But first, thanks, Syl, for mentioning me :)
Now, Steven sent me a link over here and asked for my opinion on this. This subject is, of course, timeless. It's been discussed since I follow MMO blogs - and actually dates back to the very first MMOs. My opinion on the value of 'suffering' in MMOs is this: If the player accepts the suffering it is good - otherwise it is terrible.
Where 'accepting' a rule in a game means that the player thinks about how to deal with it inside the context of the game and doesn't start to think how stupid this is and that he shouldn't have to do this.
Take for example the queen in chess. Isn't it stupid that she can be blocked by other pieces? Now, if you honestly and genuinely think so, playing with your queen is frustrating. It doesn't make sense to you and the rule makes the game less fun for you.
However, if you accept the rule that the queen can be blocked by other pieces, and try to deal with it - and in a PvP game try to 'exploit' this rule against the opponent's queen - this rule can add a lot to the game. So, 'suffering' in MMOs is a matter of acceptance and developers should try to manage expectations to increase acceptance.
Rules always constrain players; it is their very nature. This applies to the fact that, in WoW, you have to run within 40m before you can attack an enemy, just as well as to the fact that you die when you reach zero HP or can be killed repeatedly by another player in some MMOs.
Generally, developing games is about developing rules which keep the player's mind busy (create non-boring gameplay) without being frustrating (=the player has to accept the rules). The fact that other games change the players' expectations, is a main driver for the "evolution" in games and also a vital part of the competition. Rules which have been accepted just a few years ago suddenly become unacceptable and thus feel frustrating to the player as another company does away with them.
Of course, these games which do away with rules still require other rules to keep the player's mind busy, and that's why they invent new rules. Here's an example.
Game 1: Reaching max level is hard.
Game 2: Everybody should be able to reach max level but seeing all the content is hard.
Game 3: Everybody should be able to reach max lvl and see all the content but reaching max itemlvl is hard.
Game 4: Everybody should reach maxlvl, see all the content, reach maxitemlvl but reaching the end of the Path of Titans is hard.
Game 5: ...
What's also playing into this 'evolution' of games is that designers are less and less afraid of using game mechanics which are not very immersive - or not immersive at all. This way players learn about the reasons for these mechanics and this makes them actually pretty good game designers. Now, being a game designer inadvertently reduces the 'magic' of a MMO world and this very magic was once very useful as it helped players to accept things (rules) just the way they are - without questioning them from outside of the context of the game.
Raph Koster wrote about this recently:
I meant the sense of playing a game without ever getting its mechanics rubbed in your face. In the past I have said that there are two core abilities a designer needs to have: to be able to strip away all the surface and only see the math and systems; and to do the exact opposite, and only see the surfaces, the fantasy of it.
These are also two ways to play a game. You can come to it as purely a math puzzle to solve, or you can come at it as an experience. And ironically, with all the advances we have made in terms of presentation, it feels like more and more games are less about the experience and more about the acronyms and mechanics.
The reason developers neglect the immersion and rather rub mechanics into the players' faces is actually that they have to try to find ever new ways to keep the veterans' minds busy and experience shows that once a player is 'into' a game, the immersion isn't as important for him. Thus, developers resort to the easy way out, and don't even try to hide mechanics.
If you want to know why MMOs stopped growing recently: that's the reason. For a new player the magic is actually the most important thing.
Oh - on that SW:TOR patch my comment is this: ridiculous.