First off, this is not a thread in which we debate addiction in and of itself. I expect that the conversation will sometimes stray into related topics, but I would like to leave the conversation as to whether it is healthy to spend X amount of time playing games to another thread.
Instead, I would be interested in seeing discussion on and debate around the actual market of MMORPG's and the things that seem to be design law inherent to the genre. For example: With very few exceptions, all recent MMO's come out with a gameplay system which is almost identical to that of World of Warcraft, which moved the standard (previously set by Everquest) from "kill a bunch of stuff here, then kill it there" to "Kill and/or loot X things in order to receive direction as to where to kill and/or loot next." Even the "progression" made by Warhammer Online and then Rift wasn't real progress, with a system implemented that was, "As a group in an area, kill and/or loot X things in this smaller area with a timer."
My problem with this system is that it simply does not tell a story well. The original function of the RPG style game was that of telling a story to the player in an interactive manner. MMO's, though they may have fascinating story, utterly divorce that story from the gameplay. In my experience, I almost never get any kind of emotional experience from an MMO. There are components of the game that, if I approach them almost as reading a graphic novel, separate from the gameplay, are compelling. However, in the course of actual gameplay, I don't actually get this benefit.
Similarly, MMO worlds, though incredibly large, are completely static. The compelling story of the original MMO's is an idea that thousands of players would unite to create a digital world driven by their actions and adventures. The reality is that players are almost "on rails" progressing through a constantly repeating clip of action, which is constantly resetting for the next wave of characters to progress through. It was monumental when Cataclysm released for World of Warcraft, for instance, because SOMETHING HAD ACTUALLY CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE. This was mind-boggling, and it only took more than half a decade for it to happen.
(I should also insert the caveat that there are certainly exceptions to some of my assertions. EVE players will offer that game as dispute to many of my claims, and they are certainly right, though I just can't find EVE particularly "fun." Claims are really focused around the fantasy and light sci-fi MMO's that glut the market on a regular basis. Certainly we should call attention to games which have somehow broken the bad trends described. However, there still remains a dominant market of games which seem to be a repetition of the same, old design ideas.)
Additionally, (and as a reminder separate from debate regarding addiction) modern MMO's seem predicated on the idea that the best kind of game is one that keeps the player playing forever. Most of these games, if you really intend to play through the majority of the content, require that you devote most or all of your leisure time to them. With single player games, or even casual one-off competition games like FPS's or arcade fighters, a player still must devote their time and energy to a single game to become "good" at it.
However, nowhere else do we find an example of a game genre that not only requires significant time investment over the long run, but also mandates that time investment be made consistently on a schedule. Take raiding, for example, which first became really defined as such in Everquest and has continued since. Because of the nature of requiring a large community to work together to use this content, a natural schedule of play arises in which a player must log in at pre-defined times, scheduled out by week, to participate in the final tiers of content. While a competitive 1v1 RTS player must certainly play regularly and often to be competitive in his tier of play, he is not as beholden to a rigorous, predefined schedule of play like the raider, who not only has to log in to scheduled nightly raids, but must also invest time in grinding content to stay competitive with gear, enhancements, potions, money, etc.
So finally the ultimate question: Why is there so little innovation or experimentation of game mechanics in the MMO market? It certainly happens in all game markets, but none seem quite so susceptible to copy-cat syndrome. Why do we so rarely see even basic changes in the basic "gear goes in bag, gear goes on head, shoulders, cloak, chest, legs, feet, hands" system? Why are quests so reliably "Kill X, pick up Y, repeat?" Why do so many games adhere to the Dungeons and Dragons staple of "250 xp per quest, 40-100 levels, every level you get a new skill" system?
I've passionately followed the MMO market since my days with Dark Age of Camelot and played just about everything that's come out. Some games (Guild Wars and EVE as major examples, hell, even Second Life if you want to think of companies that really tried to go outside the furry box) really tried to shake off the old mold. By and large, though, I feel like there is less and less experimentation in the market, and it disappoints me. Many a nerd has always held very high hopes for the possibilities that digital worlds hold for us, and I'm constantly awaiting the day when someone brings us something positively ground-breaking.
What is this I don't even.