The Sad, sad, state of MMORPG in this brave new era...

Cabales

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I haven't played No Man's Sky, but that is the the basic idea of what I'm thinking about. The devil is in the details though, so the success is dependent on the quality of the implementation. Ultimately I think you give up the uniqueness in favor of variety and quantity, which should yield sustainability. I think you'd need an absolutely huge number of permutations for the engine to work with in order to avoid a feeling of sameness though. Enough variation would lead to the illusion of uniqueness.

Let the developers work on coming up with no things to incorporate into the mix (monsters, loot, factions, spells, mechanics) instead of developing maps and quest text. Let the system generate that.
 

Ukerric

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This is what Crowfall is trying to do. Except the world ends.
Except that Crowfall isn't doing procedural generation. They're making a stock of pre-made chunks, and assembling them by hand whenever they want a new world. You still need a world designer to come and create the world every time they'll start one.
 

Ukerric

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In EQ, you went to the bottom of L Guk and killed the Froglock King because you wanted a Crown of the Froglock Kings. Or you camped the Ghoul Assassin because he had the Guise of the Deceiver. It fit, it made sense. It wasn't just a +gooder stats type of game or world. How do you do that with procedural generation? It is just going to turn into Diablo or Destiny on an MMO scale. It feels like you are really losing the RPG elements by going this route.
You still can do that. Procedurally generated does not mean random. You have a procedurally generated dungeon, which means all the mobs in it have been pre-generated, they always respawn the same, and the game can make appropriate loot.

Like, we're generating the nameds of a frog themed dungeon. The game picks a bunch of specializations that make sense for the boss. Let's say your boss is a Tank (the game has placed 2 tanks, 2 healers, 1 caster, 2 melee dps, 2 rangers, and 2 rogues nameds so the dungeon has a variety of minibosses), a Frog, a Nature Mob and a Civilized one. He's got stats based on that (HP of a tank boss, agility of a frog boss, spirit of a nature boss, etc), and abilities (block attacks because he's a tank, jump to target because frog, electric attack because nature and kick because that's what civilized people do, they kick you down), and he has a fixed 4 drop: 2 common, 2 rare. The 2 common are based on his first 2 classes, the second based on the next, so he's got a common plate item (tank), a common leather item (frog), a rare staff item (nature) and a rare necklace item (civilized). There's a bunch of name generation algorithms that can give them appropriate names as well (qualifier1 qualifier2 type suffix), so you end with "Mossy Barded Bracer of the Burrow" (mossy is based from the dungeon theme, barded is a random suffix appropriate for plate, bracer because it's a bracer, and burrow because it's used to generate the name of the dungeon) or "Frogheaded Elm Staff" (no suffix here).

Suddenly, your boss makes sense. He uses a specific range of abilities, and has items appropriate for what he is. Since you're generating a frog dungeon, it can become known for having mainly leather/nature items because a lot of the named have those, but not only that.

Note that it's still not trivial to recognize an item, because if you have 6000 dungeons, and 12 named per dungeon and a 4 item loot table, you have 288000 different named items. And you can ensure they have unique names (that's what Databases are for), so if there is a staff dropping from a frog somewhere else, it can have both Frogheaded and Elm in the name.
 
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Ukerric

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I was going to say "nothing I describe is remotely extraordinary", but most of everything done these days isn't extraordinary. At best, you take known ideas, and make them work better than anyone previous. Which is why Blizzard became #1 in the western MMO scene.

The key point that makes or break procedural generation is "believable". As long as you get the illusion that the setting, the monsters, the loot, etc... makes sense, then you disregard the fact that it was procedurally generated. That, and the little glitches are what makes it memorable. We do remember broken loot, we don't remember the +gooder cloth caps.

This is what I said when I was saying that you need to embrace the lack of crafted narrative and meticulously curated experience. The crafted narrative is the theme park model, and it breaks under its own weight, because it costs an enormous amount of manpower to craft 10h of narrative... and almost the same amount (minus the base tools which were made) for the next 10h... and the same for the next 10... and after you've spent 50 man-years of work, your content is consumed in 3 days.

