The great Raph Koster and Anyway Games' Aaron Miller have a little conversation going that inspired an interesting question for me: when it comes to MMOs, could smaller actually be better? Raph started it-- he put forth the idea that most MMOs these days are designed like theme parks-- they're designed to keep you around for as long as possible, with twisting passage ways, lots of checklists, and a certain sense of desperation: "please, please stay and grind. We've got content!" And Aaron continued the thought and suggested an MMO like a bar-- a place that you went to because it was fun to go sometimes, not that you went to because you couldn't leave.
And both of these posts point towards the same conclusion: that in a social situation like an MMO, smaller might actually be better. Currently, most games are fascinated with being as big as possible-- a "world" of content to explore, or "millions of players," all in the same space. MMOs have "expansions," and ever larger instances and battlegrounds-- the bigger the world can get, the better the selling point sounds.
But should it? Blizzard, the world's most famous MMO maker, has determined in the past year that a group of 40 doesn't work nearly as well as a group of 25, and that doesn't work as well as a group of 10. And as much as players say they want to play with their friends, just how many friends are we talking about?