As someone who runs my own tech consulting business, I read a lot of books on marketing to keep my business on top of changing trends in public perception. I want to know not only what makes customers happy today, but what they are going to want from me years from now. I also regularly get feedback from not only my own clients, but from other people who are in the same industry.
Seeing the lack of real innovation with a lot of MMO games in recent years leads me to wonder if game developers are doing the same, or if they are just shooting off the hip when they are deciding what their game will be like. Obviously many of them are still looking towards Blizzard for inspiration as can been seen in an endless number of lackluster themepark clones. Are developers listening only to corporate investors or their current rabid fanboys? Are they holding focus groups to find out what MMO players want or expect in the future? Are they taking steps to make sure the places they get their feedback from are diverse and full of trend setters?
Who are these trend setters? They are users / customers on the bleeding edge of an industry and are often the most valuable asset a company can have as far as user input. These are your enthusiasts and self-made experts. People who have been playing MMO games for several years, who played tried all kinds of different games, and have come to understand very well what makes a game good or not in general. They are also the ones who often aren't concerned with how much a game costs to play as they are in the quality of the game. I, for one, would be willing to play $30+ per month, without even blinking, for the right MMO experience.
These people are so passionate that they come to sites like MMORPG.com and make long and detailed forum or blog posts, *for free*, in an often futile attempt to help push the MMO industry forward into the future. They are the ones who are bored with your game before it even releases. They knew six months or a year before your release that your game was going to be the same old experience, or worse. Despite your best efforts to use marketing-speak to dazzle people, these players are paying more attention to what your are NOT saying in your marketing than what you are saying, and based on that they know what kind of game you are making. They are often found to be extremely accurate with their predictions.
Let's face it. If you are an MMORPG game developer and you are currently in the process of building yet another pure themepark experience similar to the myriad of themeparks already on the market, you're game is probably going to fail. Especially if your goal is to have millions of players who stay with you for the long haul. Yes, everyone wants to be the WoW killer, and everyone thinks their themepark is going to be the next big winner. However, the odds are very much against you ending up with anything other than a niche themepark that largely fizzles out within six months to a year of release. At the very least it will end up with reduced staff, limited future development, and F2P players who hop from game to game until you are finally forced to sunset your MMO.
You have only yourselves to blame. If you are drinking your own cool-aid and not listening to the bleeding edge minority players who are long past tired of the status quo, then you are just another also-ran MMO company that has failed to tap the rich resource of experienced MMO gamers who are more than happy to offer advice and thoughts on the matter. Like it or not, this genre has evolved, and many game companies have utterly failed to see it happen.