I had an interesting dicussion recently both on the forums and with some friends about personality types and how in the business world we are starting to understand and take advantages of difference, yet is an often paralled competative social setting, mmorpgs, we continue with our currently one size fits all approach.
One might be able to argue that the varying archtypes appeal to different people, but I would beg to differ. Every class appeals to a competative, acheivement type personality.
Regardless of who you are, if you want to have access to all the content of the game, you must commit to the task of gathering exp.
Role-playing while leveling still requires you to level. Playing only the fun quests and enjoying the stories still requires you to quest.
At the root of every solution is exp, goal oriented gameplay and a focus on achievement. Fundamentally we are ignoring an entire group of players.
One of the hurdles faced by designers is that if we were to have a "social leveling system" and we were to appeal it to the casual gamer. To help them "progress" it would need to require less investment than traditional leveling but as a result the goal oriented players will exploit this laxed system. Again though I would argue that no matter how you dress up exp, be it with training skills or a talent tree, you're still ultimatly creating an acheivement based system which will require so much garnish to dress up as a social system it leaves it vulnerable to exploitation.
What I propose is an entirly different system in which social players are given tools, abilities, responsibilites and limits that the acheivments playres do not. Rolling a roleplaying character if you will.
At its root level it would be a character with no levels, it would be a character that simply exists and explores. The focus of this character is to meet people, find places and attend events. Gather titles, roleplaying powers and extend its social network.
The benifits? a social presence and the ability to receive special considerations.
If an acheivment minded player was given the power to give a buff that nobody else could give, it would be exploited. Either for profit, progression or status.
If a roleplayer who has attended hundreds of player run events and regularly holds a tournament at the start of spring (in game) was given the ability to grant a blessing, Id be willing to bet he would use this power as a reward for a valiant warrior who bested other in a tournament of champions.
When an acheivment minded player is given a new ability, they find out how they can use it to get ahead, what is to say that a social minded player wouldnt do the same? The difference here is how they would be getting ahead...
What does a seasoned, respected member of the role-playing community stand to gain from handing out a buff blindly for gold. Not much.
What does a seasons respected roleplayed gain from having a power that would bring players from all around to play and enjoy in his/her story... A lot.
The fundamental difference here is that the social player wants to be social, create events, meet others and create an avatar that is part of the world. Why not let them?
If you look at the audience of roleplayers you will find people who are eager to share stories, ideas and create meaningful adventures. To them beating a boss isnt as much a reward as being hailed as the fabled master blacksmith from the Country of Zibane. A calm man who once every few years holds a tournamnet at the royal courts of the king where the victor is presented with a one of a kind weapon.
Here we have roleplayers working toward a goal, an event and establishing themselves. On the acheivment side we are given a much more realisitic, authentic and beleiveable world.
Here we see roleplaying that benifits them in their goal to acheive.
Im not saying this would be an easy dance to mange. This would have to be a very elloquently implented tango, but the results could be a game that provides an enviroment that allows a radically under-utilized market to be realized and used to the benifit of everyone involved.
There is no doubt that nobody will be able to beat wow at what it does, but perhaps finding a way to include more players of varying playstyles, with radically different(and clashing) goals and idea in a way that is constructive to both will be the way to userp the current kings of the market.