One of the recent posts in Tobold's blog contains a reference to a good post at the Lost Garden blog maintained by Daniel Cook, who once worked with Epic Megagames on Tyrian arcade.
The post provides a brief analysis of 'advancement game' (grinding to maximum level) and 'elder game' (also known as the 'end-game') which jointly oppose completely different design of 'cycling game' which basically resets the game world once in a certain period of time.
An example the author gives is a 'A Tale in the Desert' MMO. I have not yet tried it and I am not sure how 'alive' it is, but it is definitely worth trying - you may get the same expectation if you check the skills page at the wiki or the page describing law making (!) process.
|'A Tale in the Desert' screenshot from the official website |
located at http://www.atitd.com/images/t4screenshots/13.jpg