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This is driving me buggy, and it has for a long time before this recent contention of "old school" games going on.
I don't believ you can have a widely social game when you also have the sorts of power gaps that come with the level grinds that have dominated game design since Ultima Online.
I see people talking about EQ, AC, SWG, DAoC, and Vanguard in this context. Now, many are talking about something different as far as "old school", and talking about the way games were harder as opposed to the ease of instant instances and that sort of thing. I understand that point and think it's valid. But I also see a lot of people saying that these old school games were more social, and I see very minimal validation there.
When you have games designed around levels, with power gaps to make levels the most important factor in your game play, the most exciting thing to accomplish (and all of these games had that), then you divide the player base by leveled content. That's a fact, there's no way around that fact. You have to stick to content that fits into your own level group, and you have to play with players who are in the same level group as you or go solo.
How can anyone think that this is a "social" environment? How can anyone see this as either "Worldly" or "Sandbox"?
And this is why I think some of these games didn't draw large numbers as expected. If you're going to have the power gaps, and the excitement of very noticeable boosts every time you level up, then you have a level grind game, and you're best off going all the way with that (like WoW did). Because the social aspects are limited because of this designed division of the player base, and therefore simply will not work well at all, by and large. There's always small pockets of exceptions, but that's not enough.
And I would propose to you all that small boosts in power in a game where that's the norm is just as exciting as large boosts in games where that's the norm. And then you can also add a wide range of social aspects, from economics/trade to politics/governement to real fame/glory for accomplishments.
Once upon a time....