It is well understood that the game structures and mechanics that undergird most commercial virtual worlds today draw their underlying DNA from Diku-style text-based MUDs, though many contemporary players have only experienced the latest iterations or forms of those game mechanics. Many of these features are now so familiar and expected, so much a part of the grammar of play activity, that developers seem to implement them without asking what purpose or role they will serve in a particular gameworld. Moreover, precisely because these features have become so foundational, it seems difficult to think of new approaches or game mechanics, even those that offer only a mild twist. But even a single such innovation can do a lot to spark new interest among players.
By way of illustration, a look at two such mechanics in two fairly new commercial virtual worlds, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online. (The latter is approaching open beta, with a release later in September 2008, but the NDA has been lifted .)