When EverQuest II came out in 2004, its predecessor was the largest MMO in the world. One of the charges leveled at EQII was that it looked and felt so different from EverQuest itself that it split the player base and, since this happened just around the time that World of Warcraft was launching, left the door open for the upstart game to get a serious footing. It's possible that if it weren't for EQII, we'd have ended up with a smaller MMO scene where a game with a million subscribers was considered a rousing success.
Now, I'm not arguing that it's always a bad thing to have a sequel to an MMO. There are MMO's out right now which run concurrently with a sequel and seem to be doing fine. The question becomes, does World of Warcraft need one?
Renovation vs. Teardown
I've seen various justifications for a WoW sequel. Updated graphics, character models, changed gameplay. However, if there's anything the last two expansions to World of Warcraft have taught us, it's that these things don't need to be linked to a whole new game. Both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria have brought new mechanics and gameplay, new character models at a significant improvement over the original ones, and all sorts of graphical updates.
As far as updating the game's story via sequel, WoW has again shown us that expansions can do that just fine. We've passed years into the future, time passing as every expansion moves the story along. The Third War is now more than a decade removed from us, and the events of the war against the Lich King recede into the past - even Deathwing's demise is set to be a memory of past events. The Cataclysm changed the old world forever, yes, but more than that it served to update it, and we saw places like Westfall, Southshore and the Barrens transform under the weight of events. Do we need an entirely new game to accomplish what expansions have already shown themselves capable of doing?
Vaneras' point seems to sum up the issue for me - why would you make a sequel to World of Warcraft instead of an expansion? Obviously, one reason could be simply to start from the ground up and change the way all of the code in the game works, to get a fresh start. This is a game that started design over a decade ago. It's running now on computers that weren't even hinted at when it was first created and run internally. Every year technology improves, operating systems evolve, and meanwhile World of Warcraft exists carrying around all the DNA (so to speak) of its first incarnation and every version of itself that's followed. That's a valid reason to consider WoWII, but is it by itself enough to justify making it?
Sustainable player retention depends upon player comfort
The downside of creating a competing MMO is, it's a competing MMO. Sure, the people playing it are still playing a Blizzard game, but now you have two development teams, two release schedules, etc etc. One way around that is to not compete - once WoW 2 is on the scene, you shutter WoW. This then leads to further questions. Do we get to import our characters? All of them? Do we import them one at a time, or all at once? At what point is this less like a new game, and more like us just bringing all of our old game along for a new ride? In fact, you could pretty easily argue that even if Blizzard wanted to redesign WoW from the ground up, they shouldn't call it a new game and should continue the policy of retaining players and their characters, even ones that aren't currently playing. Having the ability to come back and play after a hiatus has kept players interested and invested in World of Warcraft, and losing that might be more trouble than it's worth.
In the end, despite my infamous hatred for certain old character models and desire to see certain mechanics go the wayside, I don't see why we'd need a whole new WoW to achieve that. What's holding back design changes like those is often not the game engine, but rather a desire to avoid alienating long time players. Another World of Warcraft doesn't seem necessary for that same reason. Would I like to see another MMO from Blizzard? Absolutely. But I don't think it should just be an updated World of Warcraft, because I think WoW has shown it can do the job of updating itself.
It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!