It is no secret that I am constantly advocating the need for grouping in MMOs. I’m always on some forum or blog pointing out that soloing should be an option but not the best option. There are numerous ways to encourage this sort of behavior but virtually all of them have been transparent to the user and that fact has me thinking about new approaches that might excite players. Would it make a player more likely to group if they saw something more tangible in their play experience when they do so?
The problem at hand is that developers aren’t really encouraging players to group. In fact, in many games, doing so actually slows your experience yield per hour. Grouping is something players do infrequently or at max level. That is completely opposite to what MMOs were initially designed to be! I do want to point out one note before continuing: I am not advocating the removal of soloing. I am merely pointing out that soloing isn’t the only way to play and was not the original intent of a “multiplayer” game. My plan will, in no way, inhibit a player’s ability to solo. That said, I have a few thoughts on the situation.
Historically speaking certain classes have been better at grouping than others. This ultimately lead to some players feeling left out due to being in an “undesirable” profession. Class roles and balance played heavy into this. Developers have to look at what a certain build could do in solo, group and raid play. Ultimately this lead to some classes being exceptional in one area and mediocre in the other two. It is this sort of system that could leave a player “stuck” in a certain style. I feel that should be avoided. How does all this tie into encouraging groups? It is simply a statement that players in non-group classes are unlikely to be invited to groups or want to start one. How could we encourage groups if such classes exist?
The obvious answer would be to ensure that every class is equally desirable in a group! Since we can all recognize that that is likely an impossibility we can shoot for a more attainable goal. Every class should bring something desirable and unique to a group. This is possible through many mechanics but there are two that I am partial to and have adapted for my purposes. The first of which is auras.
We all have expectations when we see the word aura. What I am proposing is not exactly new but it is very under utilized in the MMO world. To encourage grouping each class should have a unique aura that only activates when they’re grouped. In addition to this, for each additional person that joins the group, the aura should become more powerful. This will encourage players not to slip by with the minimum amount of characters but instead fill their groups. These auras should be automatic and free. So, as an example, lets look at a hypothetical cleric aura:
Aura of Protection: Cleric level 1, Base 2% bonus to group members mitigation and an addition .5% bonus for each additional member.
Developers could use this mechanic in many different ways. Perhaps as a character levels up the auras improve in percentages or have additional bonuses added on. As such, no matter what class a character is or how it is specialized, it will provide something to the group. Should you have two of the same class in your group the auras should still stack but with diminished returns. As long as developers made every aura interesting, unique, and worthwhile people will want different classes in their group. They will also be more inclined to group when they see a rather obvious improvement in their character.
Beyond auras the second concept I see that will encourage grouping is leadership. Leadership has been pioneered in EverQuest, Eve Online and a few other MMOs. In the former it was more of a raid device. In Eve, however, it is quite an impressive mechanic. A character that is trained in leadership simply improves the group members. That concept translates easy to the more traditional fantasy MMO. After all, most adventure parties do have a leader.
Leadership should be an optional progression path for any character. It should, in no way, count towards a max level or total skill points. This will encourage players to actually use the system and not worry about being “gimped.” Leadership experience should be earned slowly but naturally by any character that groups. Simply grouping will yield free experience. A player that wants to go above and beyond, however, should have the option to turn off normal experience and focus it into leadership directly.
The abilities that leadership provides should be both cosmetic and tangible. Every one, however, should focus on the main goal of encouraging groups and be disabled outside of them. Imagine, for instance, that a high tier ability would be similar to EQ1’s Call of the Hero or WoW’s Meeting Stone and usable once every two hours. This would save time if the group is waiting on that one straggler. Other abilities could improve the group’s auras or even grant new ones. There are a multitude of options possible. This would even help less group friendly classes since anyone can follow along the tree.
I personally love the idea of leadership since I tend to find myself in that role. When I saw the skill category in Eve Online I was quite pleased. It is just one more of those interesting tools that can be used to add depth and interest to a game. Neither of these suggestions will force people to group but they may make players think twice about soloing and I think that is a good thing. What do you think?
Originally posted to Epic Slant.