On one hand I adore "Gated" content or at least the idea of it. First let's cover what "Gated" content is. Quite simply friends its a 'flip switch". If you do not meet the prerequisites to enter the gate, you're locked out. Programmers we think of a gate as a Binary operator (0 or 1) which is the foundation of Computer Science.
In mmorpg space "gated content" appears in the form of Levels, Classes, keys needed to enter a Dungeon, Item restrictions tied to Levels and Classes, uber mobs that one shot lowbie players to keep them out of areas they dont belong, etc. The list is near infinite.
This brings me to the crux of this article, short though it may be. I dont think MMORPGs as a whole are really using the gates properly. Right now mainstream is really trying to simplify their games for their audiences. Thus, now a new buzz term is allowing a player to create a "blank slate". You get to sample powers a bit from each branch and then once you decide Developers flip the magic switch and you become a "Warrior", etc. Tabula Rasa players might recognize this as the branching specialization trees the game presented for instance. At each branch of development you made key choices which career path to follow and the game flipped the switches for you.
Take Guild Wars or Everquest 2. Ingame, NPC teachers teach ya about the different Classes and try to give you an idea of what choice would be best for you. GW went so far as to let you sample the Classes and then once you decided you become locked in to that choice or you could just choose to not pickup a Secondary altogether.
What I think would be optimal is not to force newbies to make any decisions at all. The gates can be opened naturally through gameplay. MMORPGs could try giving newbies a small set of powers from each discipline and then gradually observe the powers you enjoy using. As you progress through the game content, the game can slowly flip the gate switches.
If you got the concept you can stop reading right here. That's the concept. Havent seen it in either single player RPGs or MMORPG space full fledged. Everyone is so busy copying the shit out of each other original concepts usually just dont make it into mainstream products.
Okay the Breakdown:
Our hypothetical game has 5 Disciplines: Warrior, Fire, Water, Air, and Earth
At character creation you merely focus on designing your avatar and a Bio then bam you get dropped into the world with 2-3 powers from each discipline. The game observes how you use abilities and then slowly flips gate switches allowing you to dynamically build your own unique avatar. Perhaps a noob might become a combo of Warrior / Fire or a diverse mix of everything. The game could silently adjust your avatar attributes to keep you naturally balanced mathematically (gamers can intervene of course and have a more direct hand in character development).
Anyway, since diminishing returns should of course be in play- you cant be uber in all disciplines. I'm not going to elaborate on diminishing retuns in this piece but to get an understanding of diminishing returns pull out your calculator and hit the Square Root button. The higher the number you put in, the less you get out. Diminishing returns.
Skill-Based mmorpgs --->
These titles are the closest to proper use of gated content however most still force newbies to make critical decisions at Character Creation. Crackdown xbox 360 was a great coop RPG that didnt force newbies to make critical decisions. I hope these devs bring this to All Points Bullentin as well (in which I think they confirmed they will)
http://crackdownoncrime.com/ [download the free demo from Xbox Live]