Here's a theory: There exist an MMO for each individual that is so magical that it stole from us something special that we could not replace. This special thing is dubbed as our 'MMO virginity'. I first heard of it one night many years ago while conversing with my good friend John. Here's a small history about how it came about.
Years ago, John and I were avid MMO hoppers. We would jump from MMO to MMO, playing and observing them. We were like nomads looking for a place to stay. In truth, we were not MMO hoppers by choice. We started off with a very infamous game known as 'Everquest'. Despite being younglings at 14 or 15, at we managed to get our hands on it and scrunch up money to fuel the monthly subscriptions. For those who do not know, Everquest was heralded by many to be dangerously addictive and is the cause back then for divorce cases, broken marriages and even death. This comic pretty much sums up our feelings.
Many probably viewed that comic as a joke, but it is exactly how we and, I believe, most 'Evercracks' felt after abandoning the game. Surfing the Fires of Heaven forums back then displayed numerous people who left Everquest desperately looking for a new MMO to feel their hearts of an empty void. After years of searching and searching and searching, these people including us gave up and accepted the fact that Everquest has broken their 'MMO virginity' and 'it's never coming back'. I sadly gave up too. I have ran from City of Heroes, to Final Fantasy 11, to Everquest 2, to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, to World Of Warcraft, to Dungeons and Dragons Online, to Guild Wars, to a whole bunch of other random MMOs like Fly For Fun, DOFUS, 9Dragons, DC Online, Ragnarok Online...none came close.
Here I am going to run through what I experienced as I jumped MMO to MMO for the past decade. Once your MMO virginity is broken, you start to view other MMOs very different and automatically become cynical of them. Below are just some observations about the 'ideal' MMO that breaks someone's 'MMO virginity', with real life examples.
You just want to exist in the game. The amount of WEEKS I spent in Everquest doing stupid almost non-progressive stuff is really astonishing. I remember camping a week at the entrance of Lower Guk for a stupid mask that can turn me into a Dark Elf. I remember running around my newbie area Kelethin (god I love that place) in my 40s doing nothing, chatting and leading newbies around like a tour guide. I remember going out of the way to help someone navigate around High Hold Pass. You just want to exist. It took me like 1.5 to 2 year to hit max level because there was simply no rush. Existing in the world is good enough.
And you want to spend every second in the game. I used to go to bed at 11pm and wake at 4am JUST to play Everquest till 6am before I have to go to school. Then I will return from school and play more Everquest until 11pm and wake at 4am again JUST to play Everquest...etc. It is a magical feeling to exist in the game. It's almost like a drug. No wait, it IS a drug.
You will be overly defensive over that game. This is true for most games, but I believe it is stronger in the MMO genre. When people talk bad about it, you will start defending it. When someone claim some other MMO is the best, you will start attacking it. You are very likely to throw all logical thoughts out of the air if you are losing on the argument and eventually settle on 'don't diss it till you tried it'. I have done it before, and realized how dumb it is. It is as bad as forcing people to smoke or drink when they don't.
"Want a cigarette?"
"No thanks, it's bad for health"
"Don't diss it till you tried it!".
Some facts are still facts. Smoking and drinking IS bad for health. The essence of raiding in WoW is the same as raiding in EQ1, and is the same as raiding in FF11, and it's going to be the same for all other MMOs that follow the raiding model. A person who has been through the raiding model can envision exactly what they are getting themselves into for a different MMO bearing the same model. This is probably why John and I settled on MMOs that do not strictly follow this model. For me, I'm just tired of raiding. (John eventually settled down on EVE while I continued searching and eventually settled on Guild Wars 2, both do not follow the raiding model).
When the game stops being the game you love, you will desperately look for a replacement. This might or might not happen depending on the game, but when it happens, it sucks. It's like something that you held dear for years is suddenly taken from you and you will go through all lengths to retrieve it back. You might attempt to return to the game, realize why you quit in the first place, and quit, only to return back again to get reminded again...until eventually, you demand to yourself that this mad cycle has to stop. That is, at least, how I dealt with it.
Note that your chances of returning is increased by tenfold if your friend asks you to return. This is a trap 90% of the time. Unless something miraculous happens to the game like the developers turning it back into the game you loved, you are just going to quit again. It is not a trap ONLY when you quit because of lack of community. This means that you love the game, but you have no friends to play with. It's NOT going to work if you quit because some developer decided to spearhead the game into a direction you do not want.
Just an example, I wanted WoW to be a PvP-centric game. The concept of PvE WoW seems retarded to me till this day. However, devs at my time decided to focus on PvE, turning our guild into a PvE guild, and thus causing some of us to leave the guild and eventually the game.
After quitting, you will be haunted by random good and bad memories. It is really easy to recollect all your experiences in your favourite MMO, because they are unique to you. Just saying that got my head searching for those memories, but I'm going to try my best and stop myself from doing all that. It's going to come haunting you and you will find yourself trying hard to bury it. I returned to Everquest last year because some game design lecturer of mine keeps mentioning HIS awesome Everquest memories and keeps bringing up examples of Everquest. Good thing the free server I found was dead at my timezone back here in Singapore. And luckily, not many people around me played Everquest, so I'm pretty safe from any more random attacks.
I guess what I can take away from all this is that now I know why MMOs rise (like WoW) and what makes them fall (like Age of Conan). I know what it takes to enhance my online experience and keep me playing. I know what I want in an MMO, and what I do not want. Sadly, I do not have any more time to jump MMOs as I have started working and spend most of my free time developing, designing and playing single-player games (on top of practising the piano). Good thing is, Guild Wars 2 is good enough to keep me occupied for a long time unless something happens to my guild.
Anyway, this is just a random rant and my 2 copper. Take it with a pinch of salt. This applies to many other genre of games, but it feels especially important to note if you found an MMO you truly love to play. It is certainly a magical feeling that cannot be replaced and hopefully for you, it lasts forever.