First a look at MMORPGs
Online games attract a variety of people from all ages and ethics, most are looking for an escape from the real life world, a way to meet people or just to have fun. I myself have played many MMORPGs, it all started with Final Fantasy XI and to this day I still play the same game, even though I take several breaks for months at a time to try out different ones. If you play Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, Lineage II or Everquest II you start to see a repetitive link in all games.The ones mentions are pay to play, in which they charge you a fee to play monthly, but there are those out there that are free to play. While the free to play ones seem free, there's a catch. Examples are Conquer and Cabal, both are free to play but have a system set up on their web sites to buy either currency or items to help advance in the game. Some free to play games require you to buy the game and expansion (GuildWars). This is the way they make money to keep the servers and games running.
Playing the game
While each game is unique, they all have about the same community and economic system.
Once you pick a game, install and update it your finally ready to create a avatar to play. This will be what everyone else will see you as. Most games have different races with different base stats, some allow the player to completely customize their looks (Everquest II) and most already have set templates that you can choose from (GuildWars), so don't be surprised if you see a copy of yourself running around. You must also choose a job you will play. The base genre of jobs are mages, damage dealers, support and tank.
(Leveling and meeting other players)
Now your ready to start exploring the game and leveling. Depending on the game, the first 10 to 20 levels usually go fast. You learn the game, usually join one of the online communities (ex: Linkshells and Guilds) where other players help and teach you the basics of the game while giving you people to chat with.
Online games offer different aspects to gaining levels. Some you can do what is called solo playing, basically you go outside and start killing monsters in the areas gaining experience points alone. Most games allow you to solo up to level 10 at the least, then you get into "groups". Grouping is where you join up with other players to kill higher level monsters thus gaining more experience and learning more about the battle system of the game. Grouping is also where you make friends in the game.
Games such as Guild Wars and World of Warcraft allow you to solo all your levels. So when picking an online game to play take into account if you would be more likely to solo most of the time. I have found that WoW is a great game to play for the solo factors, especially is you don't have hours to put into playing the game. With WoW the main time you really need a group is if your killing high level monsters or doing what is called instances (these are dungeon fights) to get gear and items for you character.
You started this game to have fun and escape from the world for a bit. You've been doing quests and missions advancing the story line for the game and having fun. You've leveled up joining groups to fight higher level monsters, then someone tells you they don't want to group with you because you need to "upgrade" your gear or get that one spell you've been putting off buying cause you are just "playing a game". The reality sets in now. Most players of the game expect certain things, this is a life to them as they think it should be to you and they don't want to hear excuses.
(Making online game money)
After gaining several levels and buying items in game, you should have a feel of how the online economy works. Some of the games have what is known as an auction house, you place your items in the auction house at a certain price and hope someone will "bid" to buy the items. Other games have shops or bazaar's in which players set up their items with a price to sell while AFK (Away from keyboard). All games have their own currency (gil, gold ect) that is used to buy gear, weapons and items for leveling. As with the real world the online gaming economy fluctuates, the sword you brought for 10gold now goes for 5gold or you see someone selling a item you want for 1million gil when a week ago it was going for 500k gil.
To make money you begin what is called farming. Farming is what is done to get items to sell so you can buy armor and other things that are useful to you. There are many type of ways to farm.
Some items and armor you can get from killing monsters in all the games. Depending on which game your playing. Most have what is called NM's, these are higher level monsters in certain areas that spawn when conditions are made, such as killing off a certain monster in the area it spawns or just standing around waiting 2 to 24 hours for it to spawn. These monsters drop specific items, its best to search online for information related to these monsters. If the armor or item is sell-able you can either sell it to other players by setting up a bazaar or placing the item in the auction house to be bidded on.
You can look thru other players bazaar's or check the auction houses to see what is selling. Then go out and kill monsters that drop the items, the best way to see what types of monsters drop these items is to do a search online.
You can also take up what is known as a crafting (creating items for use or to sell). Unfortunately you have to level up the craft you decide to use for making online money. This can and will be time consuming depending on the level you are playing at, rather a casual gamer or an hardcore gamer.
There is also web sites that allow you to buy online gaming money. This is frowned upon by several games and usually is against the user agreement. Some free to play games offer points or items for sell on their main web site, this is how they make money to keep the games running. If buying online currency, there is a chance you will be banned from the game. Especially if you start to buy expensive items in game or tell other players you bought online currency. Just remember some players will look down upon online currency buyers.
After sometime of farming/crafting and selling items, your ready to buy the items you need to continue leveling.
Endgame- Is it the end?
Finally after months of hardcore gaming or a year plus after casual gaming, your now close to the highest level or at the highest level and you want to get what is known as "endgame" items. Most of the games incorporate groups to fulfill "endgame". Usually this is a guild or linkshell put together that runs these events. Some set up days and times during the week where they expect and sometimes require you to be on to participate in this event. Most incorporate guidelines and rules that govern who gets what items and when.
Depending on what type of people are leading the group, the rules can veiry. Example say your on a point system in your group, where you get a certain number of points for participating in the runs as the points add up you get to pick a endgame item you want. But the draw back is that you take a break for a few weeks to a month you lose points and must participate in a number of runs without missing one event. Some of the leaders of the groups understand things come up in your real life, but a few don't care. If your in group like this the game stopped being just a "game to play", your expected to be on at a certain time just like being to your job at a certain time.There are some very good endgame groups out there. Usually a friend in game who knows how your schedule works can invite you into their end game group.
Your now trying for the "endgame" gear, you've completed all the missions and quests for the game. But still your playing trying to build your character. Most of the time just building your character and helping out others can be fun. Especially when your a high enough level where you won't die to easily.
Now you start to think about how fun the game was when you first started and how much you have accomplished since then. You begin to think of the friends you made, some are still around, others have quit and never came back.
The joys of playing an MMORPG are the friends you make. Some of those friends actually do remain friends in the real life world. No matter how many times a game is "quit" some people return just because their friends are still playing.
(The problems with MMORPGs)
MMORPGs can be fun, but they can also cause problems in your life. The people you play with are people and have feelings as real people. If you become to immersed in the game your real life can suffer. That all important anniversary date, you forgot about because you had a dungeon run that night that you just could not miss. Did you realize your wife/husband of 10 years was depressed because your always playing a game and not spending time with them. Now you get an ultimatum, "Me or the game!".Usually this is when "just a game" becomes an addiction.
Some people can balance their real life and gaming. Setting up certain times to actually play a game without it consuming them, or picking a game that doesn't require hours on end to advance. An online game can be an escape from the troubles of real life, it just needs to be regulated by the person playing so it does not consume the real life.
MMORPGs can be fun to play. Most of the games have nice graphics, story lines and battle systems. A number of games release expansions which offer new quests to complete and missions that reveal a new story line for the game.