unless they absolutely have to. So far there hasn't been enough threat afield to really do much of anything, really. Sure, other MMOs were nibbling at their toes and a free 10 day trial was enough of a concession to address them, but that has recently and abruptly changed. It's not just a 10 day trial any more. It's not just incentives to entice you to lure your friends back... We now have a full blown free trial to level 20 and no time limit. That's one-fourth the of actual level cap.
It's also a major change in marketing behavior, and any time you see that, you should be ask yourself why. Here's a hint: It's hardly ever because they're generous to you, the gamer.
It is my belief that the writing is one the wall in regards to the future of warcraft, and Blizzard knows it. The third and forth quarter will bring about significant changes to the MMO environment as it stands right now, and those changes are going to hurt the warcraft subscription base... Badly, unless I've missed my guess.
The first and biggest threat to Warcraft's dominance is Old Republic. Whether it's actually good or not, just the fandom and hype alone will take a huge chunk out of their subscription base. Frankly, I don't even see that as debatable. I personally have my doubts as to its long term viability amongst people who aren't all in for starwars, but when Old Republic rolls, it's going to hurt the already six year old warcraft whether you and I personally like starwars or not.
The second salvo will come in the form of the sleeper hit Guildwars 2, also slated for later this year. So far there hasn't been much of a fuss made about the game, but there's no denying the time and effort that's been invested in this game. Honestly, it looks better than Old Republic in terms of gameplay and visuals if the movies are any indication. Even worse from warcraft's standpoint, it's still being reported as subscription free per the Manifesto video here.
In the interest of fairness, there's also the possibility that Blizzard is preparing Warcraft to be more attractive as they introduce their new MMO, tentatively codenamed Project Titan. That said, there's been so little information released on this particular venture that I can't help but to doubt a 2011 release date and as such plays a small factor in Blizzard purposely weakening warcraft's financial position.
Remember, folks: A game company will only change their financial model if they have to. A company doesn't render two thirds of its progression (however watered down the XP curve is as of the moment) out of the goodness of its heart. Something is driving that change.
The Warcraft Slayer approaches.