I was thinking over how I currently play MMOs, and how I used to play MMOs. I noticed a small and unusual pattern.
Back in Vanilla, I used to PvP. Not a whole lot, and not with any great degree of skill. But I did battlegrounds and eventually got Knight-Captain rank in the old PvP system . Then in later expansions, Blizzard expanded on PvP, adding ratings, PvP gear, arena teams, etc. PvP used to be pretty shallow, and Blizzard made it deeper. I tried the new system for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop playing PvP.
Before Mists, I used to collect minipets. Again, not hardcore, but I liked trying to get minipets and seeing my collection expand. Then Blizzard added Pet Battles, a deep system that greatly expanded gameplay around minipets. I tried Pet Battles for a little bit, but ultimately my response was to stop bothering with minipets.
In WoW, I used to craft a bit. I got my professions to max, and liked collecting recipes. FFXIV has a much deeper and more complex crafting system. I tried the FFXIV crafting system for a little bit, but ultimately my response is not to touch crafting at all.
I'm not sure if there are other examples (perhaps Challenge Mode dungeons, or maybe Galactic Starfighter in SWTOR). But in each case, the developers added depth to the subsystem, made it a more interesting and deeper experience. But my response to that increased depth was to stop bothering with that subsystem, even if I enjoyed it before.
Paradoxically, as more developer effort was put into all these different facets of the game, the "area" of the game that I participated in grew smaller and smaller.
I would say that adding depth also increased the barrier to participation at a decent level for these subsystems. My focus was on raiding and PvE, and I was perfectly happy to play with these other shallow subsytems. To PvP a little bit, to collect a few minipets, to craft a little bit. In the current game, all I do is the raiding and PvE, and that is a lesser experience than it was before.
Of course, the flip side is that for people who want to focus on PvP, or on Pet Battles, or on crafting, the new deep subsystems are a lot more fun for them.
Is it better for an MMO to have several equally deep facets, or is it better to have one or two deep facets and several shallow ones?
1. I maintain that I stopped at Knight-Captain because it was clearly the best named rank for paladins.