This is why everyone except Blizzard these days does PvP MMO, so they don't need to craft the narrative; "the players will provide the content". Trying to compete on Blizzard's turf is close to impossible without Blizzard-level investment.

And that's why, if you want a MMO (not a single player/party lobby-based game) based around PVE adventuring into the unknown, the only way forward is massive procedural generation. I've outlined a few techniques that can probably work well for this, but I've been out of the industry for 16 years now, so I'm probably not the best designer. And I haven't even roped in Tyen and his neural networks and agents and whatnot :)
 
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Srathor

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Except that Crowfall isn't doing procedural generation. They're making a stock of pre-made chunks, and assembling them by hand whenever they want a new world. You still need a world designer to come and create the world every time they'll start one.
Your info is out of date.


5.6 was a generated world. 5.7 has been as well. 5. will have 7 other generated maps making up the world.
 

Ukerric

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It's a bit better. It's still not procedural; they handcraft their parcels, place everything by hand, and then let random numbers pick which one appear. I think the very first thing that tells you this does not scale is the guy stating at the beginning "I spent 11 months making that one". Oh, and "you players are going to recognize that one"...
 
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AladainAF

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The only problem right now with procedural generation is that it tends to always be a grind fest, because there's got to be mechanics to make you want such a large world. Sometimes, having a small world has its advantages. A truly open world, non-loading ARPG style game could fit that bill, where the whole world is proceduraly generated, including dungeons, and there was no loading time, and everyone was in that world, with general means of getting around. It's still a loot fest at the end of the day, though and there's still the problem with some areas are going to be better with people at point X in the game and other areas are better with players at point Y in the game. No Mans Sky works, because the story is about the game itself. There's no real "place" to explore, it's just more like "Contact this person" and then it points you in the direction where the nearest place to make contact is, which is of course generated. If you've not played NMS though, it's definitely a good direction for procedural generation, but it still has that "bland" feel from time to time when everythings different, but its still the same (Although I will say its gotten considerably better from what it was at release).

I think a mix is more prudent, and you need a means of grinding in a fun way. There are so many fun and cool mechanics in many single player games that do not exist in MMOs that could carry over so well if done right. For example, exploring equipment/items in Disgaea to fight and clear levels to make them stronger, and make choices to change the direction of that strength. Really interesting shit like that that I can see working in an MMO style game. Instead of getting a stronger sword, you could simply explore the one you have, and boost its parameters, based on how far you get. The problem is it doesn't fit into any kind of cookie cutter fantasy RPG approach and at this stage in the gaming market, its solely about safety with your venture capital and not trying anything new.

I have a lot of game ideas (I design basic games, but that desire is always there), but I always fall back to "that wont work in an MMO space" when thinking about them.
 

pharmakos

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was thinking about how Ukerric's mssively procedurally generated MMORPG would work as far as making sure population isn't too spread out, and realized the best approach might also be just about the simplest -- everyone starts in the very center of the world, and the further you get from the center, the more difficult the content would be. so eventually the lowbie dungeons would be Wiki-fied, but the fringe of the known world would always be just beyond that next unexplored hill...

might end up having to be a space RPG rather than one landmass, idk. i prefer fantasy settings, tho, so perhaps it could be space with different planets, but space travel by magical means rather than technological.
 
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Dom

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was thinking about how Ukerric's mssively procedurally generated MMORPG would work as far as making sure population isn't too spread out, and realized the best approach might also be just about the simplest -- everyone starts in the very center of the world, and the further you get from the center, the more difficult the content would be. so eventually the lowbie dungeons would be Wiki-fied, but the fringe of the known world would always be just beyond that next unexplored hill...

might end up having to be a space RPG rather than one landmass, idk. i prefer fantasy settings, tho, so perhaps it could be space with different planets, but space travel by magical means rather than technological.
That's pretty much how EVE works. The center is NPC Empire space and it's surrounded by lawless areas and then space around that which can be controlled by player factions. While the content is mostly more difficult due to the players, there are various PVE elements out there that are harder as well. Then there's the logistics elements to being so far from most things that adds meta difficulties. The great thing about systems like this is you actually feel how remote thing are. You are always aware of your place in the universe/world, which is really important when it comes to immersion.
 

