Lum recently made the best quote about game design I’ve heard in a long time:
Game design, in many ways, is convincing players that they won a struggle against imposing odds. It does not mean actually creating imposing odds.
Scott’s responses to #2 and #5 in particular are spot on. I admit I sometimes build dev rage when browsing some of the more insular, entrenched message boards because they tend to be hangouts for posters who are personally tired of some of the characteristics of Diku-derived MMOGs. These folks proclaim, in no uncertain terms, that designers are either lazy or unimaginative for implementing things like level-based systems and launching games with fairly predictable AI for common mobs.
Game design is about making choices, and it’s next to impossible to explain to people why you make certain decisions if they’ve already predetermined in their minds not only why you’ve made them but that the choices you made are poor ones. Choices like the one between levels and skill-based systems aren’t inherently right or wrong; it comes down to how well they are executed.
All this is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for new ideas and drive the MMO genre to the frontiers of gaming. But at the same time, there’s plenty of opportunity left to use familiar, proven systems to lead players somewhere startlingly epic and amazing.