I'm not counting on FFXIV:ARR to have these kinds of elements in place; I don't think today's average gamer could have fun with that kind of stuff.
Oh, I don't agree with that at all. Jesse Schell actually gave a good talk pretty recently about how important it was for players to find meaning in their games--to experience real accomplishment and connection. (Unfortunately all most people took from it was a few seconds where he noted that demos ended up causing games to be less successful.)
Overcoming difficult challenges is an important quality of a successful game. It's when the players perceive the challenge as unfair or unreasonable that they become frustrated. This would be a problem in games like FFXI because FFXI wasn't and didn't try to be fair--for example, certain classes had a much tougher time overcoming the content than others. Most of the players who stuck around in XI were those who were able to accept that the game was horrendously imbalanced and that there were very few efforts to change that.
...and I think overall the main reason why we
do stick around (in this case) is because of the draw/name recognition + time invested. The acceptance of that difficult content, has become a weird bit of charm. In large part to our social connections and bonds during those times as well. I think we all leveled subjobs we hated for one reason or another.
I essence FFXI stopped being "fun" a long time ago; I would log on for nostalgic reasons or to try some new content but I still stuck around
for 5-6 years off and on. FFXIV is new, ARR is newer and (obviously) has gone to extreme lengths this time around to exaggerate the lore to comical (although I'm enjoying it) proportions by throwing in everything Final Fantasy related under the sun.
If FFXI wasn't related to Final Fantasy I would have never
played it. FF to me isn't just all mog and chocobo and magitek (although that's cool too), but rather generally the art direction, music and story I loved from past SE games.
Initially 1.0 fell a bit flat in that department too, BUT from what I've seen from a lot of the recent demos is that SE/Yoshi-P/the rest of the dev team, seemed to have hit on a more ephemeral/musical/artistic point that, pardon the pun, has struck a chord in a way that stirred an interest and makes me want to play it again; that was absent from 1.0. Simply put, mechanics aside, the "feeling" of Final Fantasy is more alive and present here in ARR and I think this plays a large part, passively/implicitly to add to depth as well.
I played The Walking Dead, which was on a lot of a lot of best of lists, and the gameplay, like most adventure games was basically point and click. But the story was pretty good. The pacing, the illusion of choice all really work well together. But I am also into the show as well, so I thought it was very well done; because it was relatable to a certain universe. I was immersed, even though I was playing as someone else, and didn't really have any control over the outcome. All I had was an affinity to the world and a good story. The game was not too difficult, it was short and well I wouldn't really want to play it again. Making the game into a "Resident Evil" type of game, might have made it better in some ways, but would have lost some of the cinematic accents.
Point being, story and art direction can play a huge role making a game immersive, with little to no mechanics.
ARR has seemingly
got the artistic part right on this front (when compared to 1.0). But it's an MMO that needs to be sustainable/playable for at least 5-10 years. It's the UI, the mechanics, the difficulty, the economy, the progression, the relationship between player and character/player and community, in addition,
to the artistic side that will really make this game succeed.
I don't know the stats but I can safely assume that most people playing ARR, or even FFXI were/are mostly fans of the series. Unfortunately SE has muddied the waters in the past few years and the fanbase isn't what it was in 2002. There's definitely going to be a large hill to climb regardless if the game is good or not.
So, we get initially hitched/drawn into the game because of our affinity to the series, and then if we like the game enough, or find that the lore/art is acceptable, we find something in the game to latch onto, farming, crafting, leveling, fighting, raids, the social aspect, etc. Each one of these things is a path we can go down.
It was a while ago when Yoshi-P made the "themepark" analogy, but "themepark" worries me. Sure I can ride the ferris wheel, but unless that ferris wheel throws me for a loop, or gives me something in addition to riding it, I'll ride it once and move on. That's exactly what I don't want.
I guess if there's a point in all of these "meta games" and the minutia of MMOs aside, I think quite broadly that I kinda agree with the OP: That a mechanically decent (whatever that means) but artistically solid FF MMO will do (would have done) well. However, with this current climate of MMOs, with the problems of 1.0, with the problems of SE in general, ARR has a very tough road ahead, and that mechanically it really needs inovation, and solid and sound gameplay to have a chance of surviving a good launch, let alone years to come.
I'm going off on tangents again, but I'll just close by saying I'm glad I don't have to worry about making a successful MMO. :)