Ravishing

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Maybe the closest thing to what you guys are talking about is No Man's Sky, the MMO? Massive, nearly unlimited world to discover and explore. Each planet has it's own look, feel, and indigenous wildlife? Yeah, it could work.

I don't know how you solve the problem of making things feel special or unique though. In EQ, you went to the bottom of L Guk and killed the Froglock King because you wanted a Crown of the Froglock Kings. Or you camped the Ghoul Assassin because he had the Guise of the Deceiver. It fit, it made sense. It wasn't just a +gooder stats type of game or world. How do you do that with procedural generation? It is just going to turn into Diablo or Destiny on an MMO scale. It feels like you are really losing the RPG elements by going this route.
I've been down on MMOs in the Pantheon thread, but if an MMO hits it big like WoW in the future, I do believe a Procedural AND Meaningful world will be key.

VR isn't going to do it, it's ALWAYS about content.

Having meaningful loot is an important aspect too, and I believe the best way would be to eventually procedurally generated loot, but this generated loot becomes a permanent fixture of whatever dungeon/boss/raid it was generated for.. so procedurally generated dungeon 024 always has a chance to award procedurally generated item 077. This way you can create stories about "I found this sweet dungeon that has this sweet item" and people may or may not go there for that same sweet item.

Basically you use procedural generation to create Permanent fixtures of the game. Then devs can spend majority of the their time creating unique Points of Interest and incorporating stories.

Right now we have procedural worlds (NMS, Minecraft).
Next we need procedural NPCs & loot
Then procedural quests/tasks.
Then procedural dungeons/raids/cities


Edit: I guess I was stuck 1 page back, didn't see these Ukerric posts until after posting, but my points just reinforce his, so whatever :D But yea, 100% agree with Ukerric that you can do procedural in a manner that would be meaningful.
 

Ukerric

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Then procedural quests/tasks.
That's... dangerous.

The point about quests is that, basically, they DO transform any multiplayer RPG into a solo game.

Think about it. I have this quest, which requires me to kill 12 Winter Wolves. Ok, so I'm heading to the map with Winter Wolves. I kill 12 Winter Wolves. And then I leave, because I have no reason to kill more (you can make artificial reasons, like you need 12 Intact Winter Wolf Pelt, so I have to kill between 30 and 50 Winter Wolves on average, but it's still the same). And unless I have the quest to kill Winter Wolves, I have zero interest about the Winter Wolf area.

Now, I have a friend. But guess what? Unless we play exactly the same, at the same time, we won't be on the same quest step. I'm at the Winter Wolf killing, and he needs to harvest Alchemical Reagents, dodging Angry Treants all the way. So, I can go and help him, but I am not advancing my quest, and I am not gaining much XP and no gear, no faction, nothing. Or I can go kill my Winter Wolves, and my friend... well, my friend will do whatever he has to do at the moment. And we each play on our own.


With procedural generation, you might be able to do so. In which case, it's even worse. Because now, there is ZERO chance you both will be at the Winter Wolf quest step... because only one of you will ever have it.


This is one of the main drawback of the WoW model: you have those bite-sized content chunks, and you may or may not group up with people at the same chunk, but the next day, you won't ever meet them again. Even without the sharding mega-servers. Procedural generation amplifies this to the Nth degree, since, in WoW, you can theoretically keep on playing with 2-3 people for an hour going from step to step on the same quest. With procedural generated quests, after you've finished the Winter Wolf slaying, you have to travel to Winterdale to turn them to the tanner's trading post, while Joe has to bring the crafted result to Southshore, and Dave gets the potion in exchange, which is needed by the Lord of Ruin. Goodbye everyone, see you (or not).
 
