Are MMORPGs games or are they worlds ? Arent those two the same ? If they're not, why cant they be both at the same time ?
In a world you can get lost.
- In a world, getting lost is part of a bigger scheme called exploration. If exploration is always successful (that is you go directly in a straight line each time to what you're looking for), there is no more exploration. It kills itself.
- In a game, you can't get lost. Why ? Because it wouldn't be fun. It can sometime be fun a while after, when you recall old memories, or because of the consequences and what or who you may encounter in that process, but in the moment it's just painful to get lost.
In a world you can lose.
- In a world, there must be some part of danger. That's where the challenge is. You're going to be confronted by this danger, and you're going to defeat it, or not. But knowing you can lose, and losing can be meaningful is what makes your successes even greater, and what makes them eventually memorable.
- In a game, you can only win at the end. Otherwise it wouldn't be fun, and certainly frustrating for a part of the playerbase, who are paying customers after all. So everything must be made easy enough so that at the end everyone, or most manage to win. Nothing wrong, that's how most games are designed nowadays.
In a world noone tells you what to do next.
- If there is anyone to tell you what to do next, you're not in a world. You're on a railtrack, looking at what looks to be a world but is just decor. It's because noone tells you what to do next, that suddenly you feel you're in a world. You can go wherever you want, and what are you gonna find next ? You don't know, that's the point.
- In a game, you're told what to do next : you've finished a quest and another one pops up. You've finished a bunch of quests in an area, no problem another quest will tell you which area to go next. In this way, you'll never be out of things to do. Well that's good too. More like watching a movie. The script is already written, you don't decide what it is, but it's fine.
MMOs used in the past to be more worlds (EQ, UO, and even a game like L2). Since WoW, made by a game company Blizzard (nothing pejorative here), and its success, they tend to be more games. And their keyword is "fun". It must be "fun" all the time. Getting lost is not fun, dieing with consequences is not fun, having to strive to find your own way is not fun, and sometime... even having to think about your character development, or anything else, is not fun.
What could be wrong with fun ? How a game having "fun" as its core concept can ever fail ? Well nothing is that wrong with fun.
fun = fun, sure.
fun+fun = cool; ok.
But fun+fun+fun+fun+fun+fun+fun... = uncertain result.
At the end it may just equal boredom, that is by definition the feeling created by the repetition of always the same thing without anything that gonna challenge and change that, ever.
A world on the other hand is sometime unfun, because you may not achieve what you want there, and it can really be a pain. But unless you've explored every facet it offers, or you couldnt get into it in the first place, it won't bore you.
What does the MMO genre need the most today ? More games or more worlds ? What do you think ?