Your MMO is not a success based on how many players you have, whether they supply enough revenue to keep the servers running, or even if you turn a profit. If I can get a better rate of return investing in Blizzard and its parent company, I have no reason to invest in your game. I have no idea which MMO company has the best rate of return (Three Rings?), but that is your investors’ target. This is why games shut down even when they are still showing a profit: you can use those resources elsewhere and make more money. Or not, because there are a lot of short-sighted executives out there, but the cynics are consistently beating the gamers who keep hoping the next game will be the New New Thing. An investor may turn his nose up at what a gamer considers a win.
And that is limiting the view to the industry. Anyone care to guess what the return on investment is for a good casual game? How many non-WoW MMOs out-sold the latest Nancy Drew adventure this holiday season?
Update: will it help us avoid distractions if I rephrase as “ROI * risk” and/or “ROI over time”?