I read a post on one of the more well thought out blogs recently that discussed the concept of Private Servers for WoW. Unfortunately, I can't find which post it was or from which blog, so I can't provide linkage. If this rings a bell to anybody, drop me a comment and I'll give proper credit here.
The gist of the post was that the author said he got approached by somebody to go play on a private server.
I have no idea if this is even a possibility, so the rest of the post is purely hypothetical, but what if you could do that?
What if you could choose to play WoW, not quite solo, but in a closed server with only a handful of people of your choosing?
How interesting would that be, and how would the game be different?
Firstly, I would not want the game to be solo. I do enjoy my solo moments where I'm just immersed in what I'm doing and only slightly aware of the larger social context around me. However, my favorite parts of the game are 5 and 10 man instances, so there would have to be the ability to include more than just yourself. When I play solo, I fall back to RTS and building little bases and turtling giant maps and slowly crushing the computer AI's in a very predictable pattern that is still fun to me again and again, no matter how predictable or how similar each randomly generated map is.
So WoW can't become solo, but what about dramatically scaled down to 40 or 50 people on your server?
The economy would be non-existant, with basically no Auction House or trade channel other than the closed group of friends. Enchants or rare recipes would be tough to find. Gathering would be meaningless other than to supply what your group needed.
PUG's would be out of the question. If the small group of people on your server had close enough play schedules/habits, this isn't too bad, but unless your server mates maintained enough compatibility, this would cause some long term problems. I don't play with any people I know IRL, so essentially every friend I have in game comes from the general social network that's brought them to me from being originally a stranger. Private server would not have this possibility.
There are times when I just want all the jokers and ninjas to go away, and I just want to play with a small group of mature reasonable people, so there's a great appeal to the concept of a private server. I do recognize that the game would be so fundamentally different as to be perhaps useless, but interesting to think of none the less.
Or how about take a slightly different turn....
Blizzard now has an Arena Tournament server. You get a character over there and basically can equip it however you want, with the goal being that skill is the determining factor in tourney victory rather than gear. Level the playing field, see who is the better player.
What if Blizzard did the same thing for raiding?
I like developing my character and enhancing the various skills and gear and stats. Sure sure, anybody who plays WoW has some joy in that, its so core to the game. But at end-game, my real fun is trying to overcome the raid content. Getting the whole team to do a job together. Most of my joy in getting loot, or watching a teammate get loot (when will i actually win a roll for garona's signet ring?), is that it can enable me to be a step closer to other dungeons, not because I get off on watching my crit rate jump from 28.5% to 29.1% from a new armor piece.
There's two big things that prevent me from seeing the bulk of the end-game dungeons:
1) Having the right team of friends with the same schedule, raiding desires, and proper class/spec composition.
2) Gear. We're simply undergeared for much beyond Kara.
What if Blizzard gave us the option to form up our raid and then when you zone into the instance, you've got a giant armory right there. Everybody walks in and grabs the gear they need. The armory for each dungeon has gear tuned for the bosses in there. There's also a ready supply of all the consumables you could desire.
We then reduce the challenge to simply mastering the boss fights. And having fun.
Blizz would need to control progress, as it certainly is better in a game to have you progress in a some-what linear fashion through content.
They could do it by requiring you to get some key or complete some quest that persists with your character as you return back to your regular server after the dungeon is complete. Or they could do it by making the fights harder and harder. You as an individual and your team as a cohesive unit will build the skills and coordination necessary for each dungeon in the previous dungeon. Just like if I walk into BT today, I'd get crushed, they'd have to make it that the advanced encounters are so challenging, confusing, require so much coordination between the players, that you'd similarly get crushed if you hadn't learned the progressing levels of small squad and larger raid coordination from earlier fights.
Of course, this is very hard for game developers to do. Easier to make boss fights a little more complex as you go, but the major changes are to buff their armor, hit points, attack power, etc, requiring better gear on the players to avoid getting stamped out.
Blizzard uses gear and a slow trickle of random drops as a way to keep you from blowing through content. It takes you many many runs through one dungeon to gear up the whole team to qualify you for the next dungeon. This in turn keeps the monthly subscriptions flowing.
Ok, so charge differently for this type of service to make up for the difference.
I wonder how player interest would change if gear progression weren't part of the picture, but skill progression was king.