1. Quest Based Advancement
All current major MMOs advancement is based on completing quest. This started with WoW and that trend has continued. In the beginning of MMOs this was not the case. UO did not have any real quests and while Everquest had that in its name questing was not the main way to earn experience. Everquest relied on the camping mechanic, stay in one spot and kill lots of things for hours. The quests were a way to get loot not advance your character. Every game after that point used this mechanic in some way. They all tried to stop the camping problem but none of them were very successful.
Then the “Next Generation” of MMOs were released, these were World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 both of these games brought quest based advancement as the main way to level. There was still some camping involved but most experience was gained through completing quests. Now every game that comes out tries to take this to the next level and does it wrong. The problem with quest based advancement is that you spend to much time getting to and from the quest objectives. They are really just running exercises. They are all the same, go here and kill this, go here and talk to him. Camping has pretty much disappeared entirely.
A middle ground should be reached where camping is still an option. Camping was a good way to build community because you get to talk to your group mates instead of running around trying to find the last sick bear. I think they should mix up camping and make more instanced dungeons for groups. Maybe make them random with a token system so that you can pick what you want. This way they could make some generic story lines and make some really cool instances. DDO does this very well. You could also combine the questing and grinding by giving out xp rewards for killing 1000 spotted owls. They would need to bring back static spawn points to make this work. Players need a wide variety of play options and each one needs to be about equal to keep a play type from dominating the other.
The Juggernaut World of Warcraft is going to destroy MMOs. Every game since WoW has followed them. Just like EQ before, it sets the bar and is the game that every new game is judged against. The problem with this is it is not a very good game. It is not revolutionary. It looks like crap. The classes are all generic. It is really a casual EQ. But it has become so big that any game that does not manage to get 1 million subscribers is considered a failure. Before WoW EQ was king with 400,000ish players. This is what every one strives to be and if you got half of what eq had you were considered a success. No one can ever dream of getting half of what WoW has. They would need 4 million players to reach half the numbers that WoW has, and I am not sure that it would even be considered a success then. WoW was a fluke and will not be duplicated for some time to come.
The industry is striving to reach an unreachable goal. They are coping WoW to try to reach that goal. Any new game that comes out should hope to get over 100k and budget every thing for that many people. Expecting to much really hurt WAR and forced it to do server merges not even 6 months after release. It did the same for Age of Conan. A subscriber base of 100k will bring in $1.5 million a month. If you can’t claim success with that kind of revenue you are aiming too high. When publishers start aiming lower they will start to see more chances being taken and with those chances we will get the real innovations that are needed to take this genre to the next level.
3. Casual Players
I happen to be a casual player I play maybe 10 hours a week. Casual players are what made WoW so successful. But what makes WoW push the boundaries of game design are the hardcore players. They are the ones that eat through the content and demand more. They are the ones that find the bugs and exploit them. They make the guides, websites, and plugins that really make the game. Because of them we get interesting instances and new content. They are the ones that complain on the message boards and test the new changes. They are the raid, guild, and group leaders that make a lot of instances and raids possible for most players.
They play to be the most uber player on the server. With out them the game would go stale and die. I do not think that you should have to be a hardcore player to get the items that you want. But the games MUST be made for these people. The raids must exist the new content must be put into the game to keep it fresh and growing.