MMORPGs remain a disappointment, at least in the West, compared to their potential. You only have to look at the success of the Lord of the Rings films, or go into a book shop and see shelves adorned with fantasy novels to see that public interest in the genre is large. Yet the market now contains barely 1 million subscribers across all titles. New titles, with few exceptions, just cannibalize the existing market rather than attract a new influx of players. I say in the West as Asian countries are a different story altogether. Lineage: The Bloodpledge counts its players in the millions. Ragnarok online boasts 500,000 players in Thailand alone. Everquest can just match that many users worldwide. Clearly the industry is underperforming, but why? And what can be done to turn things around?
In my mind, if there is one failure of MMOGs it is that they place the individual experience over the group experience. This is fine, essential even, in single player, but not for the environment of the MMOG. Now it would be unfair to say that MMOGs ignore group play, but for the most part, player groups and societies that arise do so in spite of the game system, not because of it. People actually have to make an effort to group together in these games, often to their disadvantage over the lone power gamer.
Western MMOGs owe a lot to the pencil and paper game Dungeons & dragons. The original Dungeons & Dragons was not designed as a solo event. By the very way that game was written, you needed one person (the DM to do most of the talking) and a group of players to interact with the DM