Game stakes ≠ Gameplay Goals

A consistent pattern in MMOs is that designers seem to believe 'high stakes' are enough to make any content worth playing.

The assumption is that if you create a huge enough penalty for not participating, or a high enough reward for the winning side, players will feel compelled to experience your content and find it Epic.
This is valid to an extent, as high stakes add tension and bring context to an event or action, which can act as multipliers of excitement, and bump something from merely exciting to positively thrilling. Still, a big virtual jackpot alone is no substitute for good gameplay, or gold panning simulators would be more successful than FPS and racing games combined.
If the only reason for most players to partake in a major feature of your game is what's at stake, and they play through it despite — and not because of — the gameplay experience, then the drawing board wants you to get back to it right about now.

As a corollary, a litmus test for good gameplay is to see if people still want to play a feature that has been stripped/nerfed from its rewards.
Enjoyable gameplay is largely its own reward, and when the design is good enough, game goals matter mostly insofar as they guide the gameplay, even if accomplishing said goals can lead to rewards with more or less high stakes — in soccer, you score by putting the ball in the opponent's cage, and this goal guides a gameplay that is about moving a ball around, not about increasing numbers on a scoreboard.

This is not to say everything should be easy, or that you can't submit your players to some duress, once in a while: a little pain adds flavor, and 'hard' difficulty can contribute to a player's sense of achievement. The real question you want to ask yourself is this:
Am I using my carrot/stick to steer players towards content they'll enjoy playing, and would people want to play this part — on the whole — if they didn't have to ?

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