Stage 4: Outrage!
The NDA drops (or enough people have been let into closed beta for the NDA to be useless)! Everyone can see the full MMO feature set! And suddenly it turns out that not only is <feature X> not in release, but that they changed <feature Y> from the description 12 months ago and that it now has <feature Z> that obviously no-one wants and the devs wasted time on! A lot of exited community members return to post 'LOL' and not come back, while the forum warriors take their battles off the closed beta forums and into the public arena. Some posters immolate themselves with spectacular rants that get them permabanned, while others grumble and find enough in the MMO to keep them.
A few players are genuinely happy at what the game provides. No-one cares what they think.
Forum activity during this time goes into overdrive. Between the LOLs, the rants, the pitched battles, the new posters asking "is this gaem any gud?" things are at fever pitch. The phrase, "it's only beta" will be used as to bludgeon dissenting opinions into submission with terrifying frequency or as an excuse that means little.
During this stage, the community is like a bunch of children who have been promised fairy bread, cake and sweets just as soon as they arrive at a magical fun park. On arriving, the children will find that there is only fairy bread and sweets of one colour, the cake is a lie and the fun park only has three rides they can go on. Some children will not take this discovery well.
This stage renders any community building in the other stages moot. Seriously. A community manager can have things running as smoothly as possible prior to this stage, but it will mean nothing unless the game developers deliver everything they promised exactly as everyone has interpreted it to be promised. Since this is impossible, the existing community will schism, schism again and generally multiple schism until those dissatisfied with the 'final' form of the game leave. There's a good chance that even the staunchest forum warrior, who has frequently written 1 000 word rants dissecting criticisms levelled against his beloved MMO dream, will abandon the game at this point if they don't like the feature set. At the same time, the trolliest troll may choose to hang around because suddenly things look interesting to them in-game. Your pre-release community is not your post-release community and this stage is when that kicks in.
The most common question during this time will be "when does the game go live?" (if that hasn't been announced, because people want to know how long they have to 'fix' things) or "HOW COULD YOU LIE TO US, YOU LYING LIARS???".
Stage 5: Acceptance!
The game launches! Those who were playing for free but don't want to pay leave. The forums are often rebooted. Only the faithful or the really hateful remain. Post counts may need to be padded anew. New players join who wouldn't touch a beta with a 10 foot pole, bringing new forum warriors with them and also repeats of suggestions from back in Stage 1.
Forum activity becomes more managable and the Customer Service staff actually start to care about the community, because they've become less leeches than customers (or at least leeches who fork out some cash each month). People are playing the game, so things are quieter.
During this stage the community behaves like they've just got married. Sure, their choice may have some flaws and may occasionally irritate them, but they've seen enough good (or: the MMO has a hold over them) to commit for a while. Criticism is generally gentle (barring and
marriage game-breaking bugs) and both parties are seeing how things work out between them. Of course, if another slinkly little MMO comes along with that look in its eye, that commitment may strain... but for now, they're giving it a shot.
The most common question during this phase is "when is <this problem> getting fixed?", which is sometimes stated as "when is the expansion / next patch coming out?".
Stage 6: Stasis!
The MMO has been out for a while. How to play guides have been written and your garden-variety powergamer knows the quickest way to maxlevel with at least three different classes. All hidden content has been found and posted on websites, while all secret tactics required to defeat special situations have been narrowed down to a learn-by-rote formula. There are still some forum battles and no doubt contensious issues (usually related to class-balance and what is "fair"), but the community is settled.
Forum activity has probably reached a constant level, barring any new announcements that delight and / or terrify current players. The redname developers will have established a reputation (warranted or not) within the community and in-jokes abound. Post counts are padded on the official forums as some sort of game-outside-of-the-game, often when the person can't play the MMO.
The community at this stage behave like the regulars at a coffee shop. Each will have their likes and dislikes - some will love telling their dislikes to the counter staff day after day after day - but for whatever reason they've chosen to keep coming back. They'll have the game just the way they like it and it's usually a combination of inertia and familiarity that keeps people returning. Of course, changes to the menu or what coffee is used could see some of these regulars not come back, but eventually offering them the same old pastries every day is also likely to see them leave too. Good luck in balancing that out. Overall however, the community is comfortable.
The most common question during this phase is "when is <The Next Big MMO> coming out?".