Well, Aislinn, that's a good question. We've covered similar topics before, even dedicating a column to it for a while (until we ran out of ways to stretch Star Wars Galaxies to a thousand words), but it's a good topic to frequently revisit. So I asked the team members to give me their ideal MMO components, and a few of them went to town.
My ideal MMO would cater to lots of different playstyles by linking them all together in an intricate, symbiotic player-controlled economy, heavy on housing and crafting and reasons to explore, with plenty of space for roleplayers to carve up the world, plenty of monsters for PvEers to bash, and plenty of territory for PvPers to fight over, forcing no one into a playstyle he didn't like. Ongoing content would be driven by a fleet of gamemasters. It'd be buy-to-play with appealing graphics but no emphasis on photorealism, and customization and flexibility of stats and looks would be the key.
I think I wrote a column about this. Oh yeah, I did. TLDR, the ideal is Star Wars: Galaxies, which is great because it obviously can be done but not so great since no current-gen studio can be arsed to copy what worked and fix what didn't.
My ideal game is a sandbox with themepark polish but no third-party IP strangling its profitability, lore, and game mechanics. It has a real economy driven by crafters and featuring item decay, as well as optional open-world FFA PvP with severe consequences for instigating fights. You can throw in some sort of dev story epic quest if you like, but the game is largely by and for virtual world enthusiasts and roleplayers, with plenty of player-generated content tools and significant non-combat gameplay systems.
So, again. Star Wars: Galaxies. Minus the IP. And minus the godawful lootboxes and cash shop trading card game. Give me a sub that includes absolutely everything or F2P/B2P with a cosmetic cash shop. Not both.
What I want from an MMO is the same thing I want from any other game: agency. I want the decisions I make to matter, both to me and to the game world. I'm well aware that this is a near-impossible challenge in a game that has to exist simultaneously for thousands of players, but I appreciate games with consequences. Mechanics are also important; games like Aion and RIFT feel too clunky for me to invest any sort of serious time.
As for payment models, I'm a big fan of buy-to-play with paid expansions or free-to-play with a cosmetic item shop. If the content is solid, people will come (and give you money). Overall, though, I think the problem I have with current MMOs is much the same problem anyone else has: We've played them all before. I don't want another fantasy, behind-the-character-view hotbar MMO, even if it involves an IP I normally enjoy. I want something new. MMOs are a big time commitment, and very few modern MMOs are paying entertainment dividends worth the investment.
My ideal MMO is one part Fallen Earth, two parts Second Life, six parts Wurm Online and one part something brand-new. I want a real post-apocalyptic sandbox (I'm talking persistent building and grading, and a true player-run economy) without a tacked-on pay-to-win cash shop. I also don't want the game to feel like a single-player game with a few random players running by every few days. I play single-player games for one reason, and I play MMOs for an entirely different reason. An MMO should use the "massively multiplayer" part to its full advantage to benefit the player. I think we've gotten away from that too much.
What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.