Lots of players have cried, at one point or another, that Blizzard, the company, has somehow irrevocably broken WoW, the game, and that they'll never come back, ever. But this morning, I'd like to take a look at the opposite question: has WoW, the game, broken Blizzard, the company?
Look at Blizzard before World of Warcraft: They were undoubtedly the king of RTS, with not one but two classic, timeless series under their belts (StarCraft, which is still considered the RTS standard by some, and Warcraft, the third of which is still just as popular). They made Diablo and Diablo 2, two of the biggest, if not the biggest, PC RPGs ever. They came from console roots, and were thinking about reentering them with a 3rd person stealther called StarCraft: Ghost that had earned tons of hype already. And then along comes this game called World of Warcraft. I worked at a game store when word first dropped about this game, and we were confused-- a 3D MMORPG set in the Warcraft universe? How do you do that? But Blizzard had a reputation for spit, polish, and quality by the spades-- while they didn't make many games, the few they made were the best of the best.
Cut to now: World of Warcraft is Blizzard's one and only game for the forseeable future. StarCraft: Ghost has been canceled, along with any thoughts Blizzard ever had of reentering the console field. They're now longer a small, powerful games boutique-- now they're the 800 lb gorilla of the gaming world, making deals to put their game in stores, on television, and in movies. And while their game does still have a heck of a lot of spit and polish (they do still have seven million players), they're not so much in the business of cultivating multiple powerful franchises, but instead have gotten very much into the business of hotfixes, bugfixes, and patching.
So has WoW broken Blizzard? At this point, it's very hard to imagine Blizzard having or making the resources to do another game (they're tied up as it is with the expansion). WoW has made a lot of players very happy, but it's also tarnished Blizzard's reputation with their playerbase in a way that Diablo and StarCraft never did. And while there's no question that Blizzard is still respected in the game industry, there is a question as to why: is it because they're reeling in the cash, or is it because of the quality of their product? Back in the days of StarCraft and Diablo, the latter was the case. Is it still?