There are a lot of blogs and forums threads on this site about various aspects of MMOG's. I've stopped trying to use the term MMORPG, even on this site, because I feel some games listed on this site (and truly some gamers who frequent here) have lost sense of what a MMORPG is. But, that is a discussion for another time....
From my experience, the "Big Three" topics of conversation that are the most controversial on MMORPG.com are:
1. The "Grind"
3. Sandbox vs. Linear / Class vs. Skill
But I've had a realization. It all simply comes down to a little thing called "fun."
The main problem, is that people don't find the same things fun. That, and people will have their fun at the expense of other people's fun. Like JB said about different "flocks" of people colliding.
So how do you make a game that is fun for everyone? If you know the answer, you are probably very, very wealthy and the head of some major game development studio. If so, good luck to you.
So anyway, we'll take this from my perspective, one bullet point at a time.
1. The Grind:
I've always considered the "grind" to mean quite literally that players are not having fun. Grinding, to me, means that you are doing something, usually a repetitive task, as a means to some end rather for the intrinsically fun value of the task itself. This can easily apply to homework, work, travel, and of course our favorite, MMOG's!
Nearly everything in a MMOG can be considered a grind if players don't have fun doing it. Asking for developers to "eliminate the grind" is nothing more then that individual asking for the devs to change the aspect of game play that they personally don't find fun. You can't eliminate the grind.
Some think it's fun to kill mobs over and over and over watching their XP bar inch away. Some don't find it fun and call it a grind. Some think doing quest after quest is fun, others don't find it fun and consider it a grind. It's all perspective if you think about it.
However, some aspects of the modern MMOG are intentionally made to be repetitive. Why? So that you're subscription will be lengthened. Is this a bad thing? Yes. Does every dev do it? Yes. It's a basic limitation, no matter how big the dev studio, no matter how much money and time they have, they can only create a finite amount of content. Even randomly generated content has its finite limits, because the randomness is derived from variables; variables with finite limitations.
You simply cannot ask for more. All you can do is ask whether or not you are having fun with whatever the content happens to be, and even if you aren't, if the end-goal is worth the "grind" or not. If both the answers end up to be "NO" then you have to realize that your time with that game should be over. Plain and simple. Not having fun anymore, quit playing.
PvP is also completely about fun. Some enjoy ganking and griefing, this is fun to them, so if the system allows it, they will do it. Being ganked and griefed isn't very fun for most (if any) so if they can avoid it, they will. It's having fun at someone else's expense. And you have to ask yourself then, is it worth it? Is your personal enjoyment worth ruining someone elses enjoyment? That's a question only you can answer.
Things like FFA vs. Faction vs. Guild vs. Realm etc. etc. are just options... some find certain varieties fun, some don't. Personally, I like FFA PvP when it is under the context of good role playing. I like Faction/realm based PvP for the feeling of being involved in something greater then myself. I like Guild PvP for the commradery that developes between guildmates.
No one way is better then any other way. Just like some find player looting fun, others don't. Permadeath fun for some, worst idea ever for others.
PvP is the biggest culprit when we talk about "flocks colliding." Some like structured, balanced, and fair PvP. Some like dominating others. Neither are bad or good, nor make you a good or bad person, it's just simply that those that find one type fun tend to not like the other kind I've noticed.
The answer? I've always thought the answer was "choice." Give structured, fair, and balanced PvP to those who want it, but also give more chaotic and free-for-all PvP to those who want it. I'm talking about server types. As I beleive it was T0nyd said, if you find yourself on the wrong server, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Point is- It's not about carebears and hardcore, PKs and anti-PKs etc. etc. PvP is just so tricky because there is always a winner and loser. PvE the "loser" is the game systems, when you kill a mob you aren't killing another living, breathing person as you are if you kill someone in PvP. It's about having fun, and the fact that it's almost always 99% of the time more fun for the victor then for the defeated.
3- Sandbox vs. Linear:
The classic debate. Class vs. skill. Sandbox vs. Linear. Generally speaking, many see the two as different sides of the same coin. They go together; sandbox and skill, linear and class.
What it really comes down to, of course, is fun. Some like the freedom to explore, wander off the beaten path, and invent their own content. Some like to be shown cool and fun things to do.
That's it. I think of it this way. You are either going to a amusement park like Six Flags or you are doing something else.
Let me clarify, you go to Six Flags expecting to do certain things that you know you are going to enjoy. Of course, only if you enjoy amusement parks and rides.
If you don't go to Six Flags, you can do anything else. Go to the park, play basketball, hang out with your friends, spend time in the toolshed on your hobby... etc.
Will you have as much fun as if you went to Six Flags? If you like rides and roller coasters, chances are, if you go to Six Flags you are garaunteed to have fun.
The same is true in linear vs. sandbox games. If you like being shown things to do, and find those things enjoyable and fun, then you will enjoy the linear game. If you like the freedom to be able to do whatever, and know that you'll be able to enjoy yourself and have fun doing whatever, then you will enjoy the sandbox game.
I really hope that made sense.
I see all this endless debate back and forth about the "grind" and about PvP and about skill vs. class and/or linear vs. sandbox... And people debate as if their brand of fun is somehow MORE fun and enjoyable then the other persons, and they just CAN'T see how the other person can't agree with them?!
But, as with all the truths in life, you'll find that the answer depends greatly upon your particular point of view.
Now, one thing I will acknowledge is that the vast majority of recently released MMOs and those in developement seem to cater more towards one side of the spectrum. The other side feels as if they are not being properly represented. This is perfectly natural and I truly sympathize with you.
Unfortunately it's all numbers. The "majority" likes things one way, so the minority is all too often overlooked. Sadly, there is no answer nor clever statement I can make that will change this. You simply need to hope/pray that a developer creates a game specifically for the minority.
However, creating a MMOG with the intention of only appealing to one particular audience, and shunning the support of the majority is not a financial move that many will be willing to make given the immense costs of designing and operating a MMOG. Sorry.
So are you having fun yet?