I've played MMORPG's since 2002 beginning with DAoC. The pride I felt for my realm gave me the purpose to defend it. Nowadays I find myself in other games asking myself, "why am I here?"
What's the purpose of the game you're playing right now? Now the thoughtless answer without any self analyzation would be, "I play it, because it's fun." But WHY it it fun? I wonder how much your MMORPG of choice will hold up once you put it to the WHY test.
Now, we need to assume that MMORPG's do serve some purpose, otherwise we can just WHY ourselves right out of the genre and even out of our own existence. But let's assume the purpose of MMORPG's is to offer us a measure of gameplay that we cannot find in any other genre. This measure of gameplay, what makes MMORPG's unique, is the purpose and what MMORPG players find fun. Any other feature, while nice, can be found in another genre in a better form. For example, quests is a feature that single player games have excelled at for decades now, because the single player environment can change as the player completes quests to add depth (ie. Oblivion). Now, quests in MMORPG's serve purely as a method of granting xp, coin, and loot so you can advance in level to rinse and repeat the process again. The quests serve no real purpose in the game. Completing them changes nothing, so while it's a nice feature, it isn't genre defining enough to be THE feature that attracts people. So what is it then?
Well, my theory, and it's not a new theory, is that the unique feature that the MMORPG genre offers is the ability to live a life you cannot live in the real world for any number of reasons, that you can in the virtual world. The more you take out of the virtual world, the less believable the world is and the more of a game the world feels like, which starts to beg the question: "Can I find better in another genre?"
So we're back to our first question: Why do you play the game you do? Does anything serve a real purpose in your game, or is it a big waste of time, even for game standards?
I just unsubbed from WoW after beating 25man Naxx to death for the umpteenth time and starting asking myself WHY. I thought about alternative games, and asked myself WHY again. The truth is that any game that does offer a true purpose is on life support and any game that MIGHT offer a purpose is yet to come.