Several commenters on my post from yesterday suggested that my idea was flawed because players would be forced to choose their playstyle at character creation - as Jacob put it before they "even understood the consequences of the decision". Independently of the topic at hand, this discussion puzzles me; do developers have a responsibility to warn players when a decision that they're about to make has consequences that the players do not understand?
Irreversible Without Re-rolling
Players have a lot of irreversible decisions to make the moment they click the create character button for the first time. Your race and class affect your gameplay. Your choice of server and faction affects your ability to play with your friends. Even your appearence might affect your enjoyment of a class (I just can't take EQ2's Conjuror's entirely seriously when they have beetles and/or worms tanking for them).
WoW and EQ2 now allow you to change all but your class with paid transactions, but that last one is a biggie. Even if class balance were perfect, with no flavors of the month, no chronically underpowered classes, and none of the latter turning into the former, there are still class roles to consider. Being able to tank or heal - realistically healing in most games I've played - makes a huge difference in your ability to get groups.
Somehow, it's okay for the devs to allow new players to pick DPS classes without warning them that groups will be hard to find, tanks without warning them that your typical raiding guild already has the only 1-2 tanks they need, and healers without warning them about all the social abuse they can expect from unhappy customers. By contrast, in the view of some of my commenters, actually disclosing up front that certain classes won't be allowed to group would be forcing players to make choices before they can understand the consequences of their decisions.
What about wasting time?
There are some merits to the definition if irreversible I used above - current MMORPG's tend to encourage attachment to your avatar, so having to re-roll to fix something you chose incorrectly is never fun. Then again, even the most hardcore exp and item loss mechanics out there don't prohibit players from starting over, so it's actually impossible to lose anything more than time in an MMORPG.
From that standpoint, should there be an in-game means of more fully disclosing the time/reward conditions of content? Perhaps items or achievements that are intentionally so rare that most people will not be able to get them should be labeled as such in the name of full disclosure. After all, what is the difference between wasting the player's time by letting them roll up the "wrong" character and having to re-roll later versus wasting the player's time by having them chase something that they've been misled into believing they can attain?
The guys at Penny Arcade once wrote that the actual gameplay in WoW is merely a means of obscuring the loot table. Perhaps that's a bad thing, especially when abused by a company in the hopes of tricking people into extending subscriptions (though this would appear to be a short-sighted long-term plan). Then again, perhaps allowing players to make decisions that they might regret is actually a powerful and useful learning tool. I suppose that's not the direction that games are going - you'll note that I didn't list any IN-GAME decisions in my list of irreversibles, because there really aren't many these days. Even so, I don't know that you can or should protect players from every wrong choice they could make, even - or especially - if they are actual newbies.