MMOs are built on repetition. As pastimes designed to be open-ended and unfinishable, they have to be. SynCaine, with his enviable flair for the Naming of Things, has taken to describing certain MMOs as "Play-to-Finish" but I remain to be convinced that any such thing exists. "Play-until-Bored", sure, but that's a different issue and one that says more about the player than the game.
|Am I playing an MMO or reading Raymond Carver?|
That's not to say that MMOs shouldn't have stories, nor that narrative is a total dead-end. After all, it's just another form of developer-created content. As SoE's John Smedley has become so fond of telling us recently, user-generated content is the future. It just isn't economical to produce new, discrete, unique dev-crafted content at high-enough speed and in sufficient volume to stay ahead of even the average player's ability to consume it.
|Remind me, what was in this corner last month?|
|Goodbye flophouse, hello penthouse!|
For truly reliable user-generated content you can't beat resource nodes and what you make with them. As I write this I have DCUO patching in the background. It's a huge download because I last logged in the best part of a year ago. What's brought me to update it today is the upcoming "Home Turf" DLC that adds super-hero housing to the game. Forget fisticuffs - let's decorate! Oh heck, why not do both? Let's build houses and then fight in them. Just mind that lamp!
|Watch it feathers, you're next.|
What the two concepts have in common, and what makes them both key to the long-term health of a true MMO, is self-determination. There's a qualitative difference between chopping at an imaginary tree for an hour because you want to make something from the logs and spending an hour getting logs to give to an NPC because he needs them for some project of his own.
|Another 500 guards should do it...|
|Rabbits? They're just rats with good PR.|
So, if I want to spend six hours logging or six days decorating, I will. And if I kill ten rats it's because I want ten rats dead and that's no-one's business but me and the rats.