Every gamer will eventually fall into the 'in-between' rut and discover the unfortunate truth about their favorite games. It's no longer what it was, the gameplay has changed, it's lost it's charm, this expansion ruined this/that. It appears to be a common trend for previously released games and more increasingly it's happening to newly released ones. More frequently, MMORPG's are failing right out of the gate causing a ton of developers to lose millions of dollars and dropping the industry even further down. It's not that these games are all doing poorly, there are several that are all doing extremely well and aren't going to go anywhere, but take a quick look at the industry as a whole however.. if you combine the sum of it's parts it is doing terrible.
It's not just MMO developers that are doing poorly in my opinion, all genres of gaming is suffering through an awkward phase of casualization and broader audiences, especially on the consoles. The difference here is that these games will still sell regardless. With a console game you are not banking on your players staying solely with your game, spending roughly $15 a month to maintain a subscription.. once you've sold the box your job is done. That's what makes the MMORPG industry such a difficult one to survive in, and unfortunately I think that developers and companies are coming into this industry with the wrong mindset and the wrong values in their head.
As the years go on we see more and more MMORPGs announced and released. Also more frequently we see these new games come and go, most of them surviving with a dwindling population or not surviving at all. They are also becoming increasingly similar and for the most part they are all failing for the exact same reasons.
You have to want to make your game. Not just money. That's an undeniable truth and it exists for all types of media. If you're in it for the sales with no creative or passionate backing, you will always suffer in one way or another. You also cannot build your game expecting that millions of people will play it. Launching with more servers you can fill is just a waste and if you build your game for X number of players and you only maintain half that number, your game will fundamentally suffer and your small numbers will eventually fall even lower.
Another, more insulting problem (in my personal opinion), is the method in which the developers are attempting to sell their games. It's become a battle of hype and for the most part the hype proves false. Developers are attempting to get closer to the community, showing us behind the scenes information on the development, telling us all the secret details that will make this game twice as good as the ones before it. They'll even draw us diagrams and explain things in impressive detail and give us videos full of in-game features and boasts.
...but none of these will show you gameplay or actual gameplay mechanics. The NDA will be so thick it will insure that the very sight of your game is forbidden. Players will attack anyone who speaks ill of the beta and treat them as a vile internet troll, although they may not have seen the game yet themselves. The reason for all of this secrey and silent hatred? Because the game they are selling is not complete. (Beta in a Box anyone?) Sure, you can argue that the NDA's are always there just to keep people from seeing early footage and assuming the wrong things... but if you truly had a game that was revolutionary and better in every way, you'd be willing to show it off even in it's beta stages.
It's quite possible that there is none. The state of the entire gaming industry has become this way. Game developers have seen the success of games like World of Warcraft and Everquest and assumed that we, the MMORPG gamers, are willing to shell out millions of dollars and make them all instantly rich. Without the need for them to invent or try new things. Now, I realize that isn't the case for all games that are coming out lately, there have been a few smaller games that have done reasonably well (Darkfall, Fallen Earth deserve some honorable mentions, along with a few others I can't remember off the top of my head.) but for the most part we're seeing alot of the same things happen, and it doesn't just destroy video game budgets, it's also ruining a ton of previously awesome IPs and franchises.
I think the solution is to simply wait it out. If failure does continue at the rate that it is at, then eventually alot of developers are unfortunately going to have to pull out and try something else... and that is a shame for both them and us, but we're going to have to wait until we end up with a few companies who are willing to try something new and who can sucessfully push the genre to new places. Perhaps I have exaggerated on the degree to which I describe 'failure' but we, as consumers and developers alike, deserve much better. Perhaps not everyone agrees with this blog post, but if the industry continues on this path, MMORPGs as we know it may completely die out. For better or for worse.