Boom Goes the Dynamite
We all know that technology is nearing a crest that will allow MMOs to support new forms of combat and other game mechanics while still maintaining a persistent world. Right now, games like All Points Bulletin are limited in zone dimensions and player count per zone. Given time, however, these limitations will slowly erode and more developers will begin to consider tackling a new angle within the genre.
This kind of progress will by and far attract the most new players to the massively multiplayer genre, so long as it's coupled with at least some of the previous changes.
A Tightrope Show
This is the part where I bring it all back around again. It's the part where I talk about balancing all these new ideas with some familiar ones.
The fact of the matter is that people like a certain amount of familiarity, but they don't want too much of the same old game. They want a game to feel fresh and comfortable all at the same time, like a new pair of underwear that seems like it's already been broken in just a little bit -- but not really because that'd be gross.
This is very likely the reason Blizzard takes ages to release anything new. Either that, or they're too busy swimming in their vault filled with gold coins squeezed from the blood, sweat and tears of nerds the world over.
Armchair Designer Stains
There's obviously a lot more that has to go into an MMO than the aspects I've outlined here. Social tools, world design and platform selection also come into play.
(Does anyone still want a console-only MMO? Not sure that I even care anymore.)
But for better or worse, the ideas listed above are definitely in the forefront of many developer's new game design strategems. I don't see many upcoming games touting a classic fantasy trope, unless you count Star Wars to be in that category -- and I certainly would have a difficult time carrying out a counter-argument with anyone claiming as much.
However, I will concede that Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2 seem to be dodging the problem of utilizing a fantasy world. Of course, they're also leaning heavily on some of the points I made above. Guild Wars 2 is shifting to a less instanced world design while maintaining a non-subscription based model. Final Fantasy XIV is getting rid of the traditional leveling system, arguably in the hope that the move will sugarcoat any perceived grind. Although, I feel safe in assuming Final Fantasy fans are somewhat happy to grind away their free time.
As for all those players who would rather spend time with Modern Warfare or Mass Effect, I hear Infinity Ward and BioWare have some projects in store that may convert even the most stalwart of card carrying "Meh to MMOs" members.