Everyone wonders why we see so much fantasy based MMO’s. I think it’s because people often don’t realize a greater truth; most science fiction worlds suck to live in.
As a kid, I read science fiction and fantasy religiously. Everyone from Asimov to McCaffrey to Zelanzy, to authors few people even read now, like Gordon Dickson. As I grew older I stopped, and on careful reflection, I think I understand why.
There’s a type of person most modern science fiction writes for. He is atheistic, well educated, appreciates science and venerates it (in the case of hard-science fiction MMO’s) and tends to have a specific outlook on things. He’s usually liberal, outside of alternate history and military SF (compare octavia butler and john ringo.)
The problem is they don’t realize that they ignore virtually everyone else, and the worlds they make people often find horrible. Snow Crash had a small interlude about a Junior Mafia Franchisee that killed the book for me-it didn’t matter how cool Hiroanki Protagonist was, because his world ground little people into dust. The supposedly catholic friend he had had no qualms in hacking the minds of religious believers.
Hostility to religion is a big one for me. I am an ex-christian. I no longer believe the faith I was raised in, but I took that faith very seriously when I did, and I saw others that did so. Science fiction writers though simply do not “get” religion, with the exception of a few, like Gene Wolfe, or Walter Miller. Even though I can’t believe in the claims, I find ned flanderization to be dishonest as hell. They simply are not like that.
How does this relate to MMO’s? It makes it hard to make a plot for them that won’t turn off the average MMO player. Most popular SF in general tends to be space opera, and really ignores any deep worldviews or philosophical questions. Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate.
Most people do enjoy fantasy, because a lot of that baggage is missing, and they try to create a good world overall. It may be in peril, but you rarely get the sense that it is hell for most people, even in tragic or darker fantasy. the events may be horrible, but the book is less stacked.
It seems to be a tough thing to make a science fiction idea that can still be thought provoking and not be hellish or dystopic for many people. Until someone does, SF MMO’s will be rare, and limited to licensed IP’s. EVE itself is an exception, but it tends to be played for what it allows more than what it is.