Ghost towns

What’s up with MMO developers creating isolated cities in their games?

It’s odd. In WoW, we’ve get Darnassus and Silvermoon City both in the middle of nowhere. There’s all this beautiful content that you pretty much never experience unless you’re a newbie, or have to go there for an occasional quest. And on those occasions, it’s a lonely, isolating experience.

It doesn’t seem to be a mistake — after all, this had clearly already happened with Darnassus when Blizzard devided to build Silvermoon out in the boonies. I hear that when the expansion first came out, Silvermoon was teeming with noobs. Now it’s pretty desolate.

I saw the same thing in Asheron’s Call. After the initial release, all player activity coalesced into a few cities. The rest were ghost towns — a bunch of NPC’s hanging out, staring at each other from their storefronts day to day.

Does this happen in most MMO’s, or are these exceptions? Are there reasons I’m missing for not making these cities more centrally located?

39 thoughts on “Ghost towns”

  1. I think part of it is that people go where other people are in a feedback loop. I recall that Blizzard said they were trying to make Silvermoon and Exodar make more sense layoutwise so that people would go there as well as/instead of Orgrimmar and Ironforge.

    Of course that didn’t work for two reasons: one, all the content is in Outland, so everyone hangs out in Shattrath (causing more lag than there ever was in Org or IF), and even if it wasn’t people would stay in Org and IF because thats where the other people are to trade with and what have you.

    Of course this meant that I hung out in Exodar where there was no lag and I didn’t have to switch between continent servers when porting there :)

  2. Actually, I liked that Darnassus was so empty; fits the tranquil atmosphere in that area. Besides, that problem got better when they introduced the general “city”-channel and linked auction houses. Of course, Shattrath is very overpowering now. But to be honest, who gives a damn? You can do almost everything in any city, you have global chat, you have the near-instantanious mail system – crowded cities are fun, but they aren’t neccessary.

  3. The elven cities being isolated also fits the setting. But people do tend to congregate in trade hubs. While Silvermoon may make more sense in its layout, it’s *really* spread out (where WoW has tedious movement speeds… makes me miss CoH), and it’s far removed from most questing. If Silvermoon and Exodar had portals to the other capitals, as Shattrath does, they might be of more use, but I find most people get a portal to Shatt as early as possible and hearth there for their rest-of-days. If they did have portals, Orgrimmar and Ironforge would be empty, and that would make no sense whatsoever. I think the best move the devs made was to not put an auction house in Outlands, which is what keeps the cities populated as it stands.

    Asheron’s Call had a more functionally spread out population because travel time was much more of an issue. It doesn’t take two hours to reach *any* city in WoW.

    EQ2 comes to mind as a game with a concentrated populace. There’s not much outside the capitals.

  4. Lineage 2 faces the same problem too. The two new towns added in over the previous chronicles, Heine and Stuttgart, are pretty desolated, even though they maybe the most beautifully designed city by far. The problem lies in that the towns are out of the way, and the hunting spots nearby are inferior compared to the old areas.

    The starter towns in L2 are devoid of any population also, but that’s understandable.

  5. I’ve always felt that Darnassus was always empty not just because it was physically remote from most interesting level 60 content (BRS, WPL/EPL), but also because the AH is too far from the bank/mailbox.

    In both SW and IF, the AH and bank are very close, across the street as it were. In Darnassus on the other hand, the AH is located across a fairly long bridge. People are lazy :)

    These days Dar, IF and SW are all a (free) portal away from Shattrath. Why do people still prefer IF or SW? Some of it is due to crowd effect, but it’s also due to the city layout.

    @Changling bob, if you’re experiencing lag in Shattrath, it’s due to graphics, not latency. Ever since I’ve upgraded to a new computer with 2GB ram and a better graphics card, I’ve had zero lag issues in IF (this was pre-TBC) or Shattrath.

  6. Regarding city layout, it always confused me that people stuck with Orgrimmar once each city got an AH. Thunder Bluff is much more compact (no blacksmith halfway across the city!), had a bank & auctioneer at least as close to each other as Org, and is also in a more central location for Kalimdor anyway.

    Ah well, I’ll stick with my lowbies using TB and L58 gating to Silvermoon from Shattrath.

  7. Asheron’s Call originally had to do with what skills you had and which supplies you needed – Glendonwood and Eastwick were cheapest for mage supplies, etc.

    After they changed the economy, it was wherever has the best portals.

    Later, the easiest access to housing.

