Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carrying Players

I saw a blog post the other day--sadly, I've forgotten where--in which the blogger lamented that a raid could no longer "carry" one or two sub-par players anymore. Not like in Vanilla, where much of the initial content was so under-tuned that you could easily spare 5 to 10 slots in a 40-man raid.

I wonder if you could actually do this. If you could set up a system to make carrying players more viable, without lowering the difficulty of content for the better players.

Suppose you could measure a person's "PvE ability".  Then, for people with a low score, you could give them a buff that increases their damage and healing output, decreases their damage taken, and maybe even makes them immune to certain mechanics if the score is low enough. The buff would scale inversely with PvE ability. Very low scores would have a more powerful buff, while better scores might have a small buff or no buff at all. Then the buffed person would have their performance dragged upwards in a raid, towards the mean. They would be less of a dead spot.

Essentially, it would be the same idea as handicapping in horse races, only with boosting the weaker individuals, rather than penalizing the stronger individuals.

Of course, the hard part would be coming up with a way of measuring one's PvE ability, without lending it to exploitation, and accounting for increases in skill and gear. It would be fairly easy to do in PvP, as you could just go off a character's personal match-maker rating or similar. In PvE, you'd probably have to conduct analysis of previous fights somehow to assign a rating.

Such a system might even help with gearing. An under-geared character would end up with the buff, until her gear caught up to the rest of the raid.

I'm not really sure if such a system would actually work. But I think it's an interesting idea.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

[SWTOR] Imperial Agent Trailer

I came across this nice player-made trailer for the Imperial Agent from beta. I think it does a good job of conveying the feel of the Agent storyline.



Bonus points for it being a Chiss Agent. The female Imperial Agent voice actor (not in video) is also very good.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Updates

So I'm mostly playing The Old Republic these days. I haven't logged into WoW for a few weeks now. I guess I'm probably just going to let WoW ride until the Mists of Pandaria beta, and then see what's what.

In The Old Republic, I'm mostly leveling a couple of alts: a Sith Inquisitor and a Republic Trooper. Ironically, I found out that my 50 Sniper is on one of the few Republic-dominated servers, which really hasn't helped any foray into endgame.

It's very interesting, playing in a transient fashion after playing in an extended structure for so long. There is a curious amount of freedom. You can come and go as you please, do other things if you want to. Yet, I think there's a hollowness to it. It's like being in a single player game with some occasional chat. I do miss working in a group towards a common goal.

And yet, I'm not sure if I miss it enough. Enough to make it worthwhile to find a new guild and adjust to a new schedule.

In other games, I'm looking forward to Mass Effect 3 and Diablo 3.  In MMOs, I guess we'll see what releases. Guild Wars 2 looks to be doing some interesting things, as does The Secret World.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A DPS Meter Fallacy

In a comment, Kring posted something that I would like to address:
Besides that it, again, encourages all the tricks to "cheat" Recount like
- not target switching
- dotting unimportant targets
- using AoE spells where not useful
- not moving our of fire
- not using non-dps abilities like decurse or spellsteal
In my view, the idea that one can "cheat" or "pad" the meters is something of a fallacy. It's technically, or hypothetically, possible. But in practice, it's extraordinarily unlikely.

If you are good enough to push yourself near the top of the meter by padding, you are good enough to top the meters through normal play.  

Topping the meters requires knowing and executing your rotation, using cooldowns appropriately, not dying, and casting as many spells as possible. Padding the meters is essentially executing the same steps, only substituting the "padding rotation" in place of your regular rotation. If you can't execute your normal rotation correctly, you won't execute your padding rotation correctly. If you aren't casting enough normal spells, you won't cast enough padding spells. If you aren't popping enough cooldowns in normal play, you won't pop enough cooldowns in padded play.

To reiterate, playing to pad the meters on a boss fight is the same process as playing normally. A player who is having trouble playing normally is going to have the same trouble when playing to pad.

The harsh truth is that DPS meters work!

The people who are consistently at the top of the DPS meters are your best DPS players. They will be the ones who are better at interrupting, at using utility spells, at moving successfully. The players at the bottom of the meters are the ones who need the most improvement, who will also be less likely to interrupt correctly, to use utility spells correctly, to move out of the fire.

