The idea of a world first has been around long before MMOs. Humans in general strive to be the first or best at something, be it sports, exploration, science, or even something abstract like making the worlds largest rubber band ball. It’s a good feeling to know you are the best at something, no matter how silly.
One major problem with world firsts in a MMO is that in a lot of games you have different servers, each one a mirror of the other. The server you pick to play on is the one you are concerned with, which brings about the idea of a ‘server first’. While a server first is still something special, its significance is greatly diminished in a game like WoW where you have 100+ servers. Even a world first can only be announced on a forum for the rest of the servers to see. If you are the first player to obtain the sword of awesomeness, only players on your server are able to see it, everyone else has to read about it. If Joe Newbie does not read the forums, and most don’t, he has no idea of anything that happens outside his server; no chance to have you and the sword of awesomeness run by him in town and leave him open-mouthed in amazement.
This goes beyond being the first to beat the toughest raid mob. Given a solid, deep crafting system, those that pursue a craft could reach world firsts for the finest items, perhaps locking up exclusivity in some way. First weapon smith to reach point x would be able to exclusively craft a sword with a red tint; everyone else would be able to craft the sword without the tint; something along those lines.
Given today’s technology, one would think it would be possible for a developer to craft a ‘single world’ game, similar to how EVE Online has it. Granted, that’s a galaxy and not a fantasy kingdom, but it shows that the technology is there. I’m sure with some pre-planning they would be able to solve issues like overcrowding in popular areas.
Aside from world first, a single world also gives a game a single history. Anything major that happens can be recorded and remembered. The world could be shaped and changed in meaningful ways without having to consider how it might affect other servers. If a major battle goes down, you can erect a monument for all others to see, the main combatants going down in history with their names on it.
Perhaps a single world is one step to fixing the current rut MMOs are stuck in, mainly being a cookie cutter experience, one that leads us through the world holding our hand. Instead we should be given an open canvas to paint the world’s history; based on the actions of its players and guilds