Forbes' contributor Erik Kain seems to be on a roll when it comes to RPG-focused editorials lately, and just happened to write one focused on MMOs and how they're influencing the RPG market, using the formerly co-op-focused and now full-fledged MMO Neverwinter as an example. Here's an excerpt:
There's this pervasive sameness that has infected MMORPGs that isn't so much bound to the look of each game but rather to the feel of each game. They've always struck me as too impersonal, and the new breed of action-combat MMO doesn't shake this psychic distance.
When I play an RPG, even if it's one as sparse on story as Dark Souls, I want to care somehow for my character. I want to feel as though I'm a part of something important, and the MMOs I've played never quite translate this, for various reasons.
Neverwinter may turn out to be a great game, of course. I hope it is. I hope MMOs continue to innovate and improve. Indeed, Neverwinter includes something called The Foundry which is basically a tool for gamers to create their own game content, so that's neat. But it's also going to be a free-to-play game replete with micro-transactions and all the other trendy bells and whistles that are apparently the future of the industry.
Oh, and originally it was going to be a co-op title instead of an MMO.
The MMORPG rush has obviously sucked some of the life out of single-player and co-op RPGs. Innovations like the Dark Souls co-op system, or the (admittedly flawed) Pawn system in Dragon's Dogma are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible innovations for non-MMO titles. Instead we're getting too much focus on tinkering with a new business model and not enough on new, unique IPs.