By this time tomorrow, the rumors about WoW's Cataclysm expansion will be settled once and for all on the Blizzcon keynote stage. This post, in turn, will either be one of the few things I predict that comes true, or a requiem for an interesting idea that didn't get its chance after all. Having endorsed the rumor as soon as it leaked, I'm betting on the former at the risk of looking foolish if it turns out to be the latter.
On one level, skeptics underestimated the stakes for MMO-Champion. Though I'm sure they've gotten a ton of traffic through all the links over the past week, the site's reputation and credibility are worth far more traffic in the long run. In a broader sense, though, people underestimated Blizzard's willingness to venture out of the "new continent and 10 new levels" box. I count myself among that number - less than a year ago, I didn't think that Blizzard could find the time to do an old world Azeroth revamp.
Much of the reasoning behind my hypothetical expansion idea turns out to have been 100% correct. Instead of standing by it, though, I dismissed my own idea out of hand because there was no way for Blizzard to deliver a significant old world revamp in addition to the usual amount of new content (10 new levels) at a time when the top talent is moving on to Mystery Project 4. On this too, I was correct. I just couldn't think far enough out of the box to imagine that Blizzard would choose to cut back on the requisite 10 additional levels in order to make the time to do the revamp.
Cataclysm's Target Audience
There is, it turns out, a market that is even more valuable than the players who will purchase each new expansion to see what the biggest production values in the business can bring to solo questing this time out, even if they have no interest in the endgame. WoW's biggest potential growth market is in FORMER players.
How many players decided they were tired of tedious travel and sparse quests in the 50's? How many players came for the solo content, left when they met the group-only endgame, and have not seen a good reason to return since with both expansions saving all their best lore for elite endgame raids? How many players simply used up the content that WoW had to offer over the last nearly-five years, and would return for a spruced up trip down memory lane with some shiny new choices to play with?
Blizzard is betting that this is the most underestimated market of all. I won't be lining up to put my money against them.