Originally posted on Petter M.'s Don't Fear the Mutant blog, edited here for some clarity and to fix grammar. I highly recommend reading the original post and comments, but couldn't believe I'd spent that much time and thought on a comment on someone else's blog :P
What would a New MMO need to not be a WoW clone?
Already in WoW; Gurubashi is just one example.
Not sure what forced grouping is outside the WoW instancing and LFD scenario. Did EQ do this? I turned off auto-grouping in STO, partly because there was always some clown taking all the crafting mats as we ran the mission.
Meaningful Death Penalty?
Hmm, not many solutions have I found, other than not calling it death at all, like LOTRO and STO ground missions. The problem with creating “meaningful death” in any game is that death IRL is so permanent. I suppose you could shorten the level grind so that creating a completely new character after losing your current one to death would be an option. How about specific injuries, rather than a general HP system. You’d end up with an extremely complex and potentially unwieldy wound system. Remember most injuries that involve sword and/or guns will be debilitating for the remainder of the fight, at best. It’s a game remember? No matter what game you are talking about, the only death penalty that could be meaningful would also be permanent.
How about non-quest related leveling?
I agree with Yeebo about the questless grinding for XP. I certainly would not stay with a game for any length of time if I discovered that sort of mechanic involved. For me, quests represent the story of the game; which is the reason I am playing the first place, to follow the story. Killing boars in the forest for no reason other than XP is asinine.
Another commenter said, “Quests are not at all required if devs can think outside of the box and find new and interesting solutions.” Looking for an actual alternative solution here. If we are talking about just about any genre of fiction, quests are at the heart of the plot. Heck, even RL is full of “quests,” though we usually call them tasks or assignments or some such. They are goals to achieve. IIRC, questing and leveling predate all computer games, starting with tabletop RPGs and arguably, regular boardgames. There is always a goal in a game, usually it is to win in some way–or at least to prove that you have made progress. Regardless of how the "quest" or task is presented, without a quest there is no plot to the game.
More "sandbox" or player created content or drama?
I have no experience with sandbox games, except maybe RTS style freeplay. But I know that EVE does not appeal to me, both for the PvP and the extreme penalty for death/failure. If this is held up as an example of sandbox, then count me out as well.
In conclusion, I like the persistence of the Worlds in MMORPGs. It is the reason I play. I am not particularly social when I play, preferring solo quests with only the occasional group interaction. OTOH, I do like that the social interaction is possible. And I have fun playing and chatting people from my guild/fleet/group. People need to remember that WoW--for all its faults--is extremely popular precisely because Blizzard made a conscious effort to rectify complaints people had with previous MMOs, and continues to do so. Their success or failure might be open to debate, but they have the numbers on their side. They have a rich epic plot to rival any major book series, and players get to participate to a greater or lesser degree in this history. I have enjoyed WoW immensely, just as I enjoy STO and to a lesser extent, AoC. It might be “showing its age”; but I, for one, am looking forward to Cataclysm, and I am willing to try, at least, anything else that comes along that promises to deliver a similar but better experience.
My point is that WoW is already a clone: of EQ, of DIKU MUDs, of tabletop D&D. It is simply more popular than any other MMO already out there, and most hardcore MMO gamers have played it either currently or in the past. So people will inevitably compare everything new to the big boy.