I’m an avid World of Warcraft player, along with 5 million or so others as it turns out. If you play, you may note that Blizzard re-uses a lot of art assets – many objects in the world share the same icon, and even some abilities share common art assets. One of my Tauren Druid’s powers, for example, shares the same icon as a quest-related drop (bear tongues). The icon looks nothing like a bear tongue – in fact it’s a bear’s head.
This used to be more common than it is now – with each subsequent patch Blizzard seems to be adding in icons for objects, and what this suggests is that the resource lack is one of art production time. It seems to me there’s a relatively simple solution to this – let the players create the content. Publish the specifications (color palette, file size limitations and so on), hold contests, and let the playerbase develop the art. You could even let the community vote on who wins the contest. It’s a win for everyone – Blizzard can spend its art creation time building genuine new content for the game, it can encourage community engagement in the development of their virtual world, and it solves the problem of bear tongues looking like bear heads. This is a successful model in many other contexts, from the slashdot community to the infinite variety of modifications built on top of the various FPS engines, to Second Life where the entire model is built on player content creation. It also potentially helps Blizzard identify a pool of new talent to hire, again a model used extensively by the first person shooter genre where successful map makers, texture artists, modelers, sound engineers and even entire modification development teams have been hired by the game publishers to produce new commercial content.