Different players prefer different challenges. That is why single player games have difficulty levels. With MMOs it is not that easy. While you could introduce debuffs that players select at character creation, and give out awesome titles, mounts, pets or achievements once they reach maxlevel, no company seems to be willing to do this yet. Of course, I am going to sue any company which does it now without asking me first. Naturally.
More immersive and arguably better for gameplay are dynamic challenges. Dynamic challenges automatically scale in a natural, immersive way according to the player's skill and mood. If you now think that this sounds too good to be true, think again. Wowlikes always had dynamic challenges. Kring recently commented on an older post
[..] Only the very first few mobs were yellow. There was this field full with red level 2 and 3 defias and you had quests for that place.
- Collect grapes which grew on the field.
- Collect a drop from the defias.
The fun thing was that this field had single mobs and groups of two and groups of three. It was impossible to kill such groups of 2 or 3 at level alone. But you could move around them. And if you pulled them by accident you could run away.
That was fun because after playing for about 10 minutes the game already told me that
- I have to be careful what I pull
- there are linked groups and single mobs
- you can run out of range from a mob
- you might have to move around difficult groups
That was amazing. [..]
This was a typical dynamic challenge, although not perfectly tuned. Perfectly tuned, Kring could easily have beaten one mob, groups of two after careful preparation, and groups of three only after careful preparation, consumables and flawless gameplay. He would have been rewarded for killing groups of two or even three with a little more speed and maybe slightly better drops. And, of course, the satisfaction of having succeeded. In a modern game the company would probably also give out an achievement; but I wouldn't want anything to do with something as unimmersive as this.
Dynamic challenges rely on the player's ability to subconsciously judge for himself what difficulty is right for him. They do not confront the player with a fixed difficulty level to overcome, but rather encourage him to achieve the same goals by accepting higher difficulty levels. Theoretically the company could also add a difficulty slider to each mob. But allowing the player to decide how many mobs to pull is much more immersive and results in more fluid gameplay.
But you don't want to give out too strong incentives. Ideally, the player who pulls one mob at a time never knows that he would be slightly faster if he were able and willing to do the same job at a higher difficulty. Ideally, the new player would consider groups of more than two mobs not meant to be beatable. This way he feels even better the second he tries and succeeds.
Often it is even unnecessary to give tangible rewards for achieving goals in a more challenging way. Very experienced players will automatically try to raise the difficulty level to prevent boredom. During my latest WoW experiment I automatically ended up trying to beat as many mobs simultaneously as I could.
There are other examples of dynamic challenges. For example, most dungeon runs in Wowlikes can be sped up. Players can decide to pull more groups at the same time. It's very similar to the leveling game.
Dynamic challenges can also be used in raiding. For example, loot that is necessary to beat the next tier can be given out slowly over the course of many weeks. The more skilled raid groups, which enjoy more challenging content, will move into the next tier faster with less gear, and thus face more challenging content. At the same time, less skilled raid groups move into the next tier later. They beat the same content as more skilled raid groups do, but they do it at their own pace and at a lower difficulty level, because they transitioned with better gear.
There are more reasons dynamic challenges are superior to static challenges. They are much better at keeping a player's mind busy, because he automatically ends up pondering the question which difficulty level he wants to attempt. In the mentioned example, he wonders if he could beat more than one mob, how to do it and how to circumvent groups of more than one mob. He plans potential exit strategies in case he fails. He learns different mechanics, like what it means that a mob resets. He has a lot more going on in his mind than just executing the slaughter of a mob by pressing 1,2,1,1,3.
Finally, dynamic challenges are more tolerant in the face of imperfect class balance. This tolerace is highly valuable for any MMO.