I'm not a big MMO player myself. I got into WoW for a bit in college (think I got to about a level 30-ish Druid) but after that military life is not conducive to a game that requires a bit more constant attention than say Grand Theft Auto. Since most of this thread is a "how would you do it" style discussion, here's the kind of MMO I'd like to see:
In a vein similar to Star Ocean or similar sci-fi mixed with fantasy based title, humanity begins a forced expansion into space because of the Earth's resources running low. You were part of the colonization program and along with thousands of others placed on a ship bound for another planet. Things go wrong, your ship and the four or five others in your convoy don't make it to their destination and instead crash on an entirely unknown planet. You and the remaining survivors must now rebuild civilization and conquer your new environment in order to survive.
- Your starting location is one of the four or five crash sites and the small garrison-style town that sprang up around it.
- There are no classes, you start as a blank slate able to branch out as you see fit. Stats are improved by leveling up through experience. Skills are gained by equipping weapons and items and gaining active and passive abilities from them. As you use weapons or wear items your proficiency with it will improve and let you access more active and passive abilities. Active abilities become stronger through use.
- Traditional quests such as "get me x of that" or "deliver to this person" are gone. Leveling is based on exploring and conquering the environment as well as answering player created requests. For instance, a player that wants to only be a craftsman may put a request out to get 10 pieces of an ore from a specific area. To receive the quest you have to first answer the request (that way 300 people aren't going for the same thing), go get the materials (which will gain you experience for fighting your way there and extracting the ore) and then bring it to that specific person. The game system can be set-up to award players experience (currency only comes from the player that asked for the service) based on the area of the map the request was about.
- Much of the gameplay is based on controlling the world (about equal in size to WoW) by either helping your ship/garrison town expand or going off on your own and starting your own society. Player created towns and services can be built anywhere there is available space (any you have the right money and materials). But it can also be destroyed. So you may work for months to create a small town only to have a larger faction burn it to the ground. But growing that town and fighting against other players nets you experience.
The real difficulty in this game is that if you really want to get into it and build within the world you'll need to devote a lot of time. That has the chance to turn off more casual gamers but is definitely a way to keep the game fresh and changing for hardcore players. Casual players can still get a lot out of this, as there will always be raids, large areas to explore and hunt in, requests being put out from other players, and maybe even the ability to gain a home or shop in the larger, more stable starting locations. So a casual player (like me) could log in, fulfill requests for a bit, go exploring in a new area, and end the day helping a large group go harass or ransack another town and call it a day without feeling like they are outmatched by hardcore players.