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Ravishing

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That's... dangerous.

The point about quests is that, basically, they DO transform any multiplayer RPG into a solo game.

Think about it. I have this quest, which requires me to kill 12 Winter Wolves. Ok, so I'm heading to the map with Winter Wolves. I kill 12 Winter Wolves. And then I leave, because I have no reason to kill more (you can make artificial reasons, like you need 12 Intact Winter Wolf Pelt, so I have to kill between 30 and 50 Winter Wolves on average, but it's still the same). And unless I have the quest to kill Winter Wolves, I have zero interest about the Winter Wolf area.

Now, I have a friend. But guess what? Unless we play exactly the same, at the same time, we won't be on the same quest step. I'm at the Winter Wolf killing, and he needs to harvest Alchemical Reagents, dodging Angry Treants all the way. So, I can go and help him, but I am not advancing my quest, and I am not gaining much XP and no gear, no faction, nothing. Or I can go kill my Winter Wolves, and my friend... well, my friend will do whatever he has to do at the moment. And we each play on our own.


With procedural generation, you might be able to do so. In which case, it's even worse. Because now, there is ZERO chance you both will be at the Winter Wolf quest step... because only one of you will ever have it.


This is one of the main drawback of the WoW model: you have those bite-sized content chunks, and you may or may not group up with people at the same chunk, but the next day, you won't ever meet them again. Even without the sharding mega-servers. Procedural generation amplifies this to the Nth degree, since, in WoW, you can theoretically keep on playing with 2-3 people for an hour going from step to step on the same quest. With procedural generated quests, after you've finished the Winter Wolf slaying, you have to travel to Winterdale to turn them to the tanner's trading post, while Joe has to bring the crafted result to Southshore, and Dave gets the potion in exchange, which is needed by the Lord of Ruin. Goodbye everyone, see you (or not).
Nah, I'm talking about permanent quests, to create MASSIVE worlds quickly without needing dev time spent on every quest/task. Also after generation, devs can go in and tweak. So 50 wolf pelts will be given out by the same dude no matter what and the turn-in will be at the same spot no matter what.

Basically, you procedurally generate the world 1st, then NPCs 2nd, then after that you generate tasks/quests to connect things and create some instant-content.
The goal is to move majority of dev time to Story and Unique Points of Interest (large cities, epic quests, raids).

As it stands now, with content for MMOs developed slower than can be consumed, MMO games will always struggle against the "Emergent Gameplay" games.

Imagine getting to a point where an MMO can release monthly or even weekly LARGE content updates.


Basically I'm advocating for tools that speed up dev time, yet are still able to produce a meaningful experience. Which will be INCREDIBLY difficult to do. But if it can be pulled off it would be a real game changer.
 

Randin

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Really, MMOs need to move beyond the idea of just having a chain of quests that you follow through the whole game. They were useful at the time as a way to give motive and context to what the player was doing beyond "gain exp and loot", but they have increasingly resulted in MMOs becoming sub-par single-player games that just happen to have other people running around in them. Hell, look at SWTOR, which is not only heavily focused on linear storytelling, but sets all the story elements in solo instances, so that you don't even have a 'parallel play' sort of situation going on while doing its main content.

When it comes to a solution, I keep coming back to what they were talking about in EQN with the whole StoryBricks adaptive AI thing. You don't have pre-made quests, you just have stuff spontaneously happen in the world, and let players react to it, with the game then rationally reacting to the players' actions. Orcs attack a village, players go out and kill a bunch of them, the surviving orcs fall back and try to find easier pickings. Alternatively, no help comes, the orcs take the village and slaughter the inhabitants, an build themselves a stronghold.
 

Ravishing

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Storybricks was vaporware from the start. And that example that's continuously used is not the holy grail tbh. I actually believe that type of system would create less memorable moments in games. You need some things to ALWAYS be the same if you want memorable experiences. When we reminisce about EQ, it's normally the SAME setting, but slightly different stories: "That time I was in LGuk Frenzy and this train rolled through...." , "That time I was doing my Epic Quest and this Necro KS'd Quillmane"... etc etc.

