Now what would be really interesting is if, say around 20.12.2011, World of Warcraft announced that it was going free to play.
Lord of the Rings Online was still offering standard and lifetime subscriptions right up to the point that it announced it was going free-to-play; getting your most ardent fans to agree to sign-up for a year mightn’t be a bad plan if you were going to open the game up to all, for ‘restricted content’ free play at least.
In addition, a forthcoming expansion which, potentially, could be seen as specifically targeting a younger audience, might work better if the subset of younger players who couldn’t normally afford a regular subscription were able to play for free, and then pay smaller amounts for the combat pets, mounts, and other items they were interested in.
Now, if World of Warcraft were to add a cosmetic item system, something which has already proven incredibly lucrative in a game such as LotRO, then you might consider it as further evidence that an in-game WoW Store was a distinct possibility, and free-to-play often goes hand in hand with an RMT store.
Of course, realistically you’d expect Blizzard to test the RMT waters first, perhaps with a small vanity item that could be bought with real money and then traded on the game’s auction house to other players, as a finite controllable experiment.
Don’t take this as some sort of proclamation as to what I believe is going to happen, but it is an interesting thought experiment to consider whether –what with the recent decline in subscriptions of their aging game, along with a core audience which seems dissatisfied no matter what they do– Blizzard would entertain the idea of opening World of Warcraft up to the pocket money demographic.