    That’s why they kept changing what the NPCs did there and went from 9 starting cities to 3.

    For the 6 of us who didn’t have item magic, the portal loops were a requirement and the cities that had no portals near them (until housing came along) we simply didn’t visit.

  8. In EQ, Skyshrine (which even got a complete revamp to have mountains of craft resources) and Thurgadin were great examples of this. I used to enjoy going to Thurg to craft just because it was so quiet. Even the zone off the Bazaar (don’t remember the name, I stopped playing long ago), while full of flavor and crafting areas, was frequently barren, with the majority of the population simply running through.

  9. Well, as a counterpoint, Shattrath is a beautiful city, and Blizzard put it right in the middle of everything. Of course, once WotLK comes out, it will probably go the way of Silvermoon and Darnassus. >.>

  10. In a long enough time line, convenience always tends to trump content.

    That’s my phrase for the week.

  11. This is a pretty common thing in MMORPG’s. People will naturally form centers of social and economic community and then “dogpile” them. (Ironforge) I’ve discussed this mechanic with developers in the past and it seems to be something they find to be very important to have present. Some of them argued though that in games like Shadowbane this wasn’t the case as everyone was building their own cities and was elsewhere. I would have to agree if you are comparing it to WoW, but truthfully these centers still existed in SB as well, just to a lesser extent.

    You can’t really avoid this. Unless you form some system where people can interact as effeciently with eachother no matter which city they are in, it will never change. I’d even argue that people might still band together in one location even if there were no other benefit than just having a ton of avatars running around. It’s just human nature.

  12. To this day almost 3 years later I STILL have problems finding a mailbox in Darn other than the one in front of the big tree. Poor city layout is to blame.

  13. I think most games end up with dead areas. Generally because there isn’t a reason to revisit them, although this could be avoided by tying in those places repeatedly with quests.

  14. Wow. Lots of replies.

    To clarify, I understand many of the factors that cause all of this. City location, city layout, etc.

    But these factors can be designed around. You can place new cities somewhat centrally. You can give them a useful layout. You can link their chat channels with other cities. As a result, cities like Thunder Bluff, Undercity, etc. still get a fair dose of traffic. They feel alive, if not crowded.

    What’s confusing to me is why designers don’t design around these factors more often. A textbook example being Silvermoon City. That’s some beautiful content, yet due to its placement, it’s a ghost town. Look at this huge, beautiful, epic city… full of NPC’s. Well, that kind of kills the immersion.

    With the Silvermoon City example (and as others have pointed out, there are many examples across many MMO’s) did Blizzard really just not see it coming? Or is there a reason they prefer having a ghost town? Seems odd to me.

  15. I don’t think they prefer it, but the progress path takes you away from those areas and does not return you there.

    Players gravitate to and will try to concentrate where the progress, fun, or combination of both is. If the design is in error, it’s not because it draws the progress path away from these areas. If it’s in error, it’s because it never returns players to them. Post BC, other than the AH and (some) instances, what reason is there for a 60 character to be in Azeroth and not in Outland?

    Like Adele said, repopulating old areas with new high level quests can help, but even then you’re going to hear a portion of the playerbase complaining about travels or something. As in “There is no reason in the world this quest should be in Ironforge instead of Shattrah”. And most of the time they’d be right, considering the generic quests we’re given. It’d just reek too much of deliberately and quite overtly funneling players back to old grounds so those environments don’t go “to waste”.

    This is one of the things I think are truly zero sum propositions. Either the progress path takes you away from old areas and keeps players progressing, or you dilute the progress path, keeping those old assets ‘alive’ (socially speaking), but losing some sense of progress direction.

    After all, players will be where they have to be. If ghost towns exist, it’s because they were given a limited lifespan from the design itself.

    Other than tourism, of course. Nothing prevents players from going back to Darnie with their sweeties and say “Hey honey, look. Remember? We cybered behind that tree.”

  16. I don’t think Silvermoon or any other cities “placement” really has that much of an impact after a certain degree. Once there are two or 3 areas with access to noobie areas and are pretty close to many of the main places players go, they are going to flock to those particular cities and stay there pretty much regardless of the circumstances after that. I think the reasons players go to a city are a lot more trite than you might suspect. Silvermoon is definitely out of the way which impacts things, but you are never going to have a setup that has players distributing themselves equally throughout the world unless a system like Eve has is in place.

  17. Something i haven’t seen mentioned, in City of Heroes/Villians, the most populated area is the lowest zone, or so it seems. None of the zones feel like ghost towns to me, but it is set up a bit differently than other mmos.

