Psychochild's Weekend Design Challenge for today talks about how MMOs these days seem to focus on the monster-bashing grind style of gameplay. The question is, how can MMOs get away from this relatively rote, boring and overused concept.
First off, MMOs should be skill oriented rather than level oriented. Secondly, character progression should not be directly tied to monster-bashing. Eve Online does an excellent job of breaking the mold with their skill system.
If players are slaughtering a camp of orcs, there should be a reason for it. Not simply a desire to reach the next level and gain one point of strength. Perhaps the orcs are raiding a nearby town and the merchants hire adventurers to take care of them. Or, perhaps the orcs have accumulated a good amount of treasure from their raids and the players want to take it from them. Or, perhaps the player simply wants to be a hero and prove that they can walk in and single-handedly defeat an entire orc tribe. These are all valid reasons. 'I need two bubbles to ding' is not.
The MMO obsession with experience gain needs to evolve. Gameplay, roleplaying and purposeful actions that have a cause and effect should instead be the focus. And this will never happen while players are encouraged to count their experience points like misers with a penny jar.