I think the crux of the issue is that what people consider to be fun varies and is a relative experience. Some people such as myself enjoy the virtual world aspect of an MMO, whereas others are looking for that 30 minutes of hack and slash before school or work, or perhaps before bedtime. Some will argue though, that if all one desires is a bit of hack and slash, why play an MMO? I do agree though to a great extent that a lot of newcomers to MMOs have come from a console background. Because of that, they have certain expectations of what a game should be. For those of us who branched out from classic role-playing games we also have expectations of what a game (and specifically an MMORPG) should be.
Moreover, I think the MMO that people started playing goes a long way to shaping their specific viewpoint about this genre. Similarly one’s first serious relationship has a serious impact on how they view relationships; it can either leave a sense of great fondness or outrageous loathing. Similarly, that same psychological impact can be placed on MMOs, and the one a player begins their experience playing. For those who started with Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, or Everquest, a vibrant, active, free and open world with robust crafting and social interactions are what they strive to find and play. On the other hand, those that began their MMO experience with World of Warcraft or another similar Themepark, value the hack and slash concept and prefer the solo experience. Speaking figuratively, “I just want to play, don’t make me do all the extra stuff.”, they might say.
I don’t know whether or not there is a solution to this problem, but to say that one group or the other is more “market viable” is rubbish. People are people, we all have different things we do and different experiences that we consider fun. I think that choice is the fundamental issue that should be sought here. If one wants to play in a sandbox virtual world, they should have that choice. Likewise someone who wants a 30 minute dungeon raid, they should have their choice. Once again however, is that experience really an MMORPG? Or is more along the lines of a CORPG (Co-Operative Role Playing Game), such as the multiplayer experience in Diablo II?
The deeper issue here though is that those who enjoy the virtual world’s feel as though the MMO industry is leaving them behind in search of games that cater to a wider audience of which they feel are poor gamers. They feel that they are poor gamers in particular, because they do not value the social aspect or implications of what an MMORPG can offer. Developers are now catering to the generation who grew up playing console and single-player experiences, and in order to do so the MMO they develop must be simpler, have a greater importance placed upon their character being a “hero” and how they can “save the world” as is often the feature of a single player experience, and thus remove any semblance of a non-heroic activity (which in a large part, de-emphasizes the need for grouping and co-operative play).
These players feel as though their choice is being stifled, and that they have little or no choice in what type of game they can play. Similarly, if all soft drinks were the same flavor, most people wouldn’t stand for it. In fact, it couldn’t exist. I don’t think the MMO discussion is any different. There is an audience for virtual worlds, and they should have their choices just as those who prefer the alternative. Furthermore, the argument that, the MMO world is changing and players should learn to adapt is a shallow, narcissistic, and rather arrogant viewpoint.
Of course there are just simply bad games, but they are bad games often for a variation of reasons not dealing whether they utilize a virtual world or not. Sometimes developers just want to cash in on a trend, and with that being their focus, the consumer gets the rotten apple.
In ending, I highly doubt that any developer could give both groups a good choice in one game, and even considering the animosity each side has towards the opposing viewpoint, attempts to do so might end in ruin. However, choice is the key of the issue, and everyone should have a good choice of games to play on both sides of this argument. Neither is any more legitimate than the other.