  18. I agree with tfangel, CoX definitely has much more even player distribution. Sure, sometimes you’ll find zones with nobody in them, btu that is more due to time of day than the zone itself. The exceptions are some hazard zones, which have a very limited level range, often 7 or 8 levels, and those levels are just as well covered by other, non-hazard city zones. I think this is due more to an abundance of variety than any true problem with a specific city zone though. Also, CoX takes a lot of the emphasis of traveling TO the place, as the time it takes to get from one zone to the next is equal to the time it takes to load it. Maybe WoW and other games could help alleviate the Ghost Town effect by providing fast and simple (and cheap? maybe?) transportation to these places from higher activity areas. But that wouldn’t fix the problem that there is nothing to do there.

  19. Hrm.

    When you break the content down into segments based on level, you end up with populations that transition from one area to the next following content that is appropriate for their level. Eventually the cities closest to “high level” content have the bulk of the population and everywhere else is a ghost town that sees a few newbies or “alts” running around. Of course I think the whole concept of “high level content” or “end game” in a MMORPG is ludicrous, but that’s just me.

    Another issue is teleportation. If you can teleport to any major city with little effort, players will rarely spend time exploring the greater vastness of the game world. Why should they go way over THERE if there is enough level appropriate content near city X?

    Yet another problem is just bad design. I’d bet that most “designers” are really “level designers” that were promoted from a QA or testing position after showing some skill with basic scripting or proficiency making quake or unreal levels. How many of these guys really take the time to study real world city planning or architecture? I’m not saying you need to be able to handle designing an efficient SimCity or New York, but there are a lot of basic concepts that you can see in ancient city design in major historical cultures or even early city management in the US. If you just draw out some roads and start dropping down shops and NPCs, you end up with the usual problems.

    What are the solutions? Better planning, fewer “shards”, and less focus on linear ladder climbing character development. There should be other reasons to head to town than just selling your loot, picking up crafting components, and checking your auction sales.

    When will the industry stop churning out the same level and loot drivel?

    //goes back into his hole in the ground muttering//

  20. “Of course I think the whole concept of “high level content” or “end game” in a MMORPG is ludicrous, but that’s just me.”

    And that is why I love you Robert in a complete platonic sort of way.

    I’m glad you have the brass to come out and say the truth about the situation with most developers. We are building mirrors that reflect two things. Our own tendencies and imagination, and the real world. All 3 of these things form a triangular correlation and are all connected and related.

    The problem is designers design games first, worlds second. I don’t think most designers even understand how vast creating a “world” really is…which is why we see so many laughable and unnatural mechanics in mainstream MMORPG’s. Architecture…heh….how about psychology, human nature, or the human desire to create and to “impact”. Before designers do their research in those areas we can count out them doing it anywhere else.

  21. Sorry when I said “all 3 of these things” I was referring to Virtual worlds, our imaginations, and the real world. Basically the 3 different kinds of world Bartle describes in his book.

  22. […The problem is designers design games first, worlds second…]

    It’s true, but in all fairness, they may not have the option of designing a world. These things are expensive to build, so they won’t be sustainable if they don’t add enough value for customers to pay money for them. It may just be an indicator of the economics of the situation, as opposed to laziness or failure on anyone’s part.

  23. I don’t understand what you mean. It’s these guys jobs to design a world that is fun and immersing for all of us. If you want to talk economics I’d argue that the way to get the most money is to appeal to the human brain and the human perception. After all they are the ones paying you to live in your world aren’t they?

    What I’m basically saying is that I believe mainstream game developers have failed to ask the question “what draws people to a virtual world?” The ones that have have answered with trite responses like “items, loot, raids”. But why do they like items loot and raids? Why did Everquest have a significantly lower player retention rate than Ultimate? Why is Eve growing so fast and winning awards even though it was laughed at (still is in many places). People clearly want something more. They may not be able to voice that concern because of ignorance, but they clearly do.

    I think a narrow minded and risk-adverse pattern is about the extent to which mainstream online games intersect with economics right now. I think if someone really wanted to hit the jackpot, they’d focus on things like social interaction…..I mean heck it’s all over the Daedalus project all one would have to do is read…yet here we are still playing the same socially cannibalizing games we were 8 years ago.

    What is more likely that this is about hard headedness and “tradition” or what people are perceivably willing to pay for?

