(You might notice that this entry isn't strictly WoW-related. If you read this for that specific content, I should warn you that I expect this blog to become more of a general gaming blog. That said, WoW is one of the games I play most, and I've certainly been playing it for a long time, so don't expect it to completely fall by the wayside.)
Straight sequels, of course, are a tried-and-true method for this. Video Games are an odd medium in this regard, because while we tend to groan when we see yet another Austin Powers or Men in Black sequel (both of which were awesome original movies) a lot of the really exciting "triple A" games are part of decades-old franchises. Think how exciting it is whenever the new Zelda game comes out. That series started the same year I was born, and there have been (roughly) a billion entries in it.
In the days of Gamepaks, there wasn't really anything you could do to alter a game after it shipped, so if you wanted anything else, you just needed to hope for a sequel. Computer games, however, had the advantage of existing as files on your computer, so companies realized they could release "expansion packs," adding on significant amounts of content while still retaining the same basic framework the game was built on. It meant far less development time than a totally new sequel, and if it was the sort of game where you had an established character who had leveled up, you could keep all that progress.
But while the internet did exist then, it was not nearly as central to society. Everyone had crappy modems that often tied up their phone lines (if someone else picked up the phone to make a call, they'd break your connection. Now that most people who can afford to play video games have an independent internet connection - and indeed, that a solid internet connection is a more reasonable expectation among people of my generation than having a landline phone number - and also that consoles tend to have a significant amount of data storage, downloaded games and game content are becoming quite the norm.
Look at WoW, for example. I never bought the original WoW. I downloaded the demo version, which was limited to ten days and didn't let me trade with anyone, and when the time was up, I just kept playing and allowed them to start billing me for a subscription.
Anyway, the point is that while there's still a (shrinking) market for physical copies of our games, especially on consoles with their limited storage space, the realm of expansion packs is swiftly being taken over by DLC - downloadable content.
This is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, I think that theoretically, it's awesome. There's a quick, convenient way for you to get more of the game you enjoy.
The problem, however, is the way that DLC is produced. Understand that the original idea behind expansions was just that: it was an expansion of a complete product. If you play through, say, Warcraft III, the original, unexpanded game tells a complete story. You get to play as all four factions, and the entire Third War plays out under your command. The events of the expansion, The Frozen Throne, all took place afterwards - really fitting as more of a kind of half-sequel, one that focused in on a couple of characters and their specific conflict.
Now, however, a lot of DLC is built around the idea that the game isn't really complete if you haven't gotten it. Specifically, a lot of games are released with DLC already available: as in, they could have released the game with this stuff, but they chose not to so that they could charge extra.
The most egregious example of this is actually from one of my favorite games of the generation, Assassin's Creed II. ACII was a revelation - a vast improvement over the original game that also introduced a wonderful protagonist. But as you play through it, you eventually hit a gap where the characters literally tell you that there's missing memory, and that you have to skip ahead. The game, as it shipped, basically complained to you about not having bought the DLC.
Playing through Mass Effect 3 now (took a while to get it. Loving it so far, but let's see about this controversial ending) there's another weird little bone I've got to pick. After picking up Liara on Mars, she told me about her exploits fighting the Shadow Broker. She says that she lost a friend there, and that it would have been nice if I'd been there to help. But I wasn't, because the Lair of the Shadow Broker was DLC for Mass Effect 2, and I beat the game before it even came out. So now I've got a game making me feel bad for one of its characters because I didn't drop the extra cash to download this content. Mind you, the Shadow Broker was an established character all the way in the first game. There was no reason that he couldn't be worked into the series proper.
Look: games cost a lot of money to make, but they're also fucking expensive to play. I'm not complaining about companies that are inspired to add content on to their existing creations. What I am complaining about is a kind of, well, extortion. You've bought the game for sixty bucks, and then they tell you you've got to spend another twenty to get the complete package. It's like buying a chair, but then finding it's really only a stool until you buy the back.
The sad thing is that I'm pretty sure the game designers aren't behind this practice. Instead, I think that just as big film executives will force cuts in movies to, say, speed up the action rather than allowing the characters to actually have personalities, game executives want new sources of revenue and will force certain content into the realm of DLC. DLC is the perfect product - once you've made it, there's no more cost in distributing it other than maintaining a server from which customers can download it. Games are big business - in fact, they're as big or bigger than the film industry at this point. And as we all know, the bigger the industry, the more people will be working to get away with whatever they can do to maximize profits. So what recourse do we, as gamers, have? We who want to buy the game as a complete package?
The best solution I can offer is to wait. Popular games will often come out with a "million player" or some such edition, and often they offer you a second disk with the DLC on it at no extra price (well, except that the original game will have gone down in price by then.) Like any medium, we do like to play things on the release day, but if you want to get all that cool extra content that was extracted from the game in order to make you pay twice, your best bet, I think, is to wait.
One last note: Not all DLC is bad. Oftentimes, they are truly additions created after the fact, or even things that they were working on during development that would have been cut due to various restraints otherwise. And, admittedly, I can't tell you which sort of DLC is which. But if you think that no DLC is made by cynically removing parts of a complete game, I envy your optimistic worldview.