My turn! Some of these may have been discussed already, but here goes:
1) Players can hire NPC guards - they follow you around and attack anything hostile to you for X amount of time, then head back to town. You probably should follow them back.
2) Players can of course hire other Players
3) Primarily skill based with possibly a little level based thrown in - even a level 1 should have a chance, however remote of being able to get off a lucky shot against a long time/hardcore player. Think P&P RPGs like Rolemaster with their detailed critical strike tables.
4) Resurrection options! I haven't seen anyone discuss this. Simplest way would be to have an Alt that you run out to your corpse with and haul back to town/outpost then rez. Other options include automating the process via npcs. Say you hire a few mercs to accompany you mining. You run into trouble, die, and the mercs are programmed (paid extra?) to haul your corpse back to town and to a healer. Even more options include coming back as undead and starting over as one. There could be a whole "faction" of undead players who band together for example. I could even conceive of hiring npcs to go and LOOK for your corpse while you're on an alt. Hire some, select the general area, then off they go with an undetermined chance of success.
What could also work is if you reduce character progress (as was already mentioned) but instead base the game more on a team progress.
What I am imagining is a Gothic-like game with different fractions etc. and if you die your fraction can just reequip you. What also would be interesting if you could learn from other players. That is, if a player survived long enough to get to a certain level in a skill, like fighting with a one handed sword, he can teach other players up to a certain level. This would increase the benefit of playing in a group. Of course this should cost your fraction some resources.
For example you could implement skills as unlimited numbers and you get better at fighting by fighting, thus forcing players to go out and fight monsters/other players to get a higher level. But if you are at a high level you are a potential target for other fractions etc.
I think it would also be very interesting if it is possible to win the game. That is, there are one or several goals for each fraction, and the first to hit one of them wins. If you have a gothic-like game with full loot, the total amount of resources in the game always gets bigger, i.e., the fractions always get stronger. The final goal could also be a PvE goal.
To still make playing alone (as a wolf) attractive you should publish some statistics on players after each season. That is, there should be several awards, like highest number of kills (with one character of course) of players from different fractions, or some other "outlaw" awards.
The whole thing would probably also work better for a smaller scale mmo with maybe 100-200 players on one server. So that it is possible to know important people in the world.
Some more random thoughts:
So each fraction has some npc's in a guarded town or something like that. And if you wear an armor of another fraction you get aggressed on. (stealing more ideas from gothic So a goal of another fraction could also be to kill important npc's (like a smith or whatever) in an enemy town. That is, sneak in with a neutral weaker armor on a (probably) suicide mission. Of course you lose all the equipment of the strike team to the enemy team. And you lose the characters, which also probably are pretty advanced to be able to kill the npc.
Actually you as described above the target could also be a player. What follows is, that you cannot log out your character. If you log out the KI controls your character and you wander around town etc. You could still be able to teach other players, i.e., there is no real distinction between players and npc's.
Edited by Inferiarum, 02 December 2012 - 07:07 AM.