It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!
I realize the "MMORPG gaming has a bleak future" theme makes a regular appearance on this forum, but with the bankruptcy of 38 Studios, I think there are some ideas that need serious consideration. Very succinctly, here is what I think is worth considering.
Thesis: Ongoing failures and weakness in the MMORPG industry are due, not to bad management or other variables that can be controlled, but to the nature of the product. MMORPGs suffer from heavy network effects and high switching costs, as well as very large fixed costs, which combined mean it is an industry very likely to be dominated by one major game, with all other competitors either filling small niches, or (more likely) failing spectacularly. The cost of MMORPGs, and their reputations as expensive failures, will lead game companies to develop fewer MMORPGs, with MOBAs, MMOFPSs, and MMORTSs filling the gap.
So let me explain what some of that businesspeak means.
Network Effects: A product with a network effect is a product whose worth depends on how many other people use it. An operating system has a network effect; a graphics card does not. The more people that use your operating system, the more useful it is; but you get the same use out of a graphics card regardless of how many other people use the same one. A single-player game has very little network effect; an MMORPG has a huge network effect. In marketing, where goods have high network effects, it is highly likely that one product will soon come to dominate the industry, because the more people use that product, the more valuable it becomes.
Switching Costs: This is what it sounds like: the cost of switching from one product to another. The cost (in time and effort) of switching web browsers is relatively low; the cost (again, in time and effort) of switching operating systems is high. FPSs have very little switching cost - you can be fully up to speed in a new one in very short order, while MMORPGs have a huge switching cost, in terms of the time needed to get up to where other players are at (a month of heavy gaming, sometimes more). Again, this leads to the dominance of one product over the industry.
Fixed Costs: This is the minimum cost for getting a good out to market, regardless of how many units are sold. For a computer game, nearly all of the cost is fixed; in fact, MMORPGs are the rare exception of a game that requires a large variable cost (e.g., server maintenance and customer support). But as large as the variable costs are for MMORPGs, the fixed cost, of simply getting the game out to market, is absolutely huge - an order of magnitude, if not multiple orders of magnitude, larger than for other games. The staff required to get an MMORPG to market can be ten, or even a hundred, times the staff required to get a strategy or action game to market.
So, take an industry where it costs a huge amount to develop a game, and factor in that players are going to be very reluctant to switch games because of the risks involved (that their friends won't come over and join them) and the costs involved (weeks, even months, of getting up to speed), and what you have is an industry where there will be one game that owns the industry, and makes money hand over fist, while other game companies either fail or linger in the shadows with few players.
This can be seen perfectly clearly, because there is an industry where it is already the case: CCGs. The CCG industry is a one-game industry (OK, maybe two games, but even then, one clearly dominates); network effects, yes, switching costs, yes, high fixed costs, yes. Chances of anyone breaking MTG's death grip on the industry are low; and that has less to do with the quality of the product (which is high, if expensive) than it has to do with the simple structure of the industry.
Conclusion: Given all of the above, chances of anyone unseating World of Warcraft are low; but worse, chances of anyone pulling enough players away from World of Warcraft to simply be profitable on an ongoing basis - other than as a niche product keeping a small studio alive - are low. That means we are destined to see more failures, until game companies wise up and forget about trying to win the MMORPG lottery. The lottery numbers have already been pulled, and there's a winner, and it's Blizzard. Instead, game companies will start leaning toward genres where network effects and switching costs are lower, even if fixed costs are still a bit high - hence the increased popularity of MOBAs. Will other game companies be able to unseat League of Legends as the dominant MOBA? Probably not - but it is a whole lot easier to pull gamers away from LoL than it is to pry eight-year veterans away from WoW.