For a time in the last decade, there was a sense that an immersive 3D communal place was a substantial thing unto itself, and likely to become an important media offering. That has not happened. Instead, we've seen an unbundling of the parts of virtual worlds. Sociality went to Facebook. Complex heroic stories went to single-player games. Multiplayer combat went to places like DOTA and Clash of Clans. Economy games went to Farmville and the F2P clones. Virtual currency went to Bitcoin.
Edward Castronova final post on Terra Nova, 25th September 2014
This succinct analysis strikes a poignant chord with me. Having grown up with 1980's Sci Fi I have always had a secret hankering for Gibsonesque virtual worlds that would allow humans to escape from the tethers of the physical world. For a brief moment in time it seemed that mmorpgs might be the first tentative steps towards making those virtual worlds a reality. Sure they were games but they were also so much more than games. They were entire social eco systems for millions of players. Some virtual worlds such as Second Life and possibly Eve offered a more complete simulation but all of these games taken together suggested that something important was really happening.
The failure of any subsequent title to emulate the success of World of Warcraft and the cancellation of the long promised successor to WoW are pointed to as indicators of the declining health of mmorpgs but I think Castronova's comment addresses the real issue. We no longer believe that these worlds are going to be anything more than just games. The naive hope that these games might be the first steps towards something that would completely transform humanities relationship with reality has proven unfounded. The dream is over.