Actually, I think the threat of cookie-cutter builds is a lot lower than in most other MMORPGs because of the combination of a more open stat system, the banes and boons, limited respecs, the horizontal progression system and the role that stats play in our game. Besides, some players want cookie-cutter builds while others don't, so if a percentage of them wants to follow some "community approved" build, I don't see a problem with that. We will allow either type to do what they want and still succeed. However, even if we are wrong and our plan results in cookie-cutter builds, how much worse is it in games where stats at creation don't matter much and the majority of players still rush to get the stat-enhanced gear so that their build plus gear is the favored one for joining raid groups?
How easily can players back out of stat selection mistakes or stat builds rendered unusable thanks to mechanics changes over the course of the game?
If we truly render a stat build unusable due to our mistakes, we will give free respecs and other things to players. As per above, I'm considering a single-use, timed respec after character creation.
How will the developers ensure that the use-based stat system will generate desirable immersion rather than repetition or grind, ever the bane of classic sandboxes?
Personally, I think using a sword successfully X times and seeing your ability increase and possibly your strength as well is a lot more immersive than killing X NPCs and getting magical experience points you can use to upgrade your character. Plus, it won't be as simple as just swinging the sword X times = skill up; as you suggest, that would lend itself to a more grindy feel. There will be more to increasing your ability with a sword than that.
Thanks for your time, Mark! And readers, stay tuned for more reveals and interviews from the CSE team over the course of the week.
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!