World of Warcraft
World of Warcraft is in trouble. I think the last post proves as much. I have never seen so many players playing a game they don't like and a company (Activision|Blizzard) whose CEO they despise so much. Even though he might have been misunderstood; nobody cares.
They might start to really churn out content eventually. Like a magnitude more or so. The profits easily allow for that. In that case they might retain 11.4 mio players for a long time to come.
The current competitor of WoW is Rift. Rift is a 90% copy/paste with a few fun ideas and the occasionally back-to-the-roots notion. This payed off financially for Trion, but it does little for the genre. Rift's future looks bleak. At end game it is stuck between between instanced raiding and the open world content. PvP can't work for a game were every player is a small demigod.
Raiding in Rift is at best a distraction. For at least 50% of the 'callings' raiding means pressing 2-3 macros. And attacking WoW on the classical raiding game is suicide, anyway. I've read a lot of thoughtful posts about MMORPGs in recent years. At no point have I read a post about how raiding could be made much better. Players dream of many things; they do not dream of a more polished raiding experience.
The open world would be fine, if they hadn't copied so much from WoW. The strict leveling game doesn't allow players to really play a meaningful role until they reach max level. At max level the only thing Trion can think about is spawning monsters that attack places. But these places have no meaning for the players and nor is there any risk involved. It is 100% reward-based gameplay that can't immerse an adult.
It already has gotten old: especially for the WoW-demographic that Rift attracts. It is not a newbie-friendly game, in my opinion.
There are no instruments to prevent players from gathering at one point; teleports allow this to happen very fast. Even if the engine held what it promised, this wouldn't be fun. The only thing it does is creating a headache from hundreds and thousands of overlayed graphical and sound effects, which were developed to be impressive in a 1:1 fight.
Leveling in Rift is a success. But that's not an achievement, really. All WoW-clones have had a nice leveling experience (as long as it was finished). I liked to level in WoW, in Warhammer, in Age of Conan, in Rift. I probably would have liked to level in Aion if I had bothered to buy it. I'm sure leveling in LotR is fun, but it being f2p, I will never know.
There's a reason Blizzard didn't polish the leveling experience much after release. It just works - until players have played it through.
Until technological advancements enforced a revamp of the leveling, Blizzard almost completely focused on end game to increase subscription numbers. For MMORPGs with WoW-like leveling, longevity depends on end-game and on little else.
Leveling is fun in Rift, as long as you have not burnt out of the classic questing; many players haven't. But there are only two start regions and 4 'classes' which greatly limits the replay value. Compare this to WoW with 12 starting areas and 10 classes.
It takes about 5 days /played for a normal player to reach max level in Rift. Most players who intended to buy Rift have done so by now. Not many will continue to buy it, because there won't be good publicity about it. There won't be new subscriber-records. There will be empty servers.
Concluding, copy/pasting WoW is financially successful. But it does not drive the genre forward or open it up for new (and old!) players; it does not expand the market.
Star War: The Old Republic
Many of my old WoW guild colleagues intent to buy Star Wars: The Old Republic. It will probably sell a lot of boxes. Maybe more than WAR, which had pre-ordered 1.5 million boxes! That's the advantage of a well-known IP.
SW:TOR does innovate more than Rift does. The story telling and voice acting are alright during leveling. What worries me are the gameplay videos. Even though I try to like them, I really don't. That doesn't necessarily mean something; but it's certainly not good. It's possible that EA|Bioware will drown us in content and that might very well be a way out for the genre.
I think SW:TOR will be financially successful. But I doubt it turns out to be the next big thing. Thus, we get a few million players at SW:TOR at best and a few million playing a declining WoW. Maybe the competition revitalizes the industry, but even that would take half a decade or more to take effect.
Guild Wars 2
There is some hope for Guild Wars 2. It innovates more than most other companies, which doesn't mean much, of course. But being without monthly subscriptions, I have my doubt about its longevity. I fear it will be 'just a game'. Which is all right. But that's not what this genre needs to climb new heights.
There's games like ArcheAge, which could be fun for a while. And there are probably a lot of MMORPGs in development right now. Maybe there's a gem among them. I wouldn't count on it, though.
The only hope I have at this point is CCP. Call me a fanboy if you want. Even though I won't buy Dust 514, as I don't play console games, and even though I don't play Eve Online, for reasons I described many times, I am impressed by their ambitions.
And then there's the World of Darkness fantasy MMORPG they are working on for years now. There's hope. But with a 50 million dollar annual revenue you can only accomplish so much.