What you need is to not ADVERTISE quests like giant blinking billboards.

The Quest logs, Exclamation Points, etc are terrible for the genre. They put the game on rails.

The dynamic Storybricks content you are talking about is "kinda" done in GW2... kill all of X and Y spawns, kill Y and Z spawn, etc. It's not procedural or anything, eventually you learn the rotations and know what's going to happen.

Problem I had with this content is if you miss the X mobs, you sometimes feel like you missed something, or you need to kill all the Y & Z shit to see X again. And I also don't consider any of the content very memorable in that game.

It's really not rocket science, people like familiarity. But MMO content is eaten up at an incredible pace, so people get bored quickly, and massive grinds are added to slow down progression.
If you can churn out content rapidly and make the world feel ALIVE, I think you can have the next WoW.
People need to know the world will grow on a monthly/weekly basis.
 

Ukerric

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Nah, I'm talking about permanent quests, to create MASSIVE worlds quickly without needing dev time spent on every quest/task. Also after generation, devs can go in and tweak. So 50 wolf pelts will be given out by the same dude no matter what and the turn-in will be at the same spot no matter what.
Then what? You're back to a World of Warcraft single player game, but bigger.

Besides, you do need an even more massive innovation in procedural generation if you want quests that reach even to the worst quality of WoW quests. You'd need CCN writing your quest text and dialog, and let me tell you: you will need to read EVERY SINGLE quest in Q&A, because we're still at the "I write surrealist dialogue that makes sense 7 times out of 10" of computer-generated text.

The technology for a procedurally generated MMO, filled with areas, dungeons and mobs and bosses exist more or less today. A procedural AI that writes a large number of 30+ steps quest lines, with a consistent story and dialog is currently pure SF. You would need a dev to re-read all of your quests, and fix 20% of it because it's worse drek than a WoW side quest (seriously, go read all those articles that say "an AI wrote a story in the XXXXX world" and see what you end with). Which brings you back to dev time, limiting the amount of quests, which funnels back your players to a narrow set of adventures... and render most of your procedural world useless.

If you go back to my original idea, which was a procedural MMO that creates a fixed, shared single world, where you could put, say, a quarter of million subscribers, you have a size of a 100 times all of World of Warcraft. It took 15 years for a (estimated) 10 man team of quest writers to make enough quests to fill that WoW. Even if you can make it that procedural generation cuts your work by 95%, you still need 300 man-years of dev to polish your procedural quests. Oh, and if you have a procedural generation problem, and you redo it, all that work is flushed instantly, so you need to do it last. Not going to happen.


Now, if you are happier with tasks, rather than quests, then that's good. If you're talking about Orc Belt quests from EQ instead of the Witches of Drustvar quest line, then procedural generation works fine.
 

Ravishing

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Then what? You're back to a World of Warcraft single player game, but bigger.

Besides, you do need an even more massive innovation in procedural generation if you want quests that reach even to the worst quality of WoW quests. You'd need CCN writing your quest text and dialog, and let me tell you: you will need to read EVERY SINGLE quest in Q&A, because we're still at the "I write surrealist dialogue that makes sense 7 times out of 10" of computer-generated text.

The technology for a procedurally generated MMO, filled with areas, dungeons and mobs and bosses exist more or less today. A procedural AI that writes a large number of 30+ steps quest lines, with a consistent story and dialog is currently pure SF. You would need a dev to re-read all of your quests, and fix 20% of it because it's worse drek than a WoW side quest (seriously, go read all those articles that say "an AI wrote a story in the XXXXX world" and see what you end with). Which brings you back to dev time, limiting the amount of quests, which funnels back your players to a narrow set of adventures... and render most of your procedural world useless.

