Blizzard games seem to have that uncanny ability to evolve into something of a phenomenon. Like Half-Life or Unreal, Blizzard's efforts on the Diablo and Starcraft lines has paid off with a rabid fan base and a real sense of community, but their Warcraft games take this to a whole new level. The Warcraft 3 fan base doggedly supports the latest sequel by creating elaborate fan sites, complex user modifications and even full-blown single player campaigns.
Take a peek at Replayers.com , which has a complete database of rated Warcraft replays which can be viewed and rated. Clan Imperial Guard features professional commentaries on Live games, and stream through SHOUTcast at least four or five times a week. There are even sites like Warcraft Strategy , that pay professional Warcraft gamers to write up articles and record tips and tactics. Without any prompting or official support from the development company, these tightly knit communities help Blizzard games maintain a level of popularity and longevity, virtually unheard of in the industry.
And therein resides the power of a truly great game. It cannot simply be a lighthearted romp that satisfies for a short period of time, but requires a detailed game experience and an active community to really extend the lifespan of any PC game. This partnership is a double-edged, as one poor release from Blizzard, a lone patch that leads to unbalanced gameplay, or even a single serious bug, could turn this die-hard populace into a mob of harsh, cynical critics that bash the game and go looking for another altar to pray at.
These are a few reasons why expansion packs can be risky to release. Many companies see expansion packs as a quick way to make a few bucks off an established user base, simply through using established game technology. It makes for quick coding and near-guaranteed sales, but due to this allure and the need to "strike while the iron's hot", many expansion packs get rushed out the door. Make a wrong move here, and all the goodwill of the original game could be eliminated, not to mention harming the franchise as well.
Blizzard is walking the expansion pack tightrope once again, and with Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne, offers up a game expansion which must satisfy the hardcore Warcraft 3 players, while being accessible enough to bring in new buyers for the original. Blizzard was careful with The Frozen Throne, and completed an extended beta period, while fine-tuning the gameplay and squashing bugs. The gaming community was kept in the loop during this phase, and The Frozen Throne's conception remained meticulous and public: two major factors that contributed to Blizzard's previous game successes.