For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of grouping. I played solo, talked in guild chat, and was happy with only teaming up when it was time to run a dungeon. It stands in contrast to how I’d played MUDs beforehand. I had been social before and would meet up with friends I’d made in-game to adventure often. Yet, when I made the jump to a “real” MMO that disappeared. I became a voice in guild chat and the occasional raid buddy.
Nowadays, things are much different. I love grouping, talking in vent, and generally being a community member instead of just a player. So, I ask myself: what happened?
I think it all comes down to opening the door on the MMO genre. The difference between then and now is that I had been playing WoW and now I’m not. Warcraft jumped into the field and proclaimed themselves to be the MMO for the non-MMOer. It was the game that opened doors except that, in doing so, they closed others in the process.
For some reason that I’ll never fathom, they decided that people who group to complete quests should be punished. Maybe it’s that that they want to “guide your experience” and leave less to chance. But why punish? At the end of the day, unless Blizzard tells you to group up, and sometimes even when they do, you’re going to get less xp per kill and progress slower than if you went it alone. If that’s not the nail in grouping’s coffin, I don’t know what is.
For a single game, the “solo to level-cap” ideal wouldn’t much matter. The problem is that game studios and, more importantly, publishers want to emulate WoW’s success. So, we see this model repeated until soloability becomes the expectation. No big game “forces” you to group. They might encourage it. But there are always ways to advance, even if it’s plain old grinding. Yet, that fact is one that gets lost in the complaints that players shouldn’t be “forced” to do things that “aren’t fun.” As a result, games release more “casual” content so people can play by themselves in these massively multiplayer worlds.
I didn’t realize the bubble my playstyle had been in until I escaped the WoW-trap and hopped between games for a while. I don’t like feeling like I have to do something any more than the next guy but I found out that taking risks and trying something new can actually wind up being a lot of fun. Darkfall, for all of its hardcore-i-ness was one of the single most fun MMOs I’ve ever played for the simple reason that it was the single most social game I’ve ever played. Yet it stayed true to its MMO roots. I’m not talking Free Realms social with Darkfall, I’m talking get together and overcome social.
Even though I’m not playing WoW anymore, it’s still the industry trend setter. It’s the Big Daddy of the MMO world and when it moves, people turn and look. And if, one day, it wears a blue shirt, it’s not unlikely that the other kids will start to wear blue shirts too.
You know, for all of the good WoW has done the industry, I kind of wish they’d never taken up a leveling model. I know, it’s the natural move, but doesn’t level separation create walls that’re hard to overcome? Someday, it’d be nice to have a game with all of the MMO bells and whistles that will let you hop in and group with from the get go. Levels don’t let you do that.
For the time being, I’m contented. I can solo when I want and group up when the mood strikes me. That’s something I really like about Aion right now. The K&G and Havok community are active and fun and a pleasure to talk to on vent. They say that community makes or breaks a game and I’ve found that true. As we move forward, I hope the WoW approach to grouping is something we leave behind. Keep the option, drop the penalty, and we all win.