I've played quite a few MMOs; World of Warcraft, Rift, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE, Conan, DC Universe, Champions, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2 and at the moment I'm having a blast on the Dungeons & Dragons MMO Neverwinter. Some of these games I spent months on - Warcraft, Warhammer and Neverwinter in particular - and others a few weeks or even just a few days. I like to think I have broad experience with MMOs and that I've experienced a representative cross section on what MMOs have to offer.
I'll never be able to replace the sheer options of a tabletop RPG with the narrow focus of a MMORPG. The limits of the game limit the enjoyment and I always drift away from one MMO to another after a time (thank the stars for free-to-play!) and in the end I realised the only reason I returned regularly to my subscription games was for that very fact - I was paying to play them and I wanted to get my money's worth. The free-to-play options have changed that somewhat, but you always feel that you're missing out on the full game.
With paid subscriptions I always felt I got my money's worth until I reached the high levels, then it felt like a grind. Warhammer Online, as much fun as the PvP was, was guilty of that and was too slow to expand on the game and offer new content. That, sadly, has now gone forever. World of Warcraft has always been the top dog in this department and offers a full experience that can last you months. My only other subscription game I played was Rift, and that didn't fail on gameplay but on lack of wonder.
Rift was a great game, but I never felt I was exploring or discovering new things. I travelled to nondescript places to fight nondescript foes, and as good as the gameplay was I never had a moment when I was awed by a location, or excited to find a new town or city. Warcraft excelled at that; I'll never forget my first visit to Ironforge and seeing those gates for the first time. It was exciting and exhilarating, and I felt that I really was exploring a whole new world. Warhammer was pretty good at that, too, and Lord of the Rings was exciting because I'm a huge Tolkien fan and the locations were great to interact with and, from a creative point of view, it was interesting to see how the designers had approached the material.
That's what subscriptions games should give us - yes, the gameplay is important, but the visual awesomeness of the location as well as the atmosphere and the sense of exploration is important. If you can't replicate the sheer number of options a tabletop RPG can offer, then offer us something else; wonder. Show us the rich detail of your world and the locations it has to offer.
There are very few games that offer that full experience via free-to-play. Only Neverwinter, in my opinion, feels like I'm playing a full game with some pretty awesome locations as well as regular new content and yet I've never paid anything for it. As a F2P player there is a lot more hard work to do as I'm sure that paying would make the game much easier, but that work really feels worth it when you reach maximum level. Still, the design is great and the atmosphere is really well realised. I'd go as far to say that Neverwinter is probably the best free-to-play game out there at the moment, and other free-to-play companies should follow their example.
But, as much as I enjoy MMORPGs they are certainly no replacement for the tabletop game, not for me for sure. You are limited by the parameters of the computer, even if you're getting into character on a roleplay server, and the majority of the game comes down to is hit this and that until it stops moving and then hand the mission in for booty. That might be me oversimplifying the game, but sometimes that's how it feels.
So, I might be making more of an effort to cover MMORPGs on this blog, especially from a tabletop gamer's point of view. I think the only way an MMO influenced my tabletop is when I used the Art of Warhammer Online, from the collector's boxset, as visual cues for my recent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign. Still, you never know what else might crop up. Perhaps I'll find an MMO setting that I'll want to run a tabletop RPG campaign in.