its very hard to make a skill tree that allows players to choose due to balance issue.
Ya know, this is a theory I would love to be able to test on a large scale. Ultimately games are about fun, and competitive environments are fun because players want to compete, and they want to be able to compete in a fair way in which player skill is as close to being the only determining factor in the outcome as is possible. Obviously, balance is important but I'm not sure I agree that simplifying a system is the only way to achieve good balance.
I theorize that you could preserve the "fun-factor" of a competitive game while going the other way with it. Give players tons of options that they can fiddle around and tinker with to their hearts content. Obviously, there would be balance issues, probably more balance issues than doing it the other way around, however, I believe that what destroys the fun factor is when a player feels like there are no further options at his/her disposal. I believe you can make a game that is still a whole lot of fun if the player never runs out of different tactics, skill builds, etc. that he/she could try. Call it the Magic: The Gathering approach. I used to play a whole lot of Magic, and I don't think I ever left a match thinking that I could never beat the deck I was playing against. If I lost, even if I lost badly, I would go back to the drawing board, I'd break out my boxes and boxes of cards and build a new deck.
Now, maybe I'm just wrong, maybe it wouldn't work because too many people who play MMOs don't want to sit there for hours messing around with skills like I adore doing, but I would love to be able to take over WoW or some other game with a huge player base, change the whole system around and observe the results. The whole theory might crash and burn, but I think it would at least be interesting to watch, and I can't think of any big name MMO that's tried to do it this way.
I agree that simplifying the system isn't a solution. I've seen how GW2 tried to simplify the system to be "fair" which afterall , yes, options are balanced, but that's cuz they make too little differences. Nor do you want to simplify things in a way its only a game of rock-paper-scissors, i.e. if i'm water mage and you're fire mage, and the system is water > fire > earth > water, then oh! I win this match by default. Some system balance things to this extent.
What I propose is a complex system that actually balance out the varieties, leaves a fair amount to default system factor, but still leaves room for personal skills to compensate, and perhaps little bit of luck factor. There is no absolute rule of what the perfect ratio is, so its an open question to every designer. AND most big titles failed to do so is because they underestimate the importance of the issue, and refuse to invest resource into re-designing / tweaking / patching the skill trees. It is a lot of effort indeed, and takes time to test the results. Far as I know, board games like Dungeon & Dragons with their long history of development usually have better systems than MMORPGs. MMOs are intensive business, and their business model stop the investment into further development once the revenue hits marginal return, so its only reasonable that the system's maturity lose to D&D, cuz those board games have loyal players devoting years of communal effort to design rules in the best interest of all devoted players.
Unfortunately I personally haven't played any of those games before, I've only heard about them. On the MMO's side, since I occasionally come across insiders in the industry, I have heard facts about the business management, I bet most people here know the story.
A bit more rumors, I have heard that Torchlight 2 has their class system quite balanced, so far no major negative feedback. I'm a long term Team Fortress 2 player, and me and my friends all find Valve nailed a well balanced class system, even with all the new weapons added in. I guess FPS has the advantage because it is heavily reflex and accuracy skill-based.
Edited by Rits, 05 March 2013 - 02:50 PM.