I started this as a forum thread but realized my reply ended up being pretty long. I put this here, not to get blog hits, but to avoid the TLDR posts. I’ll put the bullet points in the thread here :
Like most things in this world rarely does 1 single event cause significant change (for some reason we people always tend to look for 1 reason) I think it's many things combined with timing.
WOW has been dropping subs for years only getting them back with Xpacs. I think that made a lot of industry folks say "ok this model isn't working unless you keep new content coming at them". GW2 ran with this idea but most companies can’t afford that kind of grind so they needed a game that allowed players to make content for themselves. Nothing does that as well as the sandbox (either PVE or PVP or both).
AAA after AAA tried and failed to clone WOW. SWTOR being the biggest and best example. After SWTORs epic fail I think the industry execs that demanded WOW clones pulled back. It also confirmed that MMO fans do not crave being the hero and living out scripted cutscenes because lets be honest, no MMO has done that better than SWTOR yet it still failed. The players that want that get it from single player RPGs because frankly they do it better than an MMO can, even SWTOR. Funding for big MMOs probably decreased as a result, but the amount of oversight decreased as well. This gave MMO devs some more freedom to make something new again. With less funding came less fear of taking a chance and came smaller dev staffs which makes for more creative freedom.
3 games. GTA, Skyrim, and Minecraft. They showed that if you make it, if you give the players freedom, they eat it up and they retain. They have become extremely successful and they are more virtual world like than the last several MMOs have been.
MMO fans have become almost mob like in regard to themepark hatred which is unfortunate because if themeparks kept evolving along the lines of the Everquest games we might not have seen wow like subs but we would have seen the industry keep progressing up hill slowly. The MMOs would have been higher quality over time. Instead WOW popped the genre early, misguided expectations and sent it in a devolved direction. If Rome didn’t fall we would probably be 50-100 years more technologically advanced that we are right now; if WOW didn’t succeed the MMO genre would be 10 years further along that it is now. Instead it stagnated for 8 years and nearly drove it’s entire fan base away.
Back to US. Few have become many and thanks to social media our voice has been louder than ever before. Companies have finally been forced to listen and realize we're not the "miserable minority" we have become a LARGE chunk of the genre.
Due to the above things the climate was ripe but we needed something to make the final push. Enter Kickstarter. “Put your money where your mouth is, your just a minority of unhappy old schoolers that views your old MMOs through rose colored nostalgic glasses” Timing was perfect for KS and more importantly KS confirmed that we are not a minority, we are a majority, a majority that started with these games 10 years ago and have matured into adults willing to use our own income to create the virtual worlds (both PVE and PVP) we desire.
Seeing the kind of cash we have thrown on KS had to of made MMO devs take notice. Many of the devs that helped lead the big AAA games decided to start their own companies to make games that have creative souls again. A crazy new concept arose, give them what they want, and they help you fund it! I still can’t believe it myself. It just sounds crazy. It’s sad in a way. We have been so unhappy for so long we took it upon ourselves to make the games we’ve been begging for since a few years into WOW (when the smarter folks realized they weren’t evolving, they were keeping us on the wheel and occasionally letting us roam around-in maze before putting us back on the wheel).
Recently I remembered a conversation with my friends about WOWs first expansion. We hoped it had housing and guild halls, more aesthetic stuff, a large open zone and border land PVP lakes. LOL. Well it took 7 years and lots of failed games to finally start evolving again. I can honestly say I haven’t been this excited about the future of this genre since 2005.