I've written more than my fair share here in the past about various MMO designs. Unfortunately, as I've bent my mind to the issue and kept an ear to the ground I become increasingly concerned. Chiefly, I'm concerned that the audience to which I can market, is not the audience for which I design.
At various times I may have mentioned that my background in online multi-user worlds is from MUSHes. A MUSH is a fundamentally social thing, and I've only even connected to a handful that had combat mechanics. I was simply never interested in MUD style game play, running around collecting gear and killing monsters. In the offline realm, sure I enjoy spending an hour or two on Diablo II every once in a blue moon, but for the most part rouge-likes and dungeon crawls simply aren't where my heart is.
For many people, their first great MMO would be Evercrack, Ultima Online, Second Life, or World of Warcraft. But for me the first brush was Neveron, an empire management game based in the Battletech universe. The featured a primarily player driven economy, players fought for land which had the chance of granting them resources, they would research the ability to build better weapons and units, and above all players formed their own political landscape. I think it's fairly easy to see why my current go to game is EVE Online.
But as I've designed, theorized and listened, I've consistently found certain detriments. I for one want an ever changing world, but by and large most people don't. They would like change on their schedule, they would like to experience all the events and all the content at their leisure. So far, I've found it impossible to reconcile change that matters, with change people want. Oh, I could probably take the teeth and the meat out of change and give the players "I can't believe it's not change" and I'm sure some arbitrarily large number of people would be happy, but I won't make that game. That game doesn't interest me in the slightest, and the player's reactions to that game are equally uninteresting. (Unless they uniformly hate it, then I might be interested.)
Secondly, I'm not in the mood to play to everyone's masturbatory instincts. No, I'm not talking about titillation, I'm talking about instant gratification. I'm all for relatively high rates of feedback, but not this silly structure of 'ding' you're better. Rewards should be commensurate with effort, talent and time. A patient and intelligent investment of one of those three should always reap greater rewards than simply bashing your head against the wall until someone gives you a gold star for effort. This is one of my main problems with the MUD style, the concept of Mobs that aren't actually trying to win.
But most of all, societal interactions being important seems to be the rift that simply shouldn't be. What is it that makes people think banning Goonswarm and the like for being assholes is a "wrong way" of dealing with them. Griefers are as bad, if not worse, of a problem as gold farmers, but our rules for dealing with them are practically non-existent. But in a greater sense, why are the social realities of an MMO the very last on the list of priorities. Guild management tools, chat tools, social environments, these all come out as the red headed step children of the MMO world. Even starting areas are completely ludicrous. Rather than beginning players in major population centers where they are guaranteed to see, meet, and interact with other players, they are instead positioned in the middle of fuckallistan. Anyone joining after the initial rush will be lucky to see another living soul after hours of wandering.
All of this has got me thinking about making games with significantly more limited multiplayer options. After all, a Thursday night group of 4-8 people can certainly have fun playing a persistent world game without the need for a thousand other assholes. But then, there is the alone together factor that tells me they also wouldn't be interested in investing regular time into something without having those other thousand assholes around to pointedly ignore. Perhaps someday I'll find my perfect answer, but for now, I'm more just frustrated than anything.
EVE doesn't work because it's open PvP. EVE works because it has a complex socioeconomic simulation to offset that PvP, creating a world with a balanced variety of activities along the bartle types. Just thought I'd share.