ActiBlizzVision (That mash-up is growing on me) isn't the first major company to come to this realization either. Both Mythic (now EA Mythic) and Bioware -- creators of Mass Effect, Jade Empire and KOTOR -- have climbed aboard the Electronic Arts train in the hopes to better reach their destination, retail city. Warhammer Online is quite well into development and will be the first new fighter to the ring with a release sometime next year. EA Mythic will be torturing themselves (in a good way?) the next six months to get their game in fighting shape for that eventual big brawl with World of Warcraft. It's just unavoidable, you can't enter the MMO market with the intellectual property that WoW is essentially inspired from and not get tied up by the wrist with a knife in your hand.
EA Mythic does have a good philosophy, "We're not trying to be the Beatles. We're trying to be Led Zepellin. The cooler, darker, more adult MMO." This is a paraphrased quote from a video at PAX 2007, by the always entertaining Paul Barnett. If they remain true to this mind-set, then it's possible that WAR will be the first MMO to truly rival WoW out of sheer will to be its own game. Although I doubt that ActiBlizzVision will go down without a fight, but they really don't have to try too much considering World of Warcraft has already made its money in this market. At this point, they're going to be more concerned with bleeding a stone dry than anything else.
The real battle of the MMO titans lies in the future. A battle between Electronic Arts with its two deadly MMO development teams and Activision Blizzard with, well... Blizzard.
In fact, we've already seen the writing on the wall. Plenty of job postings have been popping up at Blizzard's site for a next-gen MMORPG for a long time. We've even got employees at Blizzard confirming these suspicions of a new massively multi-player game.
My guess -- just play along with me here -- is on a "World of Starcraft", because it follows the trends set by Blizzard leading up to WoW. First we'll get the RTS next year and that game will of course get an expansion down the line setting the game world just how Blizzard wants it for the next step; World of Starcraft. Starcraft II is basically setting the stage, adding some new characters, places within the world, just like Warcraft III. It'll be a very easy resource shift as well, considering they'll have plenty of art and design already under their belt. The fact that a new IP hasn't come from Blizzard in nearly a decade makes me doubt they're going to suddenly deliver a new one, especially right when the Starcraft franchise is going to be the hot little bitty in the market.
Even considering the beast that is Starcraft, an IP like Star Wars definitely has the chance to grab lots and lots of subscribers in the MMO market. The settings available to it are definitely rather vast, but that may not even matter to Bioware. Since they have yet to announce just what MMO they're making, they are simply a wildcard in this future. If we do assume that they are making a Star Wars MMO, this would put their game right up against World of Starcraft in a big way. As gamers, we could stand to have a very good year with two enormous sci-fi titles launching in close proximity to one another. The only hard part would be deciding which game to dedicate more time to every week!
These two games -- whatever they are -- have a ton of hype swirling about them. What hasn't been considered up to this point -- because of all this hype -- is an underdog. There are plenty of developers without big time publishers who could churn out a wonderfully fun, highly addictive game. One possible developer is CCP (Crowd Control Productions) who has already made a very uniquely fun game with EVE Online. It definitely does not appeal to everyone, but EVE Online has some of the better design concepts I've seen in a massively multi-player game. After CCP merged with White Wolf, Inc. (The publishers behind many a table-top RPG) they announced the development of a game set in the tabletop RPG World of Darkness, which is a franchise that definitely has its loyal fans. This is a world wrought with vampires, werewolfs, changelings, mummies, demons, mages and even Asian counterparts to pretty much all of the above. It's also a large departure from a space-fairing game like EVE Online.
There are plenty of other games in development that could pull more subscribers than anyone expects. Lets not forget that Blizzard themselves thought they would only get a million and at that time everyone wasn't expecting a juggernaut of a title, either. Star Trek Online or Age of Conan could also become bigger than any of us expect, because this market is simply too chaotic to predict perfectly. All you can do is speculate and guess to the best of your ability.
Whatever does happen in the coming years, the MMORPG landscape is definitely going to look very different from today. Blizzard itself could dethrone the old king of the mountain with their next title, this is possible. Electronic Arts will throw a one-two punch with EA Mythic and Bioware and that could be all they need. The industry expects some kind of king of the hill scenario, although we may also end up with a tug of war instead. Especially if a dark horse like CCP comes out of left field and surprises the big publishers who've bought up most of their chips for the big poker match. There are only so many subscribers out there to wrangle into any one game and if a dark horse game takes just enough space, well then who knows what could end up happening. The only certain thing is that we're in for a wild ride full of advertising, memes, internet drama and strange happenings of the finest caliber.