  24. “What people want” can be measured by number of subscribers, retention rate, and how much subscribers pay. All of this is aggregated under the metric of “total revenue”. By this measure, WoW beats the pants off UO, EQ, and Eve combined, if I’m not mistaken.

    I think the popularity of Eve, and the strong retention of UO, show that there are segments of the market that want the extra depth you describe. But their modest success doesn’t indicate an overwhelming level of demand.

    That said, let me caveat: “What people want” and “what would make people happiest” are not always the same thing. Sometimes people don’t know what will make them happy. It is possible that more immersive worlds would make them happier — I believe this to be the case, and I think you would agree. But if the market doesn’t realize this, it creates an economic catch-22 that incents developers to churn out more of the same.

    These catch-22’s are broken when a developer somewhere has a good vision and takes some financial risk to pursue it. But it’s understandable to me that not all developers choose that route.

  25. Well it seems that you and I agree we just used different definitions for the word “want”. I think what would make people most happy is what they want, but often times they settle or are deceived into thinking that what they want is something entirely different. So in that respect I hardly think subscriptions are a direct gauge of what gamers want. Well of course people have to realize this, and the only way they will is by people creating worlds that are done “right” to expose them more to this. It will be a gradual thing for sure, but I speak often times of the ultimate destination.

    While I agree developers will churn out what they think there is a demand for…I think someone with the foresight to make these changes has the potential to make a lot of money. People might not know it now, but they will when they see it with their own eyes.

    You honestly call Ultima Online a “modest” success? Ultima Online was a hit in it’s heyday there is no question about it. Just because WoW boasts ludicrous numbers doesn’t mean it’s the benchmark for success. If a game with 500k subscribers was successful before WoW it seems to me we should consider it successful now. To think otherwise just seems to fall right into the mainstream corporate trap.

    I think it’s just as much publishers as developers. And it’s only a risk if you see what is currently being done as a good idea. It’s just like the old saying but applied to WoW. “9 million flies can’t be wrong…eat shit!” Just because these games are making money doesn’t mean they are good (I’m not saying they are bad don’t misunderstand) and it is that assumption that leads people to view what would otherwise be a common sense decision as “risk”.

  26. This is something of a complex issue, but I’m too tired to write a lengthy post about it.

    First, WoW is an exception in many ways, and it should not be looked at as the perfect example of what a MMORPG could or should be. Sure, they did a lot of things right, but they also did a lot of things wrong. If anything, they built a better mousetrap of “single player RPG that many people can play at the same time”. The industry is STUCK on this model and is suffering from it.

    Part of my complaint (yes, I’m still on my soapbox here) is that the “thing” being created by developers and publishers (I include publishers because they have so much influence) is a mere shadow of what MMORPGs are supposed to be. They are not the natural progression of MUDs and Virtual Worlds at all. If you take some time to look at all of the research out there (it isnt hard to find and a great deal of it reaches back to the late 80’s and early 90’s) there is a lot of solid data about what people want, how they interact online, how communities form, the psychology of the user/gamer, etc. etc. etc. This is all relatively ignored by designers and developers. What really kills me is when some media commentator says something like “OMG Second Life is innovative and incredible! People are actually chatting in a 3D world” like this is something really new and ground breaking. Anyway, I digress.

    Market success can be measured in a number of ways. Sheer profitability is one, and longevity is another. A third is whether or not the product has an overall influence on other designs (iterative products). WoW certainly meets all three of these thus far, but I would suggest that even though it is successful, it is also a failure in that I don’t think the true potential of a MMORPG has been reached. The best analogy I can think of is that WoW is a great category one hurricane…most other MMORPGs (and I say that in the loosest definition of the acronym possible) are simply tropical storms or just rainy days. The market is hungry for a category 3 or 4, but no one is really pushing the envelop. They are simply rehashing and repackaging. If the rest of the game industry was like this, the market would be flooded with Madden and Mario clones.

    Anyway, there is a very clear market need and desire for something new, and something designed properly. There is no need to debate this…simply troll the forums of any MMORPG on the planet or skim through any MMORPG gamer blog on the net. The market is clearly clamouring for something better and innovative.

    My point is that the way to this is to break all of the paradigms, throw out all of the “traditional” design methods, and utterly destroy the proverbial box. Get back to the roots…virtual reality, virtual worlds, cybersociology, gamer psychology, community building, how people interact and communicate, etc. etc. etc. Start fresh and really THINK about design. Quit throwing the same tired fighter/mage/cleric kill rats collect loot level raid, rinse and repeat garbage. All developers are doing right now is grinding the same gameplay and genres into the ground. If this keeps up, it will be a very long time before we see a really well done fantasy world (I really hate orcs and elves now)…no one will touch it simply because it is fantasy and they will assume it is crap rehashed like everything else.

