There was a point in time during WoW history where the developers were a lot more forthcoming regarding the content of their game and exactly what plans they had Similar to the wild west, MMO's were a largely untamed and confusing territory to enter. Classes didn't have a shred of the balance they currently maintain today, PvP wasn't a planned or scheduled world event but took place on a far more random scale, and much of the stability that currently exists in modern day raiding is due to a large degree of exploitation that creative players pushed to the limit over a few years of trial-by-fire raiding. But then again the WoW of the early days also had a very different development team, let alone a different set of financial responsibilities. Many may have forgotten these humble beginnings to the World of Warcraft, but those who have been committed to the game that long may remember a Blizzard that swore that Pandaren would never be in the game, let alone playable. Times, they do change.
Granted who knew then that WoW would gradually move to become one of the largest games of all time? No doubt that if Blizzard understood how large their game would eventually become, they would have painted a very different picture to their audience, instead of a string of promises that could never really be kept. Ever since the Blizzard Activision merger it feels like we've all been looking at a very different company, from the content breakdown of Starcraft II and the cancellation of Ghost to the micro-transaction genius of the real money auction house, Blizzard's priorities have clearly shifted into discovering new means to become more profitable. For their non-Warcraft franchises this change has been for the better, breaking down genres that were previously accessible to a minor few while at the same time finding new ways to engage an elite section of their competitive audience. MMO's however are a different beast, particularly considering that WoW has devolved into the gamers version of Facebook.
Split between three completely different gametypes it's understandable that the quality of their flagship MMO was bound to falter, and there were signs through Wrath of the Lich King that Blizzard may be taking things far more seriously in Cataclysm. Months later, the game's population dwindled yet again as a loyal community discovered that nothing had really changed at all. Cataclysm was the same game, repackaged with minor differences. Blizzard have used two major opportunities to show gamers that WoW has maintained being relevant in today's industry and the best they could come up with was an expansion that tugged along fans of Warcraft 3 and another one that tried to bring back old players who wanted to see if the magic could be recaptured. Now they're trying with Pandaren, a race they once said would never be implemented in the game.
If Blizzard were a movie director it would be George Lucas, because there's no other developer that could get away with pouring all of its time and energy in trying to change a product while still missing the point. The best MMO's are held together by communities that maintain themselves, encased in a world that constantly delivers the compelling gameplay that brought them there in the first place. Promises of harder content, more meaningful rewards, and more complex or deep talent trees have been broken time and again by Blizzard, and players know it. They can't get away with telling gamers that they'll be getting brand new unique content, only to draw back many of those core promises late into the expansion. Consumers simply do not want to invest in a product that is going to fail to live up to expectations time and again, and while some be alright with only getting a fraction of what they were promised during fancy expos and flashy launch trailers, most customers are not so disillusioned.
So why Pandas? It's because there are very few ideas left to truly exploit without using both hard work and creativity, two things that Blizzard have clearly run out of in WoW. Every expansion has tried to push sales by introducing well known characters from the RTS while bringing back classic 'Vanilla' heroes that old fans may appreciate. Sadly, they've just about run out of heroes. I don't think anyone over the age of 13 is fooled by this latest expansion, which says a lot about an MMO that has earned much of its cash keeping its demographic as open as possible.
Couple that with the fact that Blizzard have made no secret that their hardest workers have all been pushed over into developing their next generation MMO and it's easy to see why World of Warcraft simply hasn't been up to snuff these past few years. They're just too busy moving on, and in a sense that's perfectly understandable. No developer would want to be tied down to a game forever, and WoW has certainly had a good run. It makes sense that they would only phone in this most recent expansion simply to give their community something to do in the meantime. Better to offer a cheap gimmick than another string of disappointing promises that can't possibly be met. The honesty is long overdue.