I wrote a MMO back in 1990-93 (although it stood for Modestly Multiplayer Online back then), and I play one today, so I feel I have some level of authority on the subject, even if it is dated.
The fundamental problems with most, if not all MMOs are:
1. that there is an unlimited supply of experience and treasure.
2. that there is no price adjustment as a reflection of demand.
Problem #1 is structural – you want everyone to have fun, so you don’t create artificial limits on how often one can acquire treasure, other than the universal constraint of time (i.e. it takes a certain measurable amount of time to accomplish anything).
Problem #2 is simply poor strategic thinking.
And it is the combination of these two issues that make MMOs subject to hyperinflation and min/max quests/treasure runs. You can’t really solve the first problem without annoying the ever-living crap out of your users (you mean I have to wait in a queue to get my chance to earn XP?).
But there is a straightforward fix to problem #2. Vary the reward for a given quest based on its popularity. Generally, there are two kinds of rewards:
- Advancement (Experience)
- Treasure (or Equipment)
Historically, most MMOs offer the concept of quests, and a quest has an Experience reward and/or a Treasure reward. It takes a certain amount of time X to complete a quest, and that is your only constraint. User-generated content is just the same – but users, being devious, make their content faster (i.e. reduce X) for a given amount of reward.
The key is to change the amount of reward, based on how often the quest is run – quests that are run often should have dynamically reduced Experience and Treasure rewards. Yes, it’s a bit complicated, but it is stable in the long term. Your “exploitative” quests are so popular that the XP and treasure rewards drop precipitously, and, voila, it’s no longer a popular quest.
You can also work this in reverse – quests are seldom (if ever) run can be dynamically increased in the quality of XP and treasure, until they become more popular. Balance is achieved, and the world is in harmony. Regardless of how easy or hard your quests are relative to each other, the players will themselves cause the game to balance, based on their own criteria.
It will almost be like an invisible hand, balancing your game on your behalf.