I considered writing a post on City of Heroes and their F2P conversion given my history with the game, but to be honest there isn't much to say. I like how they are going to do it because it is similar to LOTRO's conversion, which was successful. It'll most likely work out for them, and I'll most likely play it.
On the forefront of my mind, however, is a conversation I recently had with a friend on the differences between Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 and 4.0. For those out of the loop, 4.0 has been commented on as being more like an MMORPG: It has defined healer, tank and DPs classes and players gain powers as they level up. Anyway, a comment of my friend's has been pinging around in my head lately since I've been reading Nils' articles on Death Penalties, specifically the parts where he talks about simulations. Anyway, my friend's comment was thus:
"The developers of 3.5 even specifically said they put choices into the game during character creation that were bad choices. They rewarded the people who studied up and figured out how to min/max, but newbies would pick something cool and end up being gimped. It's stupid."
In a level based system, where changing your character's build is not in the rules, making a bad choice is going to screw up your optimization. Of course, this makes the game more like a simulation. You live with the bad choices you make, because that's realistic. I can no more change my starting stats anymore than my friend's father can change that he got a degree in maintaining room-size computers the year before PC's came out. We both screwed up and have to live with that.
But does bad choices make for a fun experience? More importantly, do harsh penalties for those choices contribute to a fun experience? EVE Online possibly has the harshest death penalty of most online games that I know: your ship gets blown up and it's gone along with everything you put into it. It makes players more careful, makes them think more before launching themselves at a target. Whereas every WoW player has no qualms creating a pile of skeletons launching their raid groups at Ragnaros.
Each has a way of covering up for mistakes in character building or choices in career. EVE Online only really penalizes you in time spent researching, and you don't lose the skills you already have. WoW lets you respec and have two specs.
There must always be a compromise between the game and the players then. We all know permadeath is a bad idea in MMO's, for example. Despite our possible desires to live in a fantasy/sci-fi/My Little Pony world, we want to do so without the problems that comes with too much reality. So yes, my friend is correct in saying it is stupid for there to be purposefully bad choices in a game. While much like a simulation, it just isn't fun. And that's why I believe that a great simulation is a pretty shitty game. The more you try to make it close to reality, the less people are going to want to play it. You need to be able to catch your players when they fall. Even EVE does it, for all its fame as a merciless game.