Maybe it’s the full moon or something, but I’m feeling ballsy today, so I’m going to challenge the all-group, all the time people to explain themselves to me, or at least to re-examine their preconceptions. You know who you are! Because you know what? I’m primarily a soloer (and I’ve explained why before), and I’ve had about enough of my playstyle being blamed for all the ills in MMO design today. This issue has become as heated, divisive and entrenched as some political debates, and that’s just silly.
WE DON’T WANT EVERYTHING FOR FREE
Let’s start with the idea that soloers want all the good gear without having to make any effort, which is skewing MMO design to cater to those loot-whoring, lazy, entitled types. I could write a long rebuttal, but the plain fact is it’s just not true. Yes, some players act all entitled and yes, some players want all the best stuff without having to work for it, but in my experience they come from all kinds of playstyles. Some players just don’t like to make any effort, and some people feel stuff is owed to them just for showing up. You see a lot of that in real life as well.
If you want to get all judgmental about it, call that its own type of playstyle, because a great many of the soloers I know actually like to push themselves and tackle content they shouldn’t be able to take on – often alone, but just as often in groups. If anything defines a soloer it’s not a casual playstyle and it’s not a lackadaisical approach to the game: it’s a desire to be self-sufficient, for whatever reason. Which, incidentally, doesn’t preclude being useful in a group. A number of the best players I know solo when they’re in the mood to solo, then contribute massively to groups and raids when those are going on.
WE’RE NOT ALL CASUAL GAMERS
I’d promised myself I wouldn’t touch the great casual debate in this column, but I’m going to have to since it’s often lumped in with non-grouping and it’s just as often blamed for the state of MMOs today. (You know, just like those hoodlum kids with that awful jangly Rock & Roll.) Casual play is catered to more and more these days because gaming appeals to an ever-broader age group, and because those of us who started playing 10 or 15 years ago now have jobs, kids and *gasp* social lives. We don’t have time to log in for 6 hours straight every night, so designing games where stuff can be achieved in less time isn’t breaking the games, it’s businesses making sure they actually keep their business. Could it be done better than endless dailies and froth? Certainly. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
WE BELONG JUST LIKE YOU
Anyway, on to the next reason soloers are supposedly ruining MMOs today. They shouldn’t be here at all! It says so right in the name of the genre! Massive Multiplayer Online, where multiplayer = groups! Actually, it doesn’t. Multiplayer is simply a label to distinguish a type of game from those that are purely single-player or small-group coop. It means you can group; it doesn’t mean you have to. It never did. My car is a multi-passenger vehicle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t drive it unless I have someone else in there with me. So can we please, please, please put a nail in the coffin of that non-argument?
WE’RE NOT SOCIALLY INEPT
What’s next? Oh, right: soloers have no social skills and no friends and that’s why they don’t group, and because of them our MMOs are being ruined. Seriously? I promised I wouldn’t rant… but still. If we’re going to play the popularity card, I’m primarily a soloer and I probably have more friends in games and in life than many all-group, all the time folks I know. I don’t live in a basement, I earn a good living (only partly as a bootlicking lackey to the big games companies /rolleyes), and I have no problem approaching people and getting to know them. I could turn that argument around and say it’s created by sad people with no social skills who can’t play if they don’t have a ready-made support network and who are projecting their own insecurities onto a playstyle they don’t share and therefore desperately want to eradicate. Stereotype much? Exactly.
WE STILL LIKE TO GROUP
Speaking of groups and how wonderful they are – I’ve had more fun (or at least as much fun) in off-the-cuff groups with other soloers I came across than in many other group situations. Many of the people I run into and group up with on the spur of the moment are talkative, articulate and actually take the time to communicate with me. Typically we’ll have an exchange of tells before we group up (unless it’s blindingly obvious we’re after the same objective), and typically we’ll talk while we’re grouped. Strange concept these days, I know, but much more enjoyable. In contrast, a lot of the time when I group up with people intending to tackle a dungeon or other specific content, there’s always a few people in the group who won’t say a single word. They don’t say hello, they don’t communicate, and worst of all they don’t coordinate, and I’m old enough to think that’s just plain rude.
And don’t blame the concept of pick-up groups for that – PUGs have always been a fact of MMO life, even if we seem to have rewritten MMO history to believe we never used to do them until WoW came along. There’s just no way people are going to have ready-made groups every time they want to play – and besides, PUGs actually allow you to meet new people; isn’t that what the all-group all the time people say we should be doing because we’re so bad at it? But grouping with people who don’t bother to acknowledge you in any way as another living breathing player – that’s damned rude, it’s no fun, and it has nothing to do with whether someone also plays solo or not.
Believe it or not, I do enjoy group content, with a few caveats I don’t have the space to get into today – point being, I have no objection to group content per se, but I do object to how it’s designed these days. What I wouldn’t want is to be unable to play at all just because I don’t have a ready-made group when I log in, or to have to PUG everything just to be able to play at all. You meet some great people in PUGs and you can have a ton of fun in groups, but limiting game design to purely those options isn’t a solution and it certainly won’t fix the state of MMOs today.
WE’RE NOT BREAKING YOUR GAME
Designing content for soloers is not what’s screwing up games, because plenty of MMOs have managed it – and great group content – just fine over the years. The problem is when group content is designed purely as a grind and a treadmill, requiring you to do it over and over to the exclusion of all else in order to follow the endlessly-repeating goal of gear upgrades… until you move on to the next