I started playing World of Warcraft sometime during the open beta, and like many others at the time was promptly sucked into one of gaming's largest multiplayer experiences ever to be created. Like most online games it was a time of exploration, discovery, and general binge gaming.
Even at its youth, WoW was a largely social game. 40-Man raids meant a lot of people met on a fairly regular basis, and before cross-server battlegrounds and battlegroup-based arenas came server wide struggles over Southshore and BRM. It was a different time, and going through WoW re-imagined by the launch of Cataclysm drives home a point that I never thought would come to fruition. That one day, Azeroth will be outdone by another MMO, and it will be all Blizzard's fault.
Anyone familiar with Blizzard as a company, or even those with simple experience with WoW (or Starcraft) should be pretty well versed on how they do things. A patch is released, things either become more balanced or severely imbalanced, and they go from there. It sounds simple enough, but the list of mechanics that somehow make it into the 'final product' that is WoW never fail to shock and astound me. From infinite stacks of Reckoning to disease-less obliterates, Blizzard has always seemed to be partial to a trial by fire for every single one of its class and mechanic changes. Act first, tweak later, is something that fans of the MMO will always be accustomed to, but I've never considered that this may be their business model as a whole.
Looking at the state of the game as it stands now, it's easy to see why people are becoming bored so much faster. Personality is being drained from the game at a rapid pace, and while players spend much of their time talking about the 'good old days' it's hard not to see how this came to be.
Where once servers had to constantly look internally for competition, now Horde and Alliance are just playing strangers in battlegroups on a regular basis. It's now so rare to find world PvP (outside perhaps a bit of questing) that such things have become scheduled events on some servers. And why bother having any server pride when all you're looking for is a guild that may fit your raiding schedule just to see some endgame content? Cross-server transfers solve that in a heartbeat.
Now one can argue that the state of the game is far more cheerful than that, and perhaps it is in some ways. If you're playing with your friends, what do most of these things matter after all? The point is, a game without personality cannot hope to survive, and as World of Warcraft stands right now there's very little to be proud of on a server-to-server basis. It's all about individual guilds, and interaction within them. Why bother exploring the world when every single instance can be teleported to? Why bother getting to know more people on your server when a group can be assembled for you, randomly, with people who'll likely never play the game with again? Sure the option is still there to sit in trade chat, begging for a few extras to do an inter-server instance, but who would realistically take up that offer on a regular basis?
Blizzard has re-tuned their game over the years to let players ensure that the goals they make, major or minor, are extremely easy to beat. Only a very limited degree of raid content cannot be mastered through a PUG, and even that is questionable if the last expansion was any indication of things to come. Faster dungeons, more soloable quests, more PvP 'save zones' may remove much of the 'time sink' quality that an MMO consists of, but it also has the same effect that a strainer would have. All of the 'difficult' aspects of pulling together a group are necessary for quite a few social reasons, there's something great about meeting people who play similar hours as yourself who can get the job done. Blizzard has all but removed that.
Perhaps some would argue that World of Warcraft has improved as a result of these changes, certainly it's far easier to level up a character now, and there's no doubt that anyone simply looking to accomplish their goals and then leave will not be disappointed. But what about those who genuinely want to stay? What do they have to look forward to? If the only thing a server is good for is a place to log on, what does it matter where you roll? There was a point in time where I would argue that every realm still had its history, and its own personality that still gave it a unique experience.
Experiencing the World of Warcraft again in this new 'era', it's hard to say any of that still exists. With goals that can be so easily met, and no personality to make each individual game experience endearing, what is the real lure of WoW anymore? There is little really, and though Cataclysm may be drawing in old players simply to see how things have changed, I would expect things will turn for the worse from here on in. This kind of gaming experience cannot possibly hold anyone's attention for long.