Much digital ink was spilled last week over the revelation that only 30% of WoW's free trial accounts reach level 10. Like Elder Game, I find that number remarkable only in that it is surprisingly high. Even if you presume that security lockdowns have made the accounts unpalatable to spammers, and ignore the occasional throwaway account for non-newbies (I once made a trial account just to invite my alts to my bank alt guild) there has to be some portion of potential players who just aren't as interested in a 3rd person MMORPG.
More interesting, though, is the apparent belief amongst the major games that this number can be improved. Blizzard's Cataclysm expansion will deliver less new solo content for max level solo characters, to free up dev time for that old world revamp. Turbine has Orion steadily working away at revising the game's entire array of launch content. SOE made a new starting area - the game's sixth - and revisions from 20-70 a priority on its expansion plate, though the new area ultimately failed to make the expansion launch.
None of these measures are purely for the benefit of newbies - veterans who choose to make a new alt pay the same monthly fee that brand new accounts do. Likewise, a steady stream of new players may be necessary to keep endgame group content viable. Even so, none of these measures are without cost - specifically the opportunity cost of working on older areas over new content for existing characters.
Setting a revamp of old leveling content as a priority ultimately represents a bet that this will be the best use of the studio's limited time, even though many of them pointedly have NOT been focusing on early game content over the years until now. I don't know whether it will ultimately work out, but this battle over the 70% of players who wander off sooner rather than later is rapidly shaping up to be the major trend of 2010.