Building on some of the "outrageous tasks" (long travel times, forced grouping, harsh death penalties, grinding mobs for money) I mentioned in my previous post, I'd like to talk about what they accomplished in terms of dynamics, and thus what MMORPGs have lost over the years. I would be an interesting exercise to then reinstitute these mechanics and discuss methods to improve them rather than cut them.
Long Travel Times
The first journey into unknown lands is thrilling, but that excitement suffers extreme diminishing returns. The 80th time you fly from Ironforge to Stormwind, that mock Drawf battle isn't cool anymore. So to pass the time to chat with your guild or party. This is downtime for the player: a time to stop and smell the roses. Problem is that not everyone has the time to have downtime. Casual gaming is coming to the forefront and players want to get in, play the game, and get out.
Exploration should be a part of character progression, not a hurdle. Make the player undergo memorable sojourns to a new town, but then accelerate his trip thereafter. I think WoW's travel system is near perfect. A change I'd make would be to require players to have been at a teleport destination (much like the taxi system) before they are able to teleport there. I think the Summon spell needs to be tossed out the window also.
Harsh Death Penalties
Games need to have a losing condition and some risk and reward. MMORPGs have gotten soft though. There is no more loss of experience or that terrible experience debt system (seriously, how did this even get past the alcohol-saturated napkin is was written upon?). Players praise Blizzard for removing these Draconian practices yet curse the newbs in their end game content. Guess how these baddies got to the level cap? Insufficient death penalty which failed to properly teach the players.
In Mario Bros. or Portal if you can't learn how to use the tool, you don't progress. If you don't understand that you must run full speed nonstop in order to cross the series of tiny pits, you have to restart the level. If you don't get the hint to "fl...ing you...your...elf", you don't get to hear GlaDOS' next snide comment. In WoW, if you don't understand how the threat system works, don't worry about it, you'll be level cap in no time.
(My first level 60 was a Tauren Warrior. I had come from FFXI in which tanking was done primarily by spamming an ability called "Provoke" every 30 seconds. Think of Provoke as Taunt. So when I was tanking Scholo for the first time, I would spam Taunt and watch my party die mercilessly. It was then that a kind soul informed me to use Sunder Armor because it generated Threat. Sunder Armor wasn't even on my hotbars. I had gotten to level cap and tanked various dungeons along the way without even a basic understanding of a very important mechanic. That is design failure.)
A resolution would be to change the attitude toward leveling systems. If players are in a Diku-style MMORPG, the mobs need to get more challenging. As players get new abilities, AI designers must present situations in which those abilities must be used in order to advance. The fun comes from learning how to use these tools. Leveling in an MMORPG becomes monotonous if players can succeed using a only tools from the beginning of the game and they aren't tested with the possibility of failure.
Grinding Mobs for Money
This actually hasn't gone away. WoW's daily quest system has reduced its importance slightly, but grinding is still grinding, whether you are just killing mobs or "killing with a purpose". I find there is a meditative quality to grinding mobs for money, but perhaps I'm just insane.
I don't know how to reconcile this. There has to be a mechanic to inject money into the MMO economy, and you can't just toss out the MMO economy; that's a major feature in MMOGs! Perhaps economic advancement can be the main attraction, and players play together for resource gain rather than Experience. Now we have issues with illegal gold farming and selling.
Maybe this is just one of those "real life" lessons where you hate your well-paying job but do it to pay the bills... Yea, I didn't think you'd buy it.