I've followed a lot of MMO's in development since I discovered the genre, and played many more. They range from the completely worthless wastes of internet space to the very good wastes of internet space. I guess I don't really hate all MMO's, I have gotten many hours of entertainment out of quite a few of them before the developers destroy what was good about them or I have a chance to sit back and think about what I'm doing.
There are good points about WoW, surely as many as there are bad, just as there have been good points in many games over the years, EQ, UO, SWG, EvE, and even WAR and AoC. By no means an exhaustive list of games I have played, in fact, not even close, but these are some of the more mainstream titles that I think missed the mark, yet each had aspects I enjoyed.
WoW is a great example of a game you cannot say they messed up. Blizzard is brilliant and they are making more money in a year than I could even begin to fathom. Their game isn't the first to do what they've done, just the best at it. It is not the MMO I would like to see, yet it still had elements that I enjoyed that no other MMO has been able to duplicate. Raiding could be outrageously fun with the right group of people and an imposing challenge with others. In that regard, they are a success. They have their design, and it works for millions of people, so I say great job.
Too many companies now are trying to cash in on what Blizzard has already cashed in on. You can't tap the same keg and hope for the same results. They already ran that keg dry and moved on to the brewery. All you developers out there, realize this, you do not want to be on the same pie chart as Blizzard. You are not trying to attract their customers. If you do, they will try your game, find you cannot do it as well as Blizzard, and go back to them.
I don't see the MMO as a genre by itself, but a series of genres. Perhaps it is an industry all its own, as we've been calling it for years. There are MMOFPS's, MMORPG's, MMOSIMs, Puzzles, historical, you name it. The only problem is, every designer thinks it has to be done just like every other game, and specifically just like WoW.
I have thought they've been doing it wrong for years. When I realized the potential of the MMO I had a lot of my own ideas on what you could do with such a game. EQ 1 proved to me that the mainstream MMO's would not touch what I thought was the best aspect of this industry.
Why are developers wasting so much time with content, quests, endgame, repeatable 'unique' bosses? They are still making what should be single player and small scale multiplayer experiences and thrusting them into a massive world. There's no difference between a heroic dungeon and meeting 5 people on battle.net to fight diablo. I could get most of this kind of gameplay from a multiplayer session of neverwinter nights.
They've missed the most important aspect of the MMO, the persistent world setting. Stop crafting single player worlds when you could instead craft a living world. Stop trying to make each player feel like a hero and appear they're making a difference in the game world. They're not. Everyone has done that quest a hundred times. Build the world, give it a backstory, give it interesting lore to uncover, give it several conflict points, such as opposing views, races, resources, land, and let the players go. They will create their own stories, they will be heroes or villains, crafters, leaders or followers. Sprinkle in GM events to keeps things fresh and if the players are going to defeat a named boss, it either disappears and didn't die or if it dies, kill it, forever.
PvE content does not have to be instanced, ever. Instances don't make sense. How is my party and 5 other parties doing the same thing at the same time? Build the content around a living breathing world. If there's a dragon cave with a dragon in it, and some players go kill it, it should die. Now there's a cave in the mountains that is uninhabited, to be taken up by wildlife, the undead, a troll.
PvP should have meaning. There should be a limited amount of permanent structures that guilds can fight over, with a very difficult and involved process for taking one over, the advantage going to who owns it. If I get 10 of my guild together and I go fight and win against another guild I expect it to at least be the topic of some conversation the next day. And given the proper game mechanics, I expect that over time, I will gain something in the way of that guild's lands or eventually one of their outposts, forts, castles, whatever.
In addition to these things there should be something that drives the overall story, a villain or plague on the land that everyone can rally against, has no choice but to rally against. It could be an extremely powerful world boss that is GM controlled or as little as a constant threat from a specific monster race. The Wheel of Time series provides a perfect example here. An MMO set in this world could take advantage of every one of these points. In this universe, the lands are always under threat of Trollocs which can attack anywhere at any time, but have a constant presence in the north. This is the perfect opposition for most players to fight and it can be set up to spawn randomly as well as be used with GM guidance to provide a more intense threat.
All of these things would provide a world that constantly changes through player actions and interactions with each other. It would never be stale and never be repetitve. Overall it should make for a more lasting experience without the need for adjusting level caps and adding endgame.
This should be one of my longest entries, as it gives everyone an idea of where I stand with what I am actually looking for. To date some games have touched on some of these ideas but never mastered or used all of them. One day, this game will exist, if I have to make it myself, and when it does, a new genre will be born.