There are some people who play the content they enjoy without thought of the rewards; they are mostly not MMO players. – Zubon
I think it’s also important to remind everyone that MMOs are typically poor at… well being decent at anything if you remove the social/massive aspect. Dungeons would be terrible single-player levels if placed into a game like Skyrim or The Witcher. Most MMO quests would be seen as trash filler in a proper RPG. In what other genre do you repeat content as tedious and simple as raiding? Better 5v5 PvP experience; themepark battlegrounds or LoL? Etc etc etc.
But the lackluster content CAN work in an MMO because with a few dozen/hundred/thousand people around you, DPS-rushing a big-bad feels epic rather than insultingly simple. Compare the experience of a dps player playing BWL’s Vael on a guild-first kill to the first time you defeat the final story boss in GW2. Both were/are essentially smashing one key over and over for a few minutes, but one was a major rush while the other might be the biggest joke in recent years.
If Riot added mining or herb gathering to LoL tomorrow, would anyone elect to wander around SR and just click nodes over playing a match, if all gathering did was level your champion to 18 only to be reset once you leave? Of course not. Yet some MMO players have spent hundreds if not THOUSANDS of hours watching EVE’s mining lasers hit rocks. Why? Because those rocks lead to something, and that something is deemed worth the grind. A thousand-man fleet does not grind SBU’s down because shooting a structure is fun and interesting gameplay, especially the hundredth such Op. But they show up because they want ownership of that space, and because maybe that day will be the day an epic super-cap battle breaks out. 99/100 times it won’t, but hey, 1/100 is more than zero. Zero is a cancelled sub.
The big picture matters. It always has in MMOs. And the better your big picture, the less the little stuff matters. Players in the thousands will literally watch paint dry if ultimately the house they are painting is grand. Don’t perfect the painting ‘mini-game’, make the house worth painting.
And it’s very important to remember that players lie about what they want, including to themselves. You say you want explorer content, yet your story always includes that awesome reward for exploring. You say you love crafting, but remove the profit or long-view, and you stop. You say you want accessible content, yet as soon as breeze through it, you ask what’s next or simply leave.
Smart devs ignore 99% of what players say they want, and instead give them what players have shown to actually want. MMO players will grind and grind and grind, so long as the carrot at the end of the infinitely long stick is deemed worthwhile. They’ll bitch on the forums and write angry blog posts about said grind, but they’ll do so while grinding. And more importantly, while continuing to pay to grind. In an industry where ‘keep people paying’ is the goal, that’s important, yet continually ignored in recent years. And we wonder why the AAA MMO space is in a funk.
MMOs are hard, yo.
Update: GW2 is adding Molten Core (fractals). Enjoy the fire resist (agony) grind. The MMO formula ‘fixed’ everyone!