There is a point where this is not true, where class and spec determines your position on the meters. That point is known as Paragon and the other Top 10 guilds.  For everyone else, position on the meters is determined by the quality of your play.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Console MMO

I wonder when we will get the first truly successful console MMO. Personally, I think that the first game to get the "console" part correct will be the game that beats WoW's subscription numbers.

But I wonder what that game will look like, what will make it work? Will it be entirely voice-comm based? After all, Mass Effect is a console game, and The Old Republic is very similar.

I think the key element that needs to be worked out is multiple players in the same household. For computer MMOs, every player has their own computer. But that usually isn't the case with console games. Would the MMO have some sort of co-op mode, where if two players are in the same area, they appear on the same screen? And then seamlessly split screen if they split up?

I have no idea how it would work. But I'm sure there are game companies working on it, and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Personal Traffic Light DPS Meter

I'd like to highlight a comment from Stubborn on the previous post:

How about borrowing something from a totally different genre of gaming, like my wife's Wii Zumba? When she's performing within 90% of max, her character is highlighted in green. When she's between 60% and 90%, shades of yellow, and below 60%, shades of red. There's absolutely no reason a similar, personal system couldn't be implemented to let each individual player know, based on the minimum dps requirements for the fight, how they're individually performing. That provides the feedback you need without the immediate consequence of creating a hostile environment.
This is a pretty cool idea. A simple green/yellow/red meter that was boss-dependent and displayed your personal DPS for that boss.  If all the DPS stay in yellow or green for the entire fight, the boss will die before the enrage.

Of course, the one thing that might cause issues here is DPS during the execute phase. Most DPS classes see their boss damage jump upwards during the last 20% or so. Accounting for that might be a little tricky. But not insurmountable.

You could make this pretty complicated if you wanted to. If you know the fight, you could draw a damage curve that accounts for phase changes, interruptions, and execute phase. Then just draw the players total damage as time goes on and compare to the curve to determine if the player is ahead of schedule or falling behind.

Still, it's a pretty cool idea, and be enough feedback without needing exact numbers, or revealing performance to everyone. Or maybe the red/yellow/green light should be revealed to everyone. After all, it's not players imposing arbitrary and unrealistic standards on each other. It's the game revealing the basic performance.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Enrage Timers and Meters

So, there's a little bit of a kerfuffle over DPS and enrage timers in The Old Republic hardmode dungeons. See Screaming Monkeys, Tobold, and Spinks.

The thing is that SWTOR doesn't have a combat log or DPS meters. So there's really no way for a DPS player to truly judge her performance. So we don't know if the enrage timers are actually tight, or the DPS players are simply not performing at a high enough level.

The variance between DPS can be huge. It's not like people are performing at 89% of theoretical max and they need to get to 90%. Very often, because of improper rotations and incorrect use of cooldowns, a decent player who isn't conversant with the best theorycraft might only be performing at 50% or less of the theoretical max.

And the DPS rotations in SWTOR are not trivial. I had a rotation for my Sniper that I was happily using. It seemed to be the best I could come up with. Then I went to sithwarrior.com and looked at their rotation. It was structured very differently than what I was using, and involved several abilities that I wasn't using. I switched, and I think my damage went up significantly.

Though, truthfully, because there are no meters and no combat log, I have no idea if what I'm doing now is better. It's better on paper, and seems to be better in game, but who knows.

Again, we hit a theme that I've hitting for years now. Good play requires feedback. Good dps requires feedback. And the best feedback for DPS is a combat log and damage meters.

But if you don't want damage meters, if you think they are detrimental, then you should not have DPS checks like enrage timers. Having strict enrage timers without meters strikes me as unfair to the DPS players.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Healing and Default UIs

Coop pointed out in the last post that one of the troubles with healing in SWTOR is the UI. But it's not just a SWTOR problem. Almost every MMO I've played has featured a DPS-centric default UI.

Which is rather odd if you consider the fact that healers are the one role which interacts with the UI the most. One would think that the default UI should be optimized for healing. A healing-centric UI would still be functional for the DPS and tanks.

Here are three elements that a good healing UI needs:

1. All the friendly health bars in one place.

Almost all health bars put your own health bar in a different location than the other friendly players. SWTOR puts the companion health bar in a completely different place too. This is the first thing which is fixed by every single healing mod. All relevant health bars are collected together in one compact location.

