This component of MMORPG gaming is often overlooked and underdeveloped by the MMO developers and most of the current MMO games have little to no story. Many players view this as more of a role-playing aspect of the game and don’t participate or get involved with it much.
The story of a MMORPG world and how the player characters interact with the story is an important part of any MMORPG. The key to any story is to intertwine the player characters story with that of the world. This feat is difficult to accomplish without appearing too cookie cutter in its presentation. Really how many of the player character’s brothers, sisters, mother, father or some other significant relation died during the “Great War” or were killed by some “Nefarious Entity”?
So for a MMORPG story to work it, needs to be general with respect to the player history. But it needs to draw the player in and cause him to care about the story and what happens to those involved.
Above all else, a players actions need to help drive the story. Does this mean that the players make the story? Perhaps, but the story should have its own outline and direction. A player’s status with major NPC's should be driven by the player’s actions. If a player runs around slaughtering innocent people, good NPC’s should become hostile to that player and the evil NPC’s should view the player more favorably. The NPC’s have an agenda of their own and as long as the player is going along with that agenda, they will assist the player character in any way they can.
In any good story you must have sides. Whether overtly good and evil or more shades of gray, the story often involves conflict between two or more parties, each with conflicting agendas. To me this is what drives the story.
Even the greatest story can be totally ignored by a large portion of the player population. The trick is to forcing the players to participate without them realizing it. The biggest way to make this possible is to make player choices in game mean something. Gaining access to goods, services or areas is a good way to reward players for the choices they have made in game.
In the end any MMORPG with a good story that involves the player characters is on its way to becoming a good game.