MMO's are considered to be games. WoW is no exception in that, even though most of the content is heavily soloable and the norm is to power level to the level cap with the aid of addons and guides. If we're very strict about it, MMO's lack something that games have typically in common: winning conditions. In that sense they are more akin to the pen and paper roleplaying games, in which the game refers more to the way of interacting with the story and rules than to the winning conditions and actually winning "the game". In addition to all that, games with set winning conditions are usually played for leisure or spur of the moment. They can be taken out for a quick game, as well as the solo computer and console games.
As the MMO's have evolved to the current stage, where the end game is considered to be The Game, and the levelling game, which in roleplaying games is the main interest, is just a tutorial to raiding, the concept of a MMORPG has changed a bit. At least in WoW you cannot learn to play your character, class or the encounters by playing anymore, at least not as effectively as the rest of the population or raid expects you to. You character is scrutinized before you are accepted to a raid team, and usually this is preceded with clear questions on how and what you have raided before: newbies don't bother.
Because of this requirement that you have to master the flavour of the month talent build, know the encounters by heart so you can dance the right dance and have the experience to support the knowledge, the game has lost something of it's fascination to some. It's not a game, casual entertainment or pass time anymore.
It has become a hobby.
To be able to play the game of "End Game Raiding", you have to level your character to the level cap as efficiently as possible. This is so that you don't waste your time in the levelling game and get bored with the repeating quests. Next you have to spend your time in reading the guides and websites describing the most efficient talent builds, the gear and glyphs to support them and in addition to that, learn to play the specifications. You have to train yourself to play the character at the maximum level with the best possible efficiency.
And in raiding the main thing isn't to kill the boss, but to be the best in DPS, TPS, HPS or whatever your class is specified to do. The main thing is to be able to do your character's job better than the last time and preferably better than the guy next to you (in the raid roster).
Isn't this exactly what you do in any other hobby: You gather information, train your skills and try to do your best and improve yourself?
So what makes MMO's more a game than a hobby?
Computers and computer games are not considered to be hobbies for some reason or another. Reading, riding or playing chess are hobbies, however. Playing games is considered equal to watching TV: mindless waste of time while being 'entertained'.
Which it really is in the end.
Stargrace pointed out to me in Twitter the other day, that there is so much creative talent in the people who play MMO's. My response to was that the games actually deprive us from using that creativity, as we are spending our time in using other peoples' creations instead of creating ourself.
The question is: are the MMO's becoming a real hobby or are they just waste of time comparable to cheap TV-serial?