Dunno. Maybe the devs are afraid to commit to big changes although if you browse the suggestions forums for the past 4-5 years, big changes is what people want. People want reworks and updates , not shallow mechanics or small tweaks such as the combat update.
As for a future.
Tbh if the money from the steam release wasn't enough to hire new full time devs, then yeah, wurm really has no future. It will survive, with around 100-200 die hard players, spaced across 15 servers. Wurm will survive, but it will not ever grow to a more "lively population".
Lack of player retention, lack of special events hosted by devs and I don't necesarily mean impalongs I mean fun stuff the devs could do such as having a zombie invasion during the halloween where they "home in" on players and chase them across the map. Something that breaks the monotony of the grind, which is 99% of wurm's game mechanics. Everything is design around the grind and I think it's used too much as a crutch which is an issue why players leave.
Even this year's impalong seemed to have fewer players than ever. I remember impalongs when we had huge lag fests with 150-200 people in local, was crazy back then.
The current development cycle seems to work around releasing 1 big update per year, not test it, then wonder why people are becoming bitter when they are given more new broken mechanics in wurm (after we already have over 100 unfixed broken mechanics for so many years). This type of ... approach to managing an MMO will not help the player pop, nor reviews for it, sparse as they are.
Wurm will survive, but I won't be playing on empty servers. I once enjoyed playing in a big alliance with 50 people, seeing wonderful banter or group projects and shenanigans unfold. Now? It's been years since I felt that.
Short of "drastic measures" for a drastic issue, nothing will change for the better. But for that the owners need to take an actual risk to take Wurm to new directions, preferably better than broken or unfinished updates.
Yeah well, not gloomy naysayers, just that the writing on the wall became obvious for us when it was decided to ignore the entire epic population small as it was to commit to a decision about Epic, either close it, merge it or open a 2 way transfer. The fact it received zero advertisement after the steam release or that people couldn't instantly start here it was just another open admission that Epic is equal to a bad gameplay experience....yet it was kept open? Also WU stopped getting updates which obviously upset a lot of people and set a precedent to "ignore a part of the playerbase and its existence" although once can also say it started with Epic. And not just Epic, but the Freedom Gchat is usually vitriolic and negative about wurm's future for about a year now? Or 2? Or 3? You can just taste the bitterness every time you open that chat.
All in all, for many of us a pattern emerged about being ignored, we saw the writing on the wall and players quit as a result which created a vicious cycle of lack of players, lack of content, lack of communication. There's a lot of variables at play but the main ones that stayed over the years and its still going on with the AH update : lack of proper communication, tell us what is in the works, lack of a roadmap to actually inspire confidence in the customer base, lack of committing to heavy decisions that can severely impact wurm for the better (or worse), half measures that did more harm than good (fishing update, same reward - fish - from a convoluted system), same pattern of opening new servers as if that saves the game, just draws in more players to dump money into the game then leave after 3 months, adding more ghost towns in the landscape, I could go on, but it's a bleak picture.
I'll wait till the end of the year and if no significant update (and preferably a well designed and tested one) or announcement happens, I'll let my prem run out, put my stuff on a boat, disband the deed and wait and see if there's anything that can draw me back to wurm. Sadly I know quite a lot of people who are planning to do the same, so yeah, expect a pretty big pop drop before Christmas. I imagine many will reprem alts to get more xmas gifts but that won't impact the population significantly.