Some time ago, you wrote about requiring my assistance as regards creating a more difficult Blizzard game, which you are now branding as Rise of the Leet King. I have come up with some worthwhile suggestions you might use for this endeavor, though I must warn you that these are not original. Instead, I would suggest that, to make a difficult yet financially successful RPG, you would take the most intriguing parts of different RPGs and incorporate them into your worldview.
My first suggestion would be, as you wrote, to “entice” people to level in groups (as in Final Fantasy XI) so as to make the opening months of your RPG more “friendly,” in the social interaction sense of the term. This opening salvo would be supported by the creation of monsters that required at least groups of three of equal level to the monster to kill, as well as the use of a Group EXP + buff that ups experience gain by 1% when in a group of three or more and scales to the number of players (up to 5%).
As a corollary to this, I would also suggest that you implement a slower leveling curve during the beginning of the game’s life cycle so as to keep people from eating through your content too quickly. Do not make it as bad as Aion’s later levels, but make it intolerable enough to force people to group (or multi-box) to speed up leveling. This has the added bonus of giving you more time to create new content.
To make the game dynamics even more interesting, do not create a PVE world and introduce friendly fire into the game mechanics to force people to coordinate better or die trying. Create a moderately annoying penalty for death, such as EXP debt from EQ2, only make the debt 1/3 of a level large per death so as to make people still want to group together even if they aren’t good at it. If your developers can create it, ensure that there is integrated voice chat on release so that the screams of the dead and dying can be heard on YouTube.
To offset friendly fire, do not give anyone AOE abilities as an inborn skill, but as a result of completing an almost unbearably long quest chain (like WoW’s attunement quests before). Anyone who doesn’t have the (potentially overpowered) AOE ability but still hits a teammate can then be called either a newb or a griefer, and create a completely new system of elitism and player killing within the game sphere that will entice researchers to use up grant money to study the social dynamics of your game, allowing for added revenue and buzz for RotLK.
My next suggestion would be for you to introduce the idea of lifetime achievements. Much like WoW’s achievement system, the lifetime achievement system would actually refer to things that your character has done which have become obsolete due to upgrades to the game or player choice. For instance, a player who has crafted his way to the maximum level of a tradeskill can earn a lifetime achievement award after either changing his tradeskill for a new one (and thus, losing all his progress but retaining a status title) or introducing a new tier into the game with an expansion pack. This allows players to maintain a semblance of a connection to his character, while inspiring him to grind through the tradeskill tiers of a different trade by buying stuff through the auction house.
In relation to this, I would also request that use the business principles outlined by Gevlon on his blog to create a harsher trading environment on the auction house. Better yet, it may be to your benefit to hire Gevlon full-time as a consultant on all things business related for RotLK, which can include the creation of an auction system AS WELL AS a stock market that determines the value of in-game currency and vendor trash every two weeks based on the flux of items within the auction system and trade NPCs.
Next, as a concession to people who may want to do something other than questing and becoming powerful, introduce player villages into the game world. Have the depth of housing in EQ2 with the instanced villages of LOTRO and you’d have yourself a very good time sink. Allow people to also be able to own non-instanced guild housing, such as castles, which can be stormed by other guilds at their leisure.
Lastly, in an attempt to create an ever-changing landscape for your game, it may also be good to incorporate a stunning idea implemented in Archlord: the literal rise of a Leet King, who will have the ability to make changes to the game system for good or ill. This Leet King will have the power to alter the strength of all monsters (and their accompanying loot tables) to make them all stronger or weaker server-wide, introduce weather effects in certain lands that will spawn different creatures (and their accompanying loot tables), alter the prices of commodities in the stock market and auction house to a certain tangible yet miniscule degree, and temporarily disable non-Leet King storming related or battleground-related PVP across the whole server. The Leet King system can be introduced in a content patch six months after the game has launched, with chances to storm the Leet King castle available two weeks after a new Leet King has been crowned.
The very first Leet King will be played by a developer and can only be accessed after storming his castle, which will have a multi-wing scope similar to Naxxramas. Only after all the wings have been cleared can one head to the throne room where the Leet King sits. As there can only be one Leet King (or queen), however, this poses an interesting question: how do you choose the Leet King?
The answer is simple: the new Leet King will be the player who strikes the final blow against the previous Leet King. While this may be unfair for most people, especially healers, I think this will be well-received by players looking for a sense of ultimate power. You can make allowances for backstabbing your friends or guildmatesthrough the Leet King system by forcing people to fight each other once the previous Leet King is down to 4% health (turn him invulnerable for three minutes as part of a Kingly power influx, lore-wise), but honestly, forcing people to make a choice in their guild as to who would be Leet King would make for interesting stories on the magazine you’ll eventually publish for this game.
In any event, these are only suggestions for you to make a compelling, difficult, yet potentially financially successful MMORPG. I wish you the best of luck with these endeavors, and hope that Rise of Leet King becomes the new standard for harcore PVPers and raiders alike.