    If someone is going to break the mold and blow the industry up, they better do it quick. All these “new” people coming to the market because of WoW or some other MMORPG are quickly learning that the Emperor really has no clothes and these games are nothing more than a timesink designed to make you click a button over and over.

    One last thing…this is my open letter to all the people with money out there that are funding all the wrong people and all the wrong projects. QUIT IT YOU NOOBS! Find some fresh ideas and take some risks. The rewards are MUCH higher if you would just get off your asses and quit funding stupid ideas, people that have no real clue what how to build a world, or stupid hollywood licenses.

    That reminds me…a MMORPG is, by nature and definition, a virtual world. Until one is designed AS a virtual world that is a role-playing game, instead of a role-playing game that a lot of people can play at the same time (this is actually a rather dramatic shift in philosophy and mentality) we are doomed to have the same crap over and over and over.

    People used to think that TV watchers either didn’t want or couldn’t handle complex storylines, character development, story arcs, or content with depth. People took risks with shows like Alias, LOST, Babylon 5, even Star Trek. Look at the successes there… if we stop treating gamers like 5 year old kids with the attention span of a cocker spaniel, the market will respond. The true mass market is neither a casual gamer nor a hardcore gamer…it is a little of both. We need to quit this idea that games MUST only appeal to ONE niche…whether male or female or casual or hardcore. MMORPGs are arguably the one type of game that, when designed correctly, can have broad appeal across the traditional genres and market niches. Sure, you can’t be all things to all people, but so what. Tell me, what market niche is email targeted at? Personal web pages? Instant messaging? MMORPGs are meant to be SOCIAL games and worlds. Massively MULTIPLAYER…

    So much for my short post eh?

    /grumbles and rants on the way to bed…./

  27. “And that is why I love you Robert in a complete platonic sort of way.”

    Heh, I love you too Lindorn. You can show your appreciation by sending me lots of money.

    Mwa ha ha!

    /sleeptime/

  28. Yea right I am net negative at the moment lol. I don’t think I’ll send you money, but maybe one day I can join ranks with you. In the meantime I’ll keep trying to spread the good word and talk to people about these things. They really are listening like you said and that is essentially what Rev G is about. Just need to keep building that community.

  29. @Lindorn, Nicodemus:

    I don’t think we have any fundamental disagreements…

    I’m mainly just making an observation on the economics of this all. WoW has become the MMO industry’s 500 lb. gorilla in North America. Biggest success, economically speaking. This is the frame of reference in which I refer to UO as a “modest” success. Sure it was great for its day, but companies will make economic decisions today on comparable products today.

    […Just because these games are making money doesn’t mean they are good…]

    In some sense it does — in the sense that it is good enough for 9 million people to fork over cash every month. That is an indicator that those 9 million people value the product. And if it were my money or your money we were investing in The Next Big MMO, that would be a really important indicator for us to think about if we hoped to see our money back. Of course, we also care about making a great game, moving the genre forward, these sorts of things. But when you’re rolling $10M worth of dice, it takes some big cajones to bet on hard 12. I don’t fault developers or publishers that choose the safe bet instead.

    Nic, I love your rant about wanting to see some of the real creativity and potential of the genre tapped. I do think I am less frustrated about it :-) I feel like it’s the natural order of things for successful industries to spawn lots of crap. Look at Hollywood sequels — there’s money in them, so producers make a quick buck and audiences get some cheap thrills. OK. But then in the midst of the tons of movies being made, some kick ass stuff arises. You get a Matrix here, an American Beauty there, that sort of thing. There may be lots of crap, but the good stuff still comes along at a steady pace.

    Feels to me like the MMO industry is at the birth of this. (The gaming industry in general kind of went through it in the 90’s). WoW’s really brought some mainstream visibility to MMO’s, and now there’s a ton of contenders hopping to get in on the space. Most of them will be bland imitators repeating the formula, but there will be some innovative stuff in there as well. One small example: Consider these social worlds that are taking off — Club Penguin, Barbie World and the like are getting seven digit user counts. I admit not having tried any of them, but I suspect that MMORPG’s could learn a lot from them about how to keep Socializers engaged.

  30. I know that the ideal is something much greater than this, but if we really must stick to tired MUD traditions, at least this will solve the ghost town problem.

