In most MMORPGs these days, your actions have little to no effect on the world at large — let alone other players. You kill something, and it respawns at no cost to anything. There might be a period to wait, sure, but if you kill that huge beast it’s just going to come back again for the next group of players.
The recent influx of “instanced” MMO locations is only taking this further. Now whatever you do has no effect whatsoever on anyone who isn’t in your immediate party. So-called massively multiplayer games are simply becoming regular old ‘multiplayer’ games, just with hub worlds and PvP.
So what happened to the “massive”? I think they realized that people didn’t really care so much about the massiveness in these things. The worlds are static, and as I said earlier, your actions don’t mean a damn thing anyway, except to occasionally help or hinder random other people.
An MMORPG is just a big RPG of a certain genre that shouldn’t be described by the term ‘MMORPG’ any longer because games of a similar sort (Dragon Age comes to mind, but there are certainly others) which work on the same principles except single-player.
A static MMO is doomed to find its massiveness quite useless. When the dynamic MMO comes to be (and they’re already coming around, despite being on the experimental and small end of things — such as Haven & Hearth or Wurm), that’s the day massiveness will truly rise from the ashes. But so long as these worlds remain static and unreactive to each player’s actions, the massiveness won’t have enough impact to warrant its continued existence. And it’s already happening.
So let’s try to bring the dynamic back into the massive, lest the massive die out.