Okay, so my last post had some really out-there theory. This post is going to be a bit closer to reality. Virtual reality, that is.
This and this and this are all from the same site, which is a kind of 'theory lite' site. However, they do highlight an issue I've looked into, and come up with a theory on.
I don't know if the people reading this are familiar with my 'Spiderspace' approach, so I'll cover it quickly, here.
The biggest problem with allowing players to affect the game world is that, of course, they'll affect it in such away to acheive power over other players in the game world. Suddenly, the players can't really affect the game world at all - they are regularly subdued, fleeced, or restrained by those in power.
The problem is population density. If people CAN reach you to interact with you, they WILL reach you to interact with you. And if there are people interacting with you, many of them will be intent on killing you or stealing from you.
To limit this problem, most PWGs limit player interaction such that it's essentially entirely cooperative. While not a BAD idea, that's sort of like putting a band-aid over a bullet wound.
My theoretical approach - I haven't tried this, since I haven't made a game with more than 30 simultaneous players EVER - is simply to give players as much space of their own as they want. This sounds daft - it sounds very hard on the servers, for example - but I'm (A) not talking about computationally expensive space and (B) they can have as much space as they want, except that they can only 'hold' so much space at a time. Players are encouraged to let other players into their space - or at least export goods - by the market dynamics of the game.
I call this approach 'Spiderspace', because when imagined, it looks a little like a spreading web, a lattice of partially and obliquely connected star systems which players wander through. It would quickly form central 'hubs' surrounded by almost invisible ropey 'trails' of stars which are largely disconnected from the hubs by players who want to keep those systems 'safe' from other players.
The methods involved mean that, depending on what I set the metaphysics to, I can make it so that the average player would never encounter more than maybe five or six other players in any given day, unless he actively goes hunting for them. Instead of the vast array of parties running all over, you would have a feeling of real space, and real ownership.
Teamwork then becomes the key, and the power of teamwork with this approach is that it allows you to control more space. If each player has five characters (or five 'control points', or whatever), then the player can only hold, say, four star systems and one fleet. So, obviously, if you want to expand, you'll need to team up with other players to control other fleets. This has some 'ghost account' problems, but nothing game-crippling, I think - especially if you're charging money per account.
I have a bunch of other factors involved, but at its core, the strength of the idea lies in allowing any given player to work on his own empire without being constantly knocked down by those in the lead - while SIMULTANEOUSLY allowing him to interact with the 'public' players for trading and teamwork purposes.
I think it has a lot of promise.