GROUP ORIENTED DESIGN
One does not simply walk into Mordor...
As a long-time gamer I am always interested in the deep discussion and thought provocation of Game Design Concepts. Among the MMORPG community, Group-Oriented Gameplay is a phenominal possibility. With the flip of a coin lands the fate of the MMORPG being developed. On one side of the coin are those who support Group-Oriented Gameplay for its most positive benefits: Community, Friendship, Entertainment; defining the MMO of MMORPG. On the side which often thuds on the dusty worn out table of WoW-clones is the benefit of ignoring group requirements in favor of Solo Play, Casual Gamers, and the elimination of Time Sinks.
Game Designers want players to feel like the Hero. People love grand adventure, feeling a part of something extraordinary or exciting. You must take the One Ring and destroy it! Group Oriented players would laugh, "One does not simply WALK into Mordor..." emphasizing the requirement for a Group. Yet for the Casual Player there is little time to waste arguing with stubborn people. The task which they need to accomplish sometimes must be done alone, and quickly.
Realistically, who wants to sit around looking for a required group, when the unfortunate majority of gamers seem to be children spouting about anal [items], young adults unzipping their pants to compare epeen size, and creepy fat guys slurping their lips at the sight of children or the *one* woman who plays the game who doesn't happen to be a man.
You disgust me.
From what I have seen, although there are thousands of quality players, the vocal minority in public chat really make you wonder if you're adventuring through a world of wonder, or accidentally mistook an erotic chatroom for a video game. The groups I often play with in all games these days (as of 2012) seem to be full of people who perplex me as to how they managed to turn on their computer, let alone loaded up the game without suffering from some form of electrocution. It is not a coincidence that you can ask a simple question (answered in the tutorial of a game) in a channel like WoW Trade, and receive 10 wrong answers before an intelligent being (perhaps an alien in disguise as a human?) gives the correct answer. It is apalling that humanity chooses to be so ignorant of that which they devote so many hours to: and that goes to all subjects, not just video games!
I digress; Before going off on a rant of the never-ending surprise of the stupidity of my fellow man, I propose a simple solution for everyone involved. A concept so simple, it seems to go over the heads of most developers. Of course, that would only be true if developers cared to produce a real quality game for gamers, as opposed to milking the cash cow and exploiting as many player's wallets as possible before leaving the game to be taken care of by what I can only assume to be randomly selected newbies in the work force. That corporate coin really decides a lot, doesn't it?
The solution is simple. Don't require group content, but encourage it significantly. This is exactly what the old games would do. There was nothing stopping Ultima Online or Everquest players from adventuring alone. Whether they had to fight weaker enemies, play carefully, or exploit specific character classes: it worked. I remember the majority of my sessions playing Everquest or Ultima Online was Solo for the first 20 minutes of play. Sometimes I would take special enjoyment out of the class I ignorantly chose because I was told "I was better" at soloing or grouping. We as people love to be told we are better at something!
I just walked into Mordor.
After that 20 minute mark, a wonderful thing always seemed to happen. As if I had suddenly become a more friendly, sociable person. My doomsday sign of disgust "Humans are Idiots" transformed into a positive sign of friendship "Looking for Group". What happened? I was having a blast playing my game, and after awhile I noticed a few other players playing in the same area as me. I thought to myself, "I would gain more experience, have a safer adventure, and profit greatly if I were to join these people together."
By the end of my first hour logged in, my group of 2 or 3 players would rapidly turn into a full group. Those monsters I was fighting at the outskirts of the building would be left behind as we entered inside the dangerous doors I never thought I'd enter. As my session ended, the group would either disband or replace me quickly with a new player. Some groups would last so long, when I began a new session the group would still be there-- just composed of entirely different players as each new adventurer took the place of the old. "The Group" was a natural, living entity which lived and died based on how it was fed by the community around it.
Why did it work? Simple: You could Solo fine, but it was 10x better, faster, and more fun to group. The game did not penalize you for grouping, nor did it reward soloing with experience points equal or better than grouping. The game was the way it was, and grouping was just plain beneficial in every way.
In these old games, I would walk into Mordor by myself, but hide, sneak around, and pick my battles carefully. Yet when I would notice other friendy adventurers doing the same, we would quickly light our torches for all to see and be at the heart of mordor, throwing the ring into the fire, laughing together and poking fun at the newbie who dove into the fire chasing after it.