I just can’t get over how some people complain that MMOs, both current and in-development, are including a great deal of soloable content in their games. I keep reading post after post of people complaining that, “if people want to play solo, they should just play a single player game.” The problem is, there’s a point being missed here. People who play an MMO and prefer to play solo aren’t looking to play a single player game. In fact, a populated virtual world is exactly where they want to be.
Players who choose not to group aren’t necessarily anti-social. In fact, they probably enjoy playing in the same world as hundreds or thousands of other people. These same people, given a group of friends playing, would probably be open and eager to group play, they just don’t want to open themselves up to pick up groups with strangers who might not share their idea of what the game should be. There’s nothing worse for a role player or character / story driven player than to get into a group with a power gamer, and vice-versa. It’s often like oil and water, mixing the two just leaves you slippery and wet.
If you think about the way the social world around us actually works, it’s all based around the individual, the solo player. Some people choose to involve themselves in activities and jobs that require working closely (grouping) with other people, while others would choose to socialize with only a few and participate in jobs and activities that offer more individual opportunities. For the most part in life, it’s a matter of choice.
People want that same choice mirrored back to them in online games and virtual worlds. I think that originally, the kinds of people who were drawn toward MMOs were the kinds of people who were interested in social interactions with strangers, getting to know new people online through games and forming friendships that way. As the genre has progressed and a more diverse audience
The idea of a game, even a multiplayer game, gearing their entire design around forcing their players to group is counter-intuitive and even alienating to a large demographic of players. If you think about it, the last time that you were forced to group was probably for some kind of class project or activity in middle or high school and I don’t know about you, but I recall those always being a miserable experience.
In the end, what I think that everyone wants is a game that put the individual character first, making sure that character can compete with all others, whether in a group or solo, leaving it up to the individual players to decide if they want to use that character to group with others, or to play on their own.
Warhammer Online is a great example of a game that was designed with a group play mentality that ended up suffering for it. Since launch, players have been complaining about the balance of individual careers in the game. Complaints like: Sorcerers don’t stand a chance one on one against a Witch Hunter were rampant. The problem? Warhammer Online was designed to create balance for groups of players, not individual careers. The basic premise of Warhammer’s design is that players will be working together in groups, whether in scenarios or in an open RvR environment, so that one on one balance would take a back seat to group balance. While on the surface this kind of design makes sense, the reality saw players interested only in their own characters at the expense of group play. When players don’t work as a team in a system that is designed for team play, it gives the illusion of an imbalanced game.
In the end, a successful game is going to be a game that caters to both crowds, a game that allows and even encourages grouping without strictly penalizing those who don’t want to participate. The bottom line though is that just because a person would rather not group, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to play in a world with other people.