Greg Costikyan has written that Second Life and similar "non-game" MMORPGs will fail because they have no goals for players to achieve:
If an interactive structure doesn't provide those who play with it with goals, then players will play with it for a time, realize there's nothing to achieve and nothing much to do--that it is, in fact, pointless (=goal-less)--and quit.
This argument almost exactly parallels an argument Richard Bartle, one of the inventors of the first MUD, made 13 years ago at the dawn of social MUDs/MOOs. In his report on Interactive Multi-User Computer Games for British Telecom (often referred to as MUDreport, available at his website or via FTP), Bartle, like Costikyan, seems vaguely annoyed by and dismissive of the notion that anyone would use a MUD-like system for other than adventure gaming:
TinyMUD is not so much a MUA as a forum for conversation where participants have pinned short pieces of prose on the wall for the benefit of anyone with the inclination to read them. If this kind of MUA gets a strong hold in the USA, it could set the industry back several years.
Both may be correct when it comes to commercial viability of these "games," but I think the continued existence of and the body of important scholarship on educational, professional, and social MOOs (all of which trace their evolution back to the critical break of TinyMUD with the hack-and-slash tradition that preceded it) proves that such environments are not "pointless." Clearly there is a non-trivial group of people who are not primarily interested in goal-oriented gaming. Rather than dismissing this population as non-gamers and these environments as non-games (or weak games), perhaps it would more useful to examine what it is that draws people to these environments and build on it.
(Thanks to Jill for the original spot of Costikyan's post.)