I don’t think it can be overstated enough that the introductory experience of an MMO is absolutely crucial to pulling in and retaining a player. In these first few minutes or hours, opinions are quickly formed from design features and pacing that can produce excitement, frustration, confusion, joy, or apathy in the beginner.
What does an MMO need to do right at the start to grab you? I’ve wrestled with that question a lot, and while I have no firm answer, I know that it’s a hellishly complex feat to pull off. There has to be enough instruction — especially of strange or unique features — while still allowing players time and freedom to approach the game by their terms. It’s always a good idea to use story as a hook, but too much story can result in a limiting experience on rails.
Whatever the recipe to a successful start is, it should result in a fun and thrilling time for the newcomer. Personally, if I log off and can’t wait to play again, that’s a win for the game. If I log off and think “I still don’t get it” or “I wonder if it gets better later,” then chances are a design team hasn’t thought the starting experience through. What say you?