"It is interesting that you recognize the existence of roles even in old school games."Here's the deal Tal - we recognized the roles the different classes played in the game, even if we didn't label them Tank, DPS, Controller, Healer and the like. The roles changes for the classes as the game and character levels progressed.
Fighters (and their subclasses) were the front line fighters and the main damage bringers for at least the first few levels, before liberal use of fireballs and lightning bolts changed that balance. They had both the hit points and armor class to hang with the big baddies.
Clerics were always the premier healers. Druids made a poor substitute and Paladins served as little more than a bandade in that role. Hold Person as a 2nd level spell made Clerics decent Controllers at 3rd level and beyond. They could also on occasion fill in for a front line fighter when needed
Thieves were rarely the big damage dealers, but their skills with traps and locks kept the party alive in other ways.
Magic-users were weak as shit for the first few levels (but Sleep was always one hell of a game changer). At 5th level, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Hold Person and the like change much of the DPS and control focus to the simple and fragile Magic-User.
And of course I'm leaving out the multi-classing, UA classes and different race adjustments that sneak into the picture.
This all being said, I don't recall us ever saying "we need X to fill the Y role". Still, you knew a balanced party included one each of the core four classes. While fighter subclasses did a decent job in filling the same niche as a fighter, the druid, assassin and illusionist generally made poor substitutes for their more popular siblings, but in the hands of the right player, even this could be overcome.
So yes, even 30+ years ago, we recognized there were niches or roles that a successful party needed to consider. It just hadn't occurred to us to limit ourselves by labeling the roles like MMOs do, which then carried over in many ways to table top role-playing.
The problem with MMORPGs is that if you aren't the best at what your "role is", then you are wasting the time of everyone else in the party. Limited to 4 slots or 6 or x in the party, you need to make every character count. Which makes MMOs seem more like an exercise in math and statistics than an actual game to me these days.
All of which might have little to nothing to do with Tallifer's excellent quote, but it got me thinking along my own set of ideas on the topic ;)