Gamers play MMOs for different reasons, and Wildstar codifies those established personalities.
Richard Bartle is widely recognized as developing the first MUD or Multi User Dungeon, the text precursor to our 3D MMOs. In 1996, he wrote a paper describing the main four types of player personalities he discovered while running MUD1 since 1978. The four types are achievers, explorers, socializers and killers, but most players don't swing just towards one type of fulfillment in MMOs but are rather an amalgam types like 60% soldier and 45% explorer, etc. In the upcoming MMO WildStar, the development team led by Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney took those types and created the Path system in which a player levels up scientist, explorer, settler or soldier independently from the characters normall level. It's just one of the many ways WildStar has learned from its predecessors to deliver a unique MMO experience when it comes out later in 2013.
Actions that fulfill the goals of your path give you Path points. Explorers get bonuses for finding hard to reach areas, or spelunking in hidden caves. Figuring out the story of the world of Nexus through experimentation and collection of evidence is the goal of the Scientist. Soldiers get messages to defend areas on the map, and big bosses appear to drop more powerful implements of destruction. If you're a Settler, you are concerned with dropping buildings that help out your fellow player like a location for a flight path. Gaffney hopes rewarding the player for the kind of gameplay he or she really enjoys will increase their investment in the game and keep then engaged.
Of course, there's some kinks that might need to be ironed out, but Gaffney's team has come up with some elegant solutions. For one, I could see wanting to devote time to leveling up my chosen Path and quickly get outclassed as my character's normal XP level falls behind. Gaffney said they may tie the two pools of XP together to prevent that from happening. Also, it feels odd to force a player to make the decision of what path to follow when creating a character. Gaffney thinks most players already identify with one of Bartle's types so the choice shouldn't be too difficult, but I wonder if some people will want to switch once they realize exploring isn't their thing.
One potential problem already has a neat solution. I asked about the Settler path, and it's potential to be abused if too many players drop 55 flight paths in one zone, for example. Gaffney explained that in some ways the system rewards many Settlers, um, settling in one zone to create a hub or town. One of the higher level rewards from the town building is speed boosting items like cool temporary mounts, and this has the effect of spreading out the population so there aren't thousands of players all spawning in one zone. I have no idea if speed-boosting will end up helping such clumping when WildStar goes on live servers, but I was thankful that Gaffney had at least considered the potential drawbacks to this system.