In response to older ideas, ideas to address problems that we may or may not run into in beta, and rules vs. player freedom:
We aren't really throwing out any of our ideas, even the older ones. If it makes sense to work on them now, we do and test it and see how we like it. For most of these systems, however, we can't really test them without a community, which means we need to get into beta in order to know if the system is good, or needs to be tweaked, or even completely yanked.
Then there is a subset of systems that some of us feel more passionate about than others. The core systems and the differentiators you see on the website, and certainly the overall Vision, we are all definitely all on the same page (and have been since late November when we wrapped up the High Level Design doc and started writing up the lower level documents that define what these core systems are).
But then there are some systems and mechanics that different people on the design team feel more strongly about than others. Usually they fall into the category of 'well, what if this happens? And if it does, what is our plan to deal with it?' Also, most of these types of systems impose more rules and are less sandboxxy.
So what we've done with these kinds of systems and mechanics is said, well, some of us think we'll need a system like this, while others do not. Since we won't really know if we need these systems until beta, we pretty much put them on 'hold', so to speak. Kilsin probably just heard it was on hold or something and assumed it was cancelled. The tier/advancement system is not cancelled, it's on hold in case we need it or some variation of it.
I've posted about these sorts of things quite a few times, but it's worth re-stating: while Pantheon is not a true sandbox MMO, one our goal is to make it as sandboxxy as possible while still having a solid game sitting within that sandbox. What I mean by that is we really want to free players up to be able to do, within reason, whatever they want. We are not fans of restricting what players can do. We ARE big fans of emergent behavior. We value community extremely highly and think that a solid community can police itself to a significant degree and that it should.
That said, there are times where we do have to step in. In those cases, we will try to do it in a way that feels more open and not super strict. We also prefer positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement -- I would much rather reward you for acting in a way that is pro-community and pro-Pantheon than to penalize you somehow for breaking some rule.
Then, unfortunately, there are instances where we do have to step in and step in heavy handed. Easy examples would be some player /shouting racial slurs, or some player doing something the community cannot deal with that results in him ruining the Pantheon experience for others -- certainly if one person can ruin the fun of more than 1 other person, then even though we're charging him a sub fee, we are losing money on him. He doesn't belong in the game for both game and community reasons and he doesn’t belong in the game for financial/business reasons.
Then there are those systems that we've come up with to deal with problems that might occur but, again, can't be sure until beta. Most of these systems are proposed by me because I have the experience of not only building two MMOs previously to this, but also running MMOs in a live environment, post-launch, and dealing with customer service issues, nerfs, exploits, etc. So sometimes, given Pantheon's design, I get a gut feeling that we may need a system of some sort to curb exploitation of the rules, or to help gamers that are new to social, cooperative MMOs get accustomed, or to deal with issues that I've seen happen when you set up a game like Pantheon. A good example there would be dealing with MUDflation. Since we are determined that we want real player driven economies we therefore need to make sure that most items are tradable. But if we do that, then there will be some degree of MUDflation. For me, the plusses for having a player driven economy far outweigh the negatives, but even with that being true, we likely will have to put in some systems to slow down or curb MUDflation as well as deal with its long term effects (shard aging, etc.)
Bottom feeding is another example. If we put compelling content in middle level dungeons, some players will level up and then head back to that dungeon and cherry pick the items. In doing so, many (not all) will disrupt the experience of players in the same dungeon but who are of the appropriate level. The easiest solution there, of course, is Instancing. But with Instancing I strongly feel the negatives FAR outweigh the positives, especially for a game like Pantheon and its audience. The next easiest solution is something I came up with years ago at SoE called Trivial Loot Code. But the problem with TLC is that it penalizes everyone, not just the bottom feeders, and also that it's a hard rule. So do I think there might be a problem we end up having to deal with? Yes, but the negatives of TLC outweigh the positives, so if we do have to implement something to curb bottom feeding it will have to be a system that is less rigid and totalitarian. This touches not just on my own game design philosophy, but on something that transcends games and reaches into a world view of mine: I rarely favor creating a rule or a law to stop a minority of people from doing something bad at the expense of the majority's freedom and liberty. Such solutions are often both easy to come up with and easy to implement but also, especially long term, they tend to do more harm than good. You may have stopped or curbed the bad behavior of a small minority, but at what cost? I mean, at the risk of getting political, we could solve a LOT of problems in our society really easily by creating a totalitarian state, putting us under martial law, etc. We could stop most violence, the drug problem, etc. Look at Czechoslovakia when it was under communist rule. You still had the deep ethnic hatred between the different groups there -- it didn't suddenly disappear when the Soviets took over. But by creating a totalitarian police state there simply was no way ethnic cleansing was going to go on. Then, after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of these problems reared their ugly heads again, we had horrible wars in the region, etc. My point, of course, is that there are usually either very simple solutions that may work but end up creating a bunch of new problems, or that there are almost always very strict rules that can be implemented that do indeed address the issue, but at the cost of freedom (both freedom in the real world, or player freedom in an MMO. We are tasked, however, with the more difficult challenges, one of those being to create a game, a home for players where they can feel free and that there isn't a long list of draconian rules they are under, and that, when possible, the players themselves can come together and deal with issues.
So, anyway, there are several systems that are on hold, on the shelf right now, that we will try out in beta if needed. The tier/advancement system is one of those. Essentially I am taking the almost 20 years of experience both developing and running MMOs and trying to come up with contingency plans in case something goes wrong or needs to be addressed. This is something I am in a unique position to be able to offer. I've seen lots of issues and made plenty of mistakes and I am very familiar with issues that don't pop up or become a serious problem until after launch or even after the game starts to really age. And I've been thinking about ways to address those issues while still evolving the genre and moving it forward. It's the way my brain works -- I'm always thinking not just about today and what we can do to move development forward, but also where I'd like to take Pantheon 3, 5, even 10 years after launch. That's just who I am, how much I believe in the vast potential of MMOs post launch, and also a result of not being able to stay on EQ or VG long enough after launch in order to have the opportunity to try some of these ideas and systems out. It's one of the reasons I'm so excited about Pantheon and how we've set up VRI. We're in this for the long haul -- Pantheon is NOT fire and forget. I personally will not get the sense of accomplishment I am looking for if I'm not still working on this game years after release. It's not that I have something to prove, per se. I am very proud of both EQ and VG (warts and all). It's more that I've deeply soul searched over the last 10 years or so (mostly since Sigil fell apart) and I came to realize that this is all I want to do: make MMOs. And not the same MMO over and over again, bringing it to a certain point, then letting it go and starting over. I have no desire to make any other game in any other genre. I'm happy to play them, but I don't want to work on them, and I think a big reason is because I don't feel like my work is done. I don't have closure. I've not had the opportunity to take an MMO where I think they can go long term -- it's what I refer to as my Grand Vision for an MMO. The Vision is the core game and what we want to launch with. The Grand Vision looks at launch like having a baby -- it's a beautiful thing, so full of potential, but it has its entire life ahead of him.
Anyway, in summary, there are systems and ideas that don't make any sense to implement until you are in beta or rapidly approach beta because they require a critical mass of people to really test. There are also systems planned out to deal with problems that *might* occur given our game design and Vision, but until and if they do, it makes no sense to implement them. And then there are ideas, systems and mechanics that don't make sense to implement until after the game has launched, has a healthy player base, and the game (what it was at launch) has started to mature.