(If you get a chance, go listen to The Kinks album of the same name as this title. You won't be disappointed.)
MMOs, by necessity, are a limited slice of an invented world.
As much detail a dev team can put into a game world, there are going to be gaps. Some are massive, such as the lack of religion being prominent as a divisive element,* and some are more subtle, such as the lack of music and the arts in people's lives.
I was thinking of this when I read Bhagpuss' post about how the Guild Wars 2 devs tried to artificially create player hubs when the players had organically established their own hubs. It's a good post and well worth reading, and as you'll see my really short TL;DR doesn't scratch the surface of its detail. I don't play GW2 enough to comment on that specific MMO, but it did give me fuel for thought concerning other MMOs.
The most prominent of MMOs, World of Warcraft, has the recurring theme of conflict between Orcs and Humans at its center. This is artificially propped up by Blizzard, even though the most popular expansions (BC, Legion, Wrath) all center around the two factions joining together against a common threat. Expansions --or portions of them-- that emphasize the conflict tend to not be as well received**. However, Blizz keeps pushing the conflict because.... It's the core of the game. Or something. Although if you asked me what the core of WoW was, it's that "Old Gods are bad and the source of all evil. HP Lovecraft rules."
Still, it also seems that Blizz attempts to do the same thing that GW2 has been guilty of, which is to create a new player hub for each expac. Or, in the case of Cataclysm, an artificial attempt to re-establish the faction capitals as the primary hubs in the game.
It's not like ArenaNet and Blizzard are the only guilty ones here. Standing Stone has created new hubs with each expac in LOTRO, and Bioware the same in SWTOR. To an extent, I can understand the need to create central hubs in new territories, and they become the hub of activity for each expac. But at the same time there's no reason in a Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO that you can't just have a gamified way of allowing players to simply return to the hub of their choice and bounce back and forth from wherever "the front" is.
I guess my whole point is that instead of observing what the players are doing and trying to change behavior by artificial means, why not let the players do their own thing?
I do realize that there is a game out there that does just that, and it's called EVE Online, but EVE takes the "give players the latitude to do what they want" and opens up to an "anything goes" environment.
That sort of game isn't for everybody.
|EVE is definitely not for the faint of heart.|
And yet, looking over how Blizzard has implemented WoW from expac to expac, I can't help but think that Blizz has lost a lot of what made the original Vanilla (or Classic) implementation of the game so great: you can wander around and make your own way without being railroaded into a specific path. That doesn't mean that people haven't figured out optimal paths for everything --there's a reason why boosting services are so popular in Classic-- but to experience endgame content you aren't limited to a very specfic path. To experience Naxx, you don't have to have gone through AQ40, for example, and vice versa. About the only limitation those two have is that you have to have at least gotten a decent amount of T2 gear from BWL, and even then it's not a strict requirement. I'm living proof of that.
Some games, however, you can't not have various hubs. With the events of the War of the Ring as a backdrop, LOTRO can't avoid having hubs in various locales. And SWTOR has hubs on each planet you visit as a necessity, since traipsing across the galaxy is not a simple thing. But an Azeroth or Tyria? They have no such limitations. It's all up to the devs to observe the players and reinforce their preferences rather than trying to redirect them, because artificial redirection doesn't always go well.
*This is merely an observation, not an indictment. Many of the longest running conflicts over the centuries have been fueled by religion, so the absence of those types of conflicts in MMOs do tend to stand out. And as many conflicts are driven by religion, an equal or greater number use religion as an excuse for something else (such as Albigensian Crusade, which was merely an excuse of the northern French nobles to invade Languedoc in the south of France).
**Battle for Azeroth as the primary example, although the complaints about that expac are much much more than just "artificially creating conflict".
***Besides, you always have your ship to hang out in.