The lead system designer for World of Warcraft, Greg Street, posted an article about a proposed “item squish”. The Item Squish, he argues, is necessary because stats on items will at some point become meaningless – and illustrates this with hypothetical items from the endgame of Mists of Panderia and whatever expansion would follow that.
That World of Warcraft would at some point get problems with the constant inflation isn’t new; I recall discussing this with some buddies of mine back when Burning Crusade came out. It’s also been a problem in the economy, but unlike say Eve Online, WoW’s economy isn’t really an integral part of the game.
I do think that this kind of shows that Blizzard did not originally think about power levels much, and didn’t quite anticipate how long WoW would be popular. Or perhaps they simply chose to ignore the problem at first. With a power progression as implemented, I am sure they knew they would run into trouble eventually, they are way too good at what they do not to. Had they taken a long term view, they would be scaling their gear accordingly. When Arjan and I build Underdark Adventures 3, one of the very early things I did was set up rules on gear design, and set the general levels of power items for characters level 1…30 would have. It worked really well, too; game imbalance existed but mostly because of the way some of Neverwinter Nights spells worked. The items were never an issue.
Anyway, Greg’s is a good lesson to anybody who has to balance a game of any kind.