2. Minimize target-switching.

I would love to see a default UI implement mouse-over casting for friendly spells out of the box. It makes healing so much easier and cleaner.

I also rather liked having Warhammer Online's use of one friendly target and one hostile target, that could be switched independently. You can kind of work around this with focus targets, but it's a lot easier to keep an eye on enemies with true dual-targets.

3. Emphasize relevant debuffs and buffs.

This is the hardest element to get correct for a default UI. But simply displaying all buffs and debuffs on a target is just not good enough. A healer needs to know when important debuffs are on the target, especially for dispelling. As for buffs, in general you only need to know when your short term buffs like HoTs and shields have worn off a friendly target.

Conclusion

I strongly recommend that any new MMO design the default UI with healers in mind. In fact, I'd go so far as to insist that the default UI designer be a full-time healer. Healers are the class which will interact with the UI the most, and thus the ones who suffer the most with a badly-designed UI.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[SWTOR] Leveling as a Healer

Among other alts in The Old Republic, I'm leveling a healer Commando. My original plan was to run instances with this character, but I got bored of waiting in the fleet and went back to questing.

Leveling as a healer in SWTOR is interesting. I generally run with a DPS companion (Aric Jorgan at the moment). For normal pulls, I generally use the regular DPS abilities of the base class. But for strong and elite enemies, I do actually act as a healer. I let Aric kill the mob, and I keep him healed, with the occasional zero-dps attack if incoming damage is light enough.

I actually like it. Normally leveling as a healer means that you level as a very weak DPS and don't use your heals regularly. You only use them if you get into groups.

But healing a companion is very much like healing a regular player, and you get to practice your regular healing rotation.

It's probably slower than leveling as DPS, but it is nice to play solo as a healer, and still act like a healer. I do think that companions make life a lot easier for tanks and healers, allowing them to level with their preferred playstyle and get lots of practice with the correct abilities. It's a lot better than learning how to tank or heal on the fly in an instance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Experiments

As long-time readers know, I am a proponent of experiments, of trying new ideas out and seeing what problems result, rather than trying to predict everything that will happen in advance. The best knowledge comes from previous experiments. We know unlimited PvP is not popular, because of the Felucca/Trammel split in Ultima Online.

There are lots of experiments I would like to see MMO companies try, even if most of us think they would end badly. Of course, it's hard for an MMO to wildly experiment when the cost of a failed experiment is the loss of many subscribers. I'm sure Blizzard has regrets about some of the experiments they carried out in Cataclysm.

One experiment I would like to see is the release of new content without increasing item level. A new raid tier is released, with new loot, new item sets, but the exact same item level as the previous tier.

Now, I think that we're all in agreement that this would go over like a lead balloon. But none of us are absolutely sure. It's possible that the audience would be fine with it, maybe for a little bit.

The thing is that if the audience is okay with new content at the same item level, that would help enormously with some problems in endgame. You wouldn't have this constant ramp up of power levels. You could introduce more tiers, or space out content in a cleaner fashion, without impacting the power level. You wouldn't need as many catch-up mechanisms.

Admittedly, it's unlikely that keeping the item level the same would be popular. But we don't know for certain.

Another experiment I'd like to see is not having raid content available on release. Open it up three months afterwards, and make sure that everyone knows this is the plan. I think there is a much greater pressure to blow through leveling content among veteran MMO players. Perhaps giving those players time to digest the leveling experience, to stop and smell the roses, would be beneficial in the long run.

What experiments would you like to see an MMO try?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Inconvenience

Distance is measured in time, not space.

That's not literally true, of course. But it does seem to map to how we think of distance. I live half an hour from work. The grocery store is a 5 minute walk away. The big city is four hours away.

So when you apply this to virtual worlds, geography needs to take into account travel time. Uldum is right next to Stormwind, despite being on another continent. This is because the portal is there. The portal is a convenience, but it also makes the world seem less like a world. Without the portal, the game would be more inconvenient.

I was reading the debates between theme parks and sandboxes, and it occurred to me that inconvenience is a very important factor in making the virtual world behave like the real world.

Take the entire concept of trade, for example. At one level, you buy items where they are cheap, transport them to where they are expensive, and sell them for a profit. But this entire transaction works because of inconveniences. Resources are distributed unevenly. The markets in the two different areas are not connected. There is a limit to how much weight one can carry. The transit takes time. The transit might be dangerous.