    Bring in the remort system. For those who haven’t played that sort of MU*, a remort is when a level-capped player completes a grand quest or whatnot, and returns to level one with new intrinsic bonuses or special character options (changing to restricted races or classes). If the level cap is raised, you can even leave the first remort (or whatever iteration) at the old level cap.

    What one ends up with is a population of players replaying the old content, not only sustaining the economy at all levels, but also making it easier for first-run characters to participate in content while they’re levelling. As a final, sneaky side benefit, it also provides motivation for the development team to review and fix old, non-end-game content.

  31. James…I bet if you adjusted for inflation UO would be a pretty damn large orangutan if not a gorilla in its own right.

    Jezebeau…”tired MUD traditions” is not what I meant. Those can be thrown out with the bathwater. As far as remorting, that is a pretty decent idea for MMORPGs that are stuck in the linear ladder crawling advancement grind that have that strange “end game” thing going on. Actually the more I think about it, the more appealing it sounds…particularly since players would likely maintain the same character/persona and invest more time into it.

  32. Personally I don’t mind levels.

    *ducks and avoids a shower of rocks and vegetables*

    Now, hang on. I didn’t say I’d marry levels. Or that we shower together. Or that I have a glamour shot of me and Levels with a crappy star background and PS 5.0 lens flare. I like levels because it’s an easy (sometimes too easy) metric of progress. Does progress need to be measured? Well, no. But it is measured all the time anyway. The granularity of level-based progress affects the design, but it is an easy metric that even the most obtuse of players can understand.

    This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t welcome other ways of measuring progress, but in the end it will all come down to comparing numbers, wouldn’t it? Be it the number of quests finished, /played time, currency, kills, etc.

    I think it’s a natural impulse on players to want to have something concrete and easily identifiable (a number) to measure their progress, because by measuring their own progress they also measure their standing in the world (I can take on this, but not on this other thing) and then also naturally compare themselves to other players.

    If you’re going to end up using a number however you slice it, why not levels? Now this doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways. If there aren’t right now, I’m sure someone will come up with one at some point. But as of now I’m not terribly bothered by levels, or some of the types of design it encourages. Levels are a semi-necessary, semi-evil right now.

  33. “single player RPG that many people can play at the same time”.

    I disagree, i don’t think there has actually been one even close to the depth or complexity allowed in single player RPGs like Baulders Gate or the RPGs of Square (not FF11 though). In most of those, once something happens, it changes the world and you can’t go back unless you reload. This probably wouldn’t work in an MMO as if you came late to the party, you miss out. To come up with an actually living breathing world that lives and changes dynamically you would need something that goes beyond the “kill ten rats” (pardon the pun) quest types.

  34. MMORPGs are not living breathing worlds and they are not dynamic.

    They could be, but they aren’t.

    Anyway, I agree with you tfangel, but my point was gameplay aspects, not depth of story and content.

  35. @Nicodemus: T’was on a sarcastic note, though I think the idea has merit in the current crop.

    @Julian: I think one of the more practical aspects of levels is in working with other people. While competency may be evasive, it’s nice to know that someone else can theoretically pull their weight in a group, before people spend fifteen minutes assembling for a task (so long as we’re still using RPG capability statistics).

  36. “For those who haven’t played that sort of MU*, a remort is when a level-capped player completes a grand quest or whatnot, and returns to level one with new intrinsic bonuses or special character options (changing to restricted races or classes).”

    There is only one modern MMO that tried this (that i know of anyway): Ragnarok Online (and presumably it will be in RO2 if/when that comes out of Korea).. it was loved by the population of level capped players, but looked at as kind of an “eh.. so?” situation by the people who didn’t have time, patience, or the urge to max themselves so that they could move on to the Transcendat classes.. who started with more starting stat points to distribute, higher base hp/mp values at a given level, and, once they’d cleared the first job set, many more powerful skills.
    But people hit the level cap again, so what now? add another more advanced set of classes? apparently RO’s dev team was working on that around the time i left the game (1 level below the cap.. i just couldn’t find it in myself to go from 98 to 99, since that required as much experience as going from level 1 to level 90, and left me knowing that i’d have to do it all again as a transcendant character, except i’d need about 40% more experiences per level).
    honestly, all they do is extend the grind and raise the power level needed to compete in whatever end-game extravaganzas (raids, guild vs guild pvp, what-have-you) the game centers around, barring “noobs” from participating and making players resent the obvious treadmill nature of mmorpging as we know it today.

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