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MMOWTF: Going Solo: The Grouping Dilemma

Weekly MMORPG.com columnist Dan Fortier shares his own personal opinions on solo play versus group play.

Editor's Note: This is an edition of a weekly column by Staff Writer Dan Fortier. The column is called "MMOWTF" and will look at some of the stranger or more frustrating events in MMOs as seen by Mr. Fotier. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of MMORPG.com, its staff or management.

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When someone outside looks at the MMO genre they don't see things the same as folks who have been playing for years. The terms like buff, nerf, AoE, and mezz don't mean as much to someone who has never played an online game since they are were rarely applied to the same effects in the old RPGs. (I don't recall ever calling Hold Person a 'root' spell in AD&D) Another misconception that is generally shared by the MMO-less crowd is that a vast majority of MMO gamers choose the genre because they are interested in the social aspect of the games. Why else would someone choose a Massively Multiplayer game over the much prettier, cheaper and more stable single player titles?

I would never presume to speak for the masses, but from experience I know a surprisingly large number of players spend a good portion of their online time running around solo. I myself am a pretty anti-social person, so the major appeal of a multiplayer game for me is not the social interaction, but the ability to play in a game that feels much more alive. Even if I never talk to anyone in the same area as me, the fact that I could talk to any of them and not get a computer generated response is what brings a game world to life. The thrill of competing against a live opponent is incredibly more satisfying than beating up on the same ole crummy AI mobs over and over again. While I'm about as far from a casual player as you can get I never have enjoyed the high level group-only content that typically fills out the endgame of most MMOs.

While I still think that high-level group content has its merits, it shouldn't be the be-all-end-all for every player to gain powerful items or titles. It would be great to see epic content geared toward the solo player that emphasizes the skills/abilities of individual character classes/skill sets over zerg/group tactics. These wouldn't have to be instanced in nature either, if they were numerous enough and tailored to individual classes. It's not an original or radical idea, but it would be a step toward allowing players to enjoy themselves at the highest levels without being forced to become a brick in the raid gang wall.

Not all content designed with solo players in mind needs to exist in a vacuum either. One of WAR's most interesting features is the Public Quest system which can bring solo players together for a united cause without enforcing some prearranged group restrictions. Another example of a workable solo reward system would be to allow players to participate against other players in controlled contests of skill (like a King of the Mountain), or endurance matches with small randomized groups or free-for-all combats. This is not to say that developers don't put enough resources into solo content, but I'd prefer a bit more variety along with the choices to compete with and against other players without losing my individuality to rigid group tactics.

Even with that whole confession behind me, I still count the times me and a small group of friends spent murdering helpless players as some of the best times I've ever had in a game, so maybe there is hope for me yet in the group centric world of MMOs. The forum topic is now open if you want to make your mark on the subject. I look forward to the first "LAWLS...go play oblivion if u want 2 solo n00b" post. In closing I'd like to invite you to also check out my User Blog for MMOWTF that I plan to use to explore some of the topics that never made it to print. Till next week.

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