An idea that I always come back to that I wish MMOs would figure out a way to feasibly implement would be to allow a player to have only one character (or one character per server). My main reason for liking this idea are for community and accountability. If people are who they always are, its easier to find them, to remember them, and reputations have a much better chance of sticking.
However, building a game that only allows one character would necessitate design changes to the existing paradigms, or major overhauls in player expectations. Assuming I can stick with this theme for a bit, I’m going to examine different elements of existing MMOs and how they would benefit from and/or need to change for a single character per player (per server) design.
This inaugural entry is going to begin to cover what I think will be the biggest impact from a single character decision: alternate characters.
The issues brought up by not allowing alternate characters are many and deep. The first and foremost is education. If a player is new to MMOs, they may not be familiar with the various archetypes present in the genre, so when presented with a character creation screen they might be presented with descriptions of what a warrior or a cleric is, but without game experience they probably won’t understand what that description really means.
One thing I would propose would be introducing the concept of a “trainer module” to the game. A simulation of the game. Let players build a character for the trainer, any level, any skill set, any stats, any items. Then throw them into a randomly generated dungeon, an instance just for them completely detached from the game world. On one hand, this will give players a place to try out and understand characters. On the other hand, it also gives you and your players a tool for testing character builds for bugs and flaws.
If this worked out well for solo play, let players do the same thing but run through the dungeon with a group. Even PvP if you wanted. This might also be a good place to work on that LFG tool so players wanting to test can find each other. Hook it up to an IRC chat server and players can even sit around discussing the game. And if the multiplayer aspect of it works, you might even consider throwing in raid training.
The catch is, nothing is saved. These characters are not persistent. You leave and they are lost. You gain nothing. No experience points, no items, no badges, nothing. If you want to test a buid over and over, you have to rebuild it over and over. Maybe if people complain you could allow them to store builds, but that shouldn’t be a first priority, the major objective here is giving the players the ability to understand characters without investing hard work and time that they’ll get angry about later when they discover the character does not play the way they interpreted the description.
A good idea? A bad idea? Of course, no idea can exist in a vacuum, and future entries I plan to explore more options and issues.