If you go back to my original idea, which was a procedural MMO that creates a fixed, shared single world, where you could put, say, a quarter of million subscribers, you have a size of a 100 times all of World of Warcraft. It took 15 years for a (estimated) 10 man team of quest writers to make enough quests to fill that WoW. Even if you can make it that procedural generation cuts your work by 95%, you still need 300 man-years of dev to polish your procedural quests. Oh, and if you have a procedural generation problem, and you redo it, all that work is flushed instantly, so you need to do it last. Not going to happen.


Now, if you are happier with tasks, rather than quests, then that's good. If you're talking about Orc Belt quests from EQ instead of the Witches of Drustvar quest line, then procedural generation works fine.
I mean, whatever dude, yea I'm mainly talking filler tasks, the mundane shit that eats up dev time. I'm just saying they need to make the pipeline more efficient to compete with emergent gameplay games.
Obviously it requires tech innovation. Nobody really thought we'd be where we are with Huge Open worlds, but here we are.
This is why I have quests at like 3rd on the list. You need world gen first, NPCs next, then quests would come after. It's probably 10-20 years down the pipe.
 

Randin

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Storybricks was vaporware from the start. And that example that's continuously used is not the holy grail tbh.
StoryBricks might have been vaporware, but the idea had merit. That sort of system not only allows for new things to constantly be happening, but would also allow the game to feel more like a world (which used to be something MMOs had over single-player games, but they've largely squandered nowadays), and create a sense of impact behind player actions.


The dynamic Storybricks content you are talking about is "kinda" done in GW2... kill all of X and Y spawns, kill Y and Z spawn, etc. It's not procedural or anything, eventually you learn the rotations and know what's going to happen.

Problem I had with this content is if you miss the X mobs, you sometimes feel like you missed something, or you need to kill all the Y & Z shit to see X again. And I also don't consider any of the content very memorable in that game.
GW2 had the first hesitant baby step towards that sort of system, but it being on a rotation prevented it from really feeling interesting or spontaneous, or having any feeling of impact. It's hard to care about saving the village when you know that, even without player intervention, the village will be saved in ten minutes, and then the orcs will attack again five minutes after that. Forever. For it to work, saving the village needs to result in *actually saving the village*, and the orcs pissing off to bother someone else.
 
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Ukerric

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It's really not rocket science, people like familiarity. But MMO content is eaten up at an incredible pace, so people get bored quickly, and massive grinds are added to slow down progression.
If you can churn out content rapidly and make the world feel ALIVE, I think you can have the next WoW.
People need to know the world will grow on a monthly/weekly basis.
Yep. The point is, you want stuff that's fixed and "mappable", but enough stuff that you can move to a different part whenever you're ready for a change.

The point where I would disagree is the need to have world "grow" on a regular basis. If you have procedural generation, you already have the world "as large" as needed. If you go back to my idea of a world that's 80-100 the size of ALL of WoW today - that's the size you want for 250k subscribers (which would be a huge success, because it IS going to be an indy game that does it, not a Blizzard/UBI/EA triple-A MMO), in a single, shared world... And even if only half of it is max-level content and the rest leveling, you're already facing a couple years /played to exhaust every possible area. But it's so large, vast tracts of it are unspoiled - because not many players have explored it. And if you want to know about an area, you'll have to ask players that are around there, because your spoiler site is unlikely to have anything but the barest of information on anything except hugely popular areas (that are overcrowded, so you probably want to go somewhere else).
I'm just saying they need to make the pipeline more efficient to compete with emergent gameplay games.
Probably good. But we still have to go back to "what makes a MMO, a MMO, vs a multiplayer RPG". I've said, repeatedly, that the "story of which YOU are the hero" is not a good fit for MMO, because it requires a massive suspension of disbelief. In practice, everyone enjoys the story, then you have to forget all about it and move to the real MMO part: running dungeons, doing raids, doing largeish-scale pvp warfare (even the fake pvp of warfront), and so on. WoW is two games: a single-player RPG, glued into a would-be MMO.

The model has worked (still mostly works), but the end result is meh. The world is too small for the MMO bit, and the RPG, well, it's kinda ok, but it's like all RPG: after 25ish /played hours, you're done.