There seem to be two pretty distinct camps in the war of Groups vs Solo. One believes that MMOs should be geared entirely toward group content, while the other believes that an MMO isn’t worth playing if solo play doesn’t get you everything and anything that grouping does. The truth, however, lies somewhere in between. That’s why you aren’t likely to see a successful game based solely on one concept or the other.
Groups and grouping mechanics are necessary to the success of an MMO because, in the end, MMOs are virtual worlds populated by thousands of players. If there are no goals that can only be accomplished by a number of people working together, then the game’s designers have missed the point entirely. Forget, for a moment, the fact that these are games and let’s pretend that they actually are virtual worlds, meant to in some way mirror our own. In life, while there’s much to be said for individual (solo) accomplishment, some things can’t be done without others and so should it be in an MMO.
While it isn’t the only way to scoialize, grouping does also help to promote the social aspects of the genre and takes full advantage of technology that allows us to work cooperatively online. I wholeheartedly agree that strong grouping mechanics are an important and necessary design element for a successful MMO.
Before the grouping side claims me as one of their own, I also happen to think that creating a game without solo content is folly of the worst kind. Players simply have to have the option of playing on their own in times when friends might not be around, and a pick up group just isn’t appealing. Solo play makes MMOs more accessible to more people. Should solo players be able to do everything a group can do? Of course not. Should the game design accommodate a path for them as well? Of course.
The answer to the solo vs. group content question isn’t one or the other, it’s both. The point that needs to be recognized is that while a game needs to accommodate both, a good design will also recognize that the goals for (and therefore rewards for) solo players and group players are different and should be approached as such.