Kinless has an excellent blog entry regarding the lack of diversity in the different gear models for players. It’s a pretty common complaint, but perhaps I can offer a couple of possible explanations.
First, from a technical standpoint, each new gear model requires two models for each race that can wear the item type. You need two because each race has a male and female model. In nearly every case, this means that you need 20 models for each piece of new gear. The technical problem is that the addition of each new model takes up system resources (RAM, in particular) that is used for the model. By contrast, simply skinning (or recoloring) the model does not take up much in the way of system resources and one skin can likely be used for several models. To make matters worse, the really cool looking models take up the most resources due to the complexity of detail. The more detail, the bigger the memory footprint for the model.
Quite honestly, that’s also the same reason we don’t see a greater variety of creature models. I honestly expect that WoTLK will be similar to BC in that it doesn’t offer up as many new creatures as we would all like. Be prepared to fight lots of Winter Wolves, Polar Bears, Angry Snow Boars, Frost Trolls, Ice Yeti, Chillwind Ogres, and Freezing Oozes. That being said, creative use in reskinning the models can still make things very visually cool and distinct. I remember reskinning the default model in Quake II to look like Spiderman and Superman – and, by golly, it looked like Spiderman with no noticeable performance hit. Of course, using more vibrant colors can make things cooler, but too often the player looks more like a Power Ranger than a Night Elf Mohawk. I also had a really cool model replacement that turned my guy into a huge demon with wings. Unfortunately, the level of detail was about 15x that of the original model and my FPS dropped very noticeably (~10 to 15FPS).
So here is the question? Are you willing to sacrifice system performance for a better variety of player models? If you have an uber computer, I imagine you don’t care. But Blizzard has always built their games with performance for a “casual” gamers without the uber computers. The best example here is that Starcraft was released in 256 colors. At the time, all the new games were using 16-bit colors or better. They were railed at the time and several people even shouted that the graphics were already outdated at release. Well, the game did pretty well and even today has a strong fan base.
Secondly, I believe that Blizzard is reserving the new models they are producing for WoTLK. The expectation when the xpac is released is that there will be lots of new and fresh content. If everything simply looks the same, then people will be very disappointed. Consider that the next time you see a blue response in the forums on the topics with the response, “Do you want us working on new models or WoTLK?” Transalation: “I’m sorry, but we are saving new content for the next paid expansion.” Of course, the xpac is also a good time to tell people: “Please note that the recommended system requirements for playing World of Warcraft have changed.”