Yes, I copied Ysharros's recent post title for this one. Wiqd has a post up saying the same sort of thing - maybe if we say it enough times all together, something magical will happen!
Basically, these good people have been saying that if we have fewer skills to pick from in an MMORPG, it will lower the learning curve necessary to get into the game. If the skills are all quite different in functionality, depth in gameplay would not need to be sacrificed. I want to give some numbers to illustrate just how much this is true.
First some definitions are in order. Kyoryu has a great post up about "complexity" vs "depth" in game design - to sum up he says that:
complexity is the number of factors the player must consider at any moment
depth is the number of choices a player can make at any moment
I'm going to extend that definition of depth, and say that depth is related to the number of comparisons of choices the player must make, to determine the best choice. For example, if you can pick one of "A", "B" or "C", you have to know how A stacks up against B and C, and also how B stacks up against C (let's assume the order isn't important). You could say that this action has a depth = 3 according to my definition, since there are 3 comparisons to make. It has a complexity = 3, since there are 3 things you have to know (the functions of A, B and C).
As the number of options rises, so too do the number of comparisons, in quite non-linear fashion. Here's a quick table to illustrate the point: the left number is the number of choices, and the right the number of comparisons when you must choose one choice each time:
So take the typical WoW skill-bar with, say, 20 different things to do on it. Seems like a lot of depth right? Sure, 190 comparisons to make with that super-computer brain of yours seems like a lot of work! Of course in reality nobody really makes all those comparisons... but it still serves as a useful number to measure how deep whatever thought processes they DO make need to be.
Now compare those numbers with the following. Instead of picking one skill each time, you're able to pick one skill, OR two skills. So in a choice between "A", "B" and "C", you need to compare A with B and C, and compare B with C, as previously. However, you also need to compare AB with A, B and C alone, and you need to compare AC with A, B and C. You also need to compare BC with A, B and C. Finally, you have to compare AB with AC and BC. Gee that was hard work wasn't it! All up that's a total of 15 comparisons to make, compared to only 3 if just one skill had to be chosen.
And our complexity count, the number of things about the game that we need to know, has increased by..... zero. We still need only know what A, B and C do to make all of those comparisons.
Here's this relationship added on to the above table:
n....pick one....pick one OR two
That racked up quickly, didn't it! In fact, we can see that to rival the same depth inherent in a 21-skill MMORPG bar, we need only 10 skills. In a more simplified world where we only have to match the depth of, say, 15 skills in the "pick one" scenario, we would need only 5 skills to accomplish this! Even the 4 skill case offers as much depth as ye olde 10 skill case, and such forth. Suddenly my puny 8-skill Guild Wars skill bar is looking mighty over-crowded!
One problem that could be nay-sayed against such a system is that it requires players to have more manual dexterity, since they have to push two buttons at a time. This is easy to get around though: for instance, allow the buttons to be pressed in any order, and at any time - when the second button is pressed, simply add it's function to the function of the first button. Since we're going for only two actions at a time, a third button press could remove the oldest one from the list of current actions. Compare this to a combo system in any fighting game and it seems simple enough that my aged Grandmother with one hand could manage it.
As the others linked to above pointed out, another key to ensuring that combat still entails lots of options that feel radically different from each other, is to ensure that each of these 'reduced' skills offers quite different functionality. With a system like that the above numbers illustrate that there are massive reductions in complexity to be made, which would open such a game up a lot for new players, while still not making the combat any less deep for experts. Win-win, no?