A Hop, A Skip, And A Jump
Cash shops, the continuously maligned addition that keeps the lights on at MMO HQs around the world, aren’t a reliable revenue generator on their own; they have to offer content that compels a crowd of people who refuse to/cannot pay a monthly subscription to spend money. People can spend just as much money in one day at a cash shop as they would in one month with a subscription, so the idea of forcing people to keep paying in order to reach a developer-and-design-promoted goal (“end game”) could give way to making people want to stay…assuming designers can come up with ways to appeal to people who aren’t just interested in the end game.
Wildstar and Everquest 2 (and others) have housing, and a lot of people like that. Crafting and player interdependence could be another mechanic; most games have stupid crafting (mechanically and philosophically) and when everyone can craft, it’s kind of pointless. Bring back Star Wars: Galaxies level crafting, where players need to play the mechanic as they would any other aspect of the game and where “crafter” is an actual class-level occupation. Those are just two examples that we’ve already experienced, but we could introduce more. EVE Online‘s corporate operators could be full time job (for some, it is), but needs to be less boring. How about Pokemon-level husbandry? Maybe some institutionalized role-playing opportunities, like allowing players to buy limited real estate to open a business in a city (a la Recettear).
These are spaghetti-against-the-wall kind of ideas, but the point is that with a shift of focus from retention-cash-squeeze to compelling-reasons-to-stick-around-and-spend-money, we can shorten the grind and expand the opportunities to offer systems that players of all kinds can find fun.