I just found this discussion on Reddit about FFXI and the removal of time sinks from a lot of MMO gaming. This quote in particular from user ReducedtoRubble is to the point:
There were things that were timesinks (jboots), and things that built social dynamics. I don’t think they [ed: the devs] knew which would be which and a lot of them happened purely out of chance.
You’re absolutely right that most developers don’t care about the social, non-combat interaction anymore. Everything seems to focus on all the different ways that you can make the enemy HP bar deplete. Timesinks are eliminated because they’re periods of time where you’re not making the enemy HP bard [sic] deplete. We don’t get massive worlds anymore, we get massive battlefields. [emphasis mine]
The thread is talking about a game I barely even played (FFXI), but I can identify with the experiences expressed very well due to my original experiences of World of Warcraft. Catching the boat, or the tram meant something – you saw other players doing the same and for a few moments could sit and chat or just space out and watch the scenery go by. I’ve picked out the one sentence at the end of this quote in bold text; MMO gaming doesn’t have to be quite so slavishly focused on hack and slash.
Maybe some of the new games will at least begin to address the massive battlefields issue, Wildstar will have paths for exploration and building stuff. EQ Next will probably be encouraging exploration to a greater extent as well. Bring the massive worlds back, ok?