FFXI didn't do either of these things particularly well, or rather, it didn't do these things purposefully, intentionally, and thoughtfully. It did them well sometimes entirely by accident, and that's why it had a measure of success with many players, and not with others.
I agree with pretty much everything especially for this quoted part.
I don't think SE (quite humorously) really had any idea what they were doing with FFXI, and instead of realizing what worked for them in FFXI and what didn't, they haphazardly carried that same tradition with 1.0. And in one sense it's like trying to analyze an accidentally good poem without an intention. Sure some mechanics (in FFXI) turned out good, but it was either by virtue of the mechanic itself, or how the players interpreted it.
Without getting too far off track another example of not knowing what the heck they were doing: the Ninja's role as tank was IMO supposed to be an optimal puller/
damage dealer, (which again I'm not sure groups were supposed to remain in a static camp, but whatever) but never flurished in that role, because it was broken. Players figured out ways to cancel shadows, chain Utsusemi and up their evasion, (which was worse than THF). They were supposed to throw things cause damage, but weren't really good at that either, but somehow turned out to be one of the most useful classes in the game; despite SE's intentions or lack thereof.
So I guess that brings me back to some sort of more general point of intention and what actually comes to fruition in a MMO... and if that really matters at all.
To circle back around, these sorts of "meta-games" of min/maxing can probably be implemented more within the skill based system instead of being placed on mechanics like gear swapping.
My best moments in FFXI were playing solo, because I liked the challenge and in some cases, before FoV/GoV came out (in the early days) it beat out, waiting around/gambling on a group.
But, you're right in terms of motivation, my absolute best moments when I solo'ed my for things that mattered
. Namely gear, more specifically AF gear. I don't know if they are psychologically separate entities, but AF represented coolness, nostalgia, good stats, and with completion of the set even better stats. Along with it was a story. It sent you on varied locales. And when doing these things solo; in an otherwise group biased game, it even added more motivation/skill level to complete. Add in the sense of community (When I almost died soloing the bomb and a stranger healed me) and I would assume you have a lot of the motivational factors covered; which made the game, at least in that respect, so addicting.
But (again) the skill part (in some ways), was added by me, even though I went in when I was a bit higher level. (I even soloed a lot of the rank missions; when it came to Maat, he was a piece of cake) These things, like leveling THF to try to get keys solo, and not relying on groups says more about me and how I found enjoyment of the game. I never made it to endgame, but I didn't care, because FFXI had an unintentional horizontal depth, that really only catered (now that I think about it) to the masochistic.
ARR, and MMOs need to have that sort of depth to be successful. Without rehashing all of the old arguments, something needs to be done to add longevity that isn't endgame. GW2 kinda did that, it was fun (in a reflex type way) it made you explore, but in addition to a thin endgame once you went through the main areas (and discarded them) that was it. The goal was always to level
regardless of the attempts to do otherwise.
If (to close a long and disjointed post) ARR can't bank on the FF name and WoW-like mechanics (over simplifying, I know) like I have stated in the past even though I think it will be initially popular, there needs to both be innovation and depth (non endgame) to really succeed.