So, now that I've gotten the major ideas out there, I wanted to explore some smaller themes in popular genres that could be incorporated into an MMO. The way WoW was set up, while successful, is not the only way to build a game, either from a structure standpoint or a game play standpoint. Since coming up with new ideas is hard, why not look at other existing genres of video games, and glean what we can?
The first idea I wanted to explore is the idea, as the title suggests, of a turn-based strategy MMO. I love the Final Fantasy Tactics games. I like the way they are set up, I like the strategic element of the game play . . . they just speak to me on a certain level. An MMO that used the basic tenets of these games could be great. For the sake of a baseline, lets assume the WoW aesthetic is in place. In fact, since that is the game I'm the most familiar with, I'm assuming that every type I come up with will be a WoW spin-off. One of the things that Blizzard has proven to be really good at is taking existing ideas and polishing them to a shine. There's no reason they can't branch out to traditionally single player genres and take those ideas too.
The first thing that defines a turn-based strategy RPG is, of course, the turn-based strategy. The way this works in a single player game is that the action doesn't take place in real time, but rather like a chess game where every piece on the board has it's own internal timer (usually based on a Speed stat) that dictates how many turns pass before you get to go again. Again, in the single player version, this isn't determined by actual time passing as much as how fast a given sprite is compared to another sprite. For example, if a ninja has 2 speed and a knight has 1 speed, the ninja will be ready for another move in half as many turns. While this works out fine when your playing by yourself against an NPC team (who can make tactical decisions nearly instantly) once you switch to real people controlling each sprite (which I is the direction I'd take this) you are waiting up to a minute between each person's move. While I don't mind slowing the game play pace down a bit, I think that would be much too far. Plus, if someone goes afk, you could be there all night before you got to move again. I think a much better model would be to have a 30 second timer for each round (a round being defined as "team 1 moves, team 2 moves") where you have to move your character into position and decide what/who/how to attack/heal/defend. This would keep the game going. If you were playing against a NPC team or boss, their turn would seem instant, or as long as it takes for all the animations to finish. That way, while it would still be turn-based, it would feel as though you are always doing something. What might be a good idea is to have a sliding difficulty where the less time you give your team to decide (therefore increasing the difficulty of the encounter) the more money you earn, having to decide in advance whether you want 30, 45, 60, 90, or no time limit. This way, when you face an unfamiliar foe, or have a lot of inexperienced players, you could adjust how much time to strategize you will get. The low end being ideal for a new boss in high-end content.
The second thing that defines specifically Final Fantasy Tactics is the ability of each sprite to have multiple jobs, usually based on the race of the sprite, race-based job choice not being anything new to WoW. The way you switch from job to job is as easy as hitting a button in a menu and changing gear. This has great potential for an MMO and could solve many problems as well as deepen the experience for everyone. You see, the way you unlock a new profession on any given sprite in FFT is by gaining abilities in another job. For example, once you have learned 6 mage abilities, you can become a sage. The way you earn abilities is not through regular leveling, but by using a weapon and gaining a certain amount of skill points through battle. While you hold the weapon, you can perform the ability attached to that weapon, but once you gain enough skill points while using that weapon in battle, you have learned the ability and can now equip a new weapon that has a different ability for your class. Offensive abilities are usually assigned to weapons while defensive and reflexive abilities (like "counter", for example) can be assigned to hats, gloves, shields, boots, chest pieces, etc . . . Your current class determines what types of items you can equip. Many items will grant different abilities based on what class you are, so if you have already unlocked several classes, one new weapon, that can be used by several of them, could unlock 3 or 4 new abilities.
As for the abilities themselves, there are several kinds as I mentioned before. The way they are used in FFT would also work well in an MMO. Before battle, you chose which class you are by setting what offensive abilities you'd like. Then, there would be a slot beneath that for a sub-class. This way, you could use two classes worth of abilities no matter what your main class is at that moment. So, you could be a warrior and set your subclass to rogue so you could steal and use poisons, using the WoW model of those classes. Your base stats would be determined by your primary class. Next, you would assign a reflexive ability, such as the previously mentioned "counter" or "reflect magic" and two passive abilities, such as "resist fire" or "physical defense." Having fewer spaces for all these increases the importance of making the best decision, given the forthcoming battle. Facing a lava boss? Hope you have fire resist up!
Now, weapons should not be "bind-on-pick-up". At the most, I envision them being "bind-to-guild". Since abilities come with almost all weapons, not just stats, it would be important for a guild to be able to spread weapons around to all members. Imagine setting up for a battle and deciding what classes everyone will be and finding out that someone needs a certain ability they haven't gotten yet. No problem, carry this sword into battle. Then pass it to the next guy. There would still be an advantage to getting more drops of the same item from the same boss because you could get the abilities that weapon holds spread out more quickly, but even defeating a boss once will benefit the entire guild. Instead of rolling for a weapon, you could cast lots for what order you got to carry it. Most other items could be sold on the AH when you have no use for them. However, since many items affect many different classes, some will be worth holding onto, should you ever unlock that other class. I would like there to be 50 classes. Go nuts.
I would play this game. Someone make it, please.