There are a lot of elements in a modern MMO that would need to be stripped away to model this type of trade. No common auction house, weight restrictions, and a long travel time to get from area to area.

The theme park MMOs are all moving towards smoothing away as many inconveniences as they can. And the playerbase demands it. Look at the outcry when portals were removed from Dalaran.

And yet, for sandboxes to truly work, I think they won't work despite inconveniences, they work because of those inconveniences.

But inconvenience is, well, inconvenient. Maybe sandboxes can never work, because the required inconvenience to truly simulate a virtual world will just drive players away.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cataclysm, In Review

I find Cataclysm is a hard expansion to really pin down. The thing is that there were no "unambiguous wins" this expansion. It seemed like every element was "one step forward, one step back".

Compare that to Wrath of the Lich King. Lich King had, in my mind, at least two moments of awesome: the Wrathgate ("Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven? Behold, now, the terrible vengeance of the Forsaken!" - best speech since original Ragnaros); and Ulduar. Maybe the Lich King fight counts as a third moment, I'm not sure about that. Cataclysm, in contrast, didn't really have anything to match those highs.

The Good:

  • Choosing specializations at level 10 - I thought this worked remarkably well. It made choosing your path a lot cleaner and simpler.
  • Class balance in general - I really liked class balance this expansion. While there were a few issues at the very high end, for the most part almost all specializations were balanced against each other.
  • The new healing model - Maybe it's because Holy paladins were one-button spam for so long, but I greatly enjoyed healing this expansion. Using many different spells, watching your mana, triage. The basic process of healing was interesting again. It did break down a bit near the end, admittedly.
  • Twilight Highlands - Dwarven wedding! The best zone of the expansion.
  • Mylune - You know you love her.
  • Looking For Raid - excellent job on making a transient version of raiding.
The Mushy Middle:
  • 10-man raiding - Pro: 10-man raiding became a first-class activity. Con: 25-man raiding was gutted.
  • Guild levels - Pros: was fun to level up your guild. Cons: loss of perks made guilds too sticky, I thought. Also, the setup of cauldrons and feasts was terribly annoying, and done just to preserve the perk.
  • T11 and Firelands - Pro: solid, interesting fights. Con: very static difficulty, gave rise to "dancing" claims, also possibly too difficult at the start
  • Firelands dailies - Pro: Interesting quests, liked the storyline. Con: because of phasing worries, actual process was excessively grindy. Unlocking areas every single day was annoying. Blizz should have just had it unlock once and not worry about the phasing.
  • Heroics - Pro: difficult and challenging. Con: difficult and challenging. To be honest, I still think these could have worked if the endgame had been structured differently. Take a look at how TBC heroics were placed in the attunements for raids
  • Hyjal - Pro: good quests, interesting storyline. Con: excessively linear.
  • Deepholm - Decent zone, nothing too interesting though.
  • Uldum - Pro: quests with the cat people: Con: quests with Harrison Jones
  • Old World Revamp - Pro: Lots of interesting new quests. Con: Loss of the old stories and common experiences. Many veterans felt it was too easy.
  • Dragon Soul - I don't think I can look at this raid objectively. My feelings are coloured by the dissolution of my guild.
  • Archaeology - Pro: neat items and very flavorful. Con: Very grindy. Fly a lot, survey, survey, survey, fly to the next area.
The Bad:
  • Vash'jir - Underwater sucked. Was way too long and linear. Trapped a quartermaster midway through.
  • Only 5 levels - Questing was too short, endgame came too fast. I much preferred the 10 levels of the previous expansion.
  • Deathwing - Pretty boring villain. No style. Didn't appear often enough to feel like a true Big Bad. It felt like Blizzard thought they overexposed Arthas, and tried to pull back with Deathwing. But the problem wasn't that Arthas appeared too much, it was that Arthas always lost, and so started to come off as a paper tiger.

So that's what I thought of Cataclysm. The class mechanic changes were good. But all the content (except for Twilight Highlands) was all in that middle zone of quality. No moments of awesome.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

[SWTOR] Improving Companion Gameplay

Companions are a fun and interesting part of The Old Republic, especially when leveling. For the most part, the system Bioware has in place works pretty well. Here are some suggestions or tweaks that I think would improve companion gameplay.

1. If a quest rewards companion gear, give the gear for all the companions as a reward.

Right now, if a quest rewards companion gear, you have to pick one piece for one companion. This method strongly encourages the player to only gear up the current companion, while the other companions lag behind. As well, if your current companion doesn't need the gear, it's a bit of a hassle to figure out which companion needs the gear the most.

There's also some issues when you need a specific companion at certain times, and not keeping their gear up to date can make fights harder than they should be.

On the other hand, if you simply got gear for all your companions at the same time, it would make life a lot simpler. All your companions get upgrades, keeping their gear up to date, at least with green items. If a specific companion has better gear, you can just sell that companion's piece for a few credits. There's no, "oh, I made a mistake, I should have gotten Kaliyo's helmet instead of Vector's".

Plus, you get to see the changing looks for all your companions as you level. I think this would greatly simplify companion gearing while leveling, without really overpowering anything.

2. Rearrange companion ability bars so "stances" show up in the 4-button bar.

Right now, the default companion UI shows four buttons: Attack, Passive, and the first two abilities. The bar can be temporarily expanded to show all abilities, but it overlaps one of your regular bars. For some reason, you cannot rearrange companion abilities on the bar, though you can toggle abilities on or off.

Each companion also has two stances, like a DPS stance or a tank stance. Or single-target versus AoE. A lot of times these stances are on the very right.

It would make life a little easier if the stances were on the left, so they showed up in the small 4-button bar. Then that bar would be: Attack, Passive, Stance 1, Stance 2. This way you could more easily swap companion stances as appropriate.

3. Not use AoE when Crowd Control is active.

Right now, companions are very good with not interrupting crowd control when they use their single-target abilities. But if you enable AoE abilities, odds are that your crowd control will get broken by their AoE within seconds of applying it.

It is a significant hassle to keep expanding the companion ability bar and turn on and off AoE fight by fight. On all my characters, I've gotten into the habit of just turning all the AoE off. It's so much easier to use crowd control abilities when you're confident that the companion won't break them.

A simple rule where the companion simply doesn't use AoE abilities when any enemy is under a crowd control would go a long way towards making companion AoE abilities useful all the time. You could just enable the AoE abilities, and be confident that your crowd control is not going to be broken.

To be clear, I'm not asking that the companion calculate if its AoE will hit a crowd controlled enemy. That is probably excessive. A simple check if anything is controlled or not is enough, regardless of where the enemy is.

4. Integrate companions into the healing/operations UI.

It is extraordinarily annoying to try to heal someone else's companion. Especially in two person groups for the small heroics.

All I would like here is for companions to show up in the operations UI. That UI is the best for healing. Just have the companion health bar show up as if it was another player. All health bars are in one place, and healing companions becomes just like healing other players in the group.

5. Improve conditions when companions start attacking someone.

There are two situations I've encountered where the companion does not start attacking as you would expect. First, is Imperial Agent Sniper. For some reason, most of the main abilities used by the Sniper don't cause the companion to attack. But other abilities do. It would be a lot easier if all Sniper abilities caused the companion to attack.

The second situation is if you are the healer in a group. Your companion only attacks enemies which attack you, or which you attack. That means a lot of the time you have to micro-manage your companion to keep him attacking. Otherwise he might kill one enemy, then stop attacking and just stand there. It's very annoying when you are busy healing, especially as you are trying to fight the UI as described in point 4.

I would suggest that your companion starts attacking when anyone in your group attacks someone or when anyone in your group gets attacked. This would make managing your companion while healing a lot easier, as easy as it is when you are dealing damage or tanking.

Conclusion

For the most part, companions work well and are an enjoyable element of questing. But I think the five improvements above would smooth out a few of the rough edges of companion gameplay.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Legendaries

Legendary weapons are interesting items in WoW. Right now, there are three expectations for a legendary weapon:

  1. They will be rare. Not every character who can use a legendary will get one.
  2. They will be very powerful. A legendary is not expected to be replaced until the next expansion, while most weapons are expected to be replaced in the next tier.
  3. They will have a significant quest or lore attached to them.
In the past, these three elements have caused issues with each other. Rare and very powerful means that guilds who can recruit multiple legendaries have a significant advantage. Conversely, guilds who lose their legendary feel resentful and unhappy. There is also significant conflict over who gets the legendary first, because the people later in line may not get one at all.

Legendaries being Best-In-Slot for an entire expansion also means that they can only show up in the last or second last tier.  As well, classes which don't receive legendaries do feel slighted.

The quest attached causes three problems. First, only a small fraction of players will see the quest. Not all rogues will see the daggers quest line. It's restricted to raiding rogues who get the legendary. That seems like a very large set of restrictions.

The second problem is that the questline is a very long grind, because that is how Blizzard limits the supply of legendaries. I suppose it's better than the random chance method that previous legendaries used.

The third problem is that classes and specs which are not in line to get a legendary will not get an epic quest.

I like the quests and lore attached to these weapons. But I really wonder if the first two points are worthwhile. On balance I think those two points have caused more trouble than they are worth.

Can we have weapons with quests and lore without having them be very rare and very powerful?

I think we can. There is precedent here: [Benediction] and [Rhok'delar]. Both those weapons are fondly remembered by their respective classes because of the quest chains attached to them. I'd wager than the vast majority of characters who got those weapons back in the day still have them banked. 

Both those weapons were good weapons, best for that tier. But they were still replaced in the next tier. If all your priests had Benediction, it didn't unbalance the raid. They weren't super rare, but were still worthwhile to get.

I think [Benediction] and [Rhok'delar] are the better model for quest and lore-driven loot. Solid, well-loved weapons, with interesting questlines, but without the unbalancing effects of rarity and power that current Legendaries have.

It would be easier for Blizzard to add more of these, even for more obscure classes and specs. For example, [Fandral's Flamescythe] might have been a very nice questline weapon, even if it isn't as powerful as a Legendary.

In my view, legendary weapons cause more trouble than they are worth. It seems to me that we can get almost as much mileage out good epic-level quest-driven weapons modeled after [Benediction], without the drama and unbalancing effects of legendaries.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Player or Character as Central Entity

In WoW and most other MMOs, the character is the central entity in the design around which everything revolves. But players have multiple characters. And there are a lot of game play elements which are fun the first time around, but are not so much fun the second time around.

The quintessential example here is reputation grinds. Working on rep is reasonably interesting on your first character. But it's excessive on your second character, especially if the reputation is necessary for endgame. Right now, WoW gets around this limitation by making important items Bind-on-Account, which allows you to transfer them to characters who don't have the necessary rep yet.

But, what if reputation was tied to the player account, not the character? Once you're exalted with the Argent Dawn, you're exalted on all your characters. You could have the long reputation grinds and chains once again, because a player only needs to do them once.

There are a lot of other elements which could be moved from the character to the player. Reputation, AchievementsPet collections, and Mount collections are the straight-forward ones. But what about some less obvious elements?

Friends - We're already moving towards this with Real Id and Battletags. I predict that eventually the Friends Lists will exist at the account level, and consist of other accounts, rather than characters. Same thing with the Ignore List.

Gold - Gold could work at the player level. All your characters would have access to, and contribute to, a central gold stockpile.

Currencies - To extend gold, why not all currencies, including Valor and Honor points?

Inventory - This might sound a little odd, but does each character need a unique inventory? Could the same set of bags be used for all characters. There would be issues here, of course, but how necessarily unique are inventories?

Bank - A bank might work better at the player level, shared between all characters. Certainly would be easier than using the mail system all the time.

Guilds - There are probably a lot of objections to having players belonging to a guild, rather than individual characters. But there are also a lot of requests for being able to belong to multiple guilds at the same time. If we did have a multi-guild system, it certainly would be easier to have the account belong to the different guilds, rather than individual characters.

Attunements - I liked long attunement chains, especially for the first tier of content. But again, once you've unlocked something, it should be unlocked for all your characters.

PvP Matchmaker Ratings - Really, shouldn't a player's rating be consistent across all her characters? As far as I see, having ratings be character-based just allows people to game the system.

Areas like Molten Front - Similar to attunements, areas like the Molten Front would be better if you only needed to unlock it once. You could even make the process longer and more intricate, confident that each player only needs to do it once.

Lockouts - Possibly the most controversial element I can think of. But consider the idea of having 2 lockouts per account per week. You could do two raids on the same character, or raid with two different characters. There are also some shenanigans with alts at the very high end which this might cut down on.

When we look at the original design of most modern MMOs, almost all gameplay elements are unique to each character that is created. But I think that perhaps a better design might see the player as the central element, with all her characters sharing many elements.