World of Warcraft is a mature game. No matter how many years a project spends in development, it can’t hold a candle to the maturity and polish of a product that has had 5+ million users banging on it for several years. Even if you had a few teams of the best testers in the world and top-breed developers working around the clock, you cannot attain the project maturity that is necessary to beat World of Warcraft at its own game.
Cloning your opponents success makes sense in the single-player game industry. Modern single-player games have 10-20 hours of playability out of the box. A dedicated gamer is through such a game within a week of purchasing it—this leaves plenty of room for the reskinned clones to come in and make some sales. In an industry of persistent content, characters, and a never-ending (comparatively) development cycle, there is a pattern of obsolescence, but it is on a smaller-than-the-whole-game scale. As the MMO industry age and their business models push through adolescence, it has become clear that the expansion cycle is critical moreso than the full-game cycle.
Firms will see success in the MMORPG market by carving out a niche of rabid fans, not by trying to rip the casual crowd away from WoW. Look at EVE. Those who move towards creating new games with new ideas can become the WoW of the next generation of MMORPGs instead of being born obsolete and unwanted.
It’s not time to shuffle the deck-chairs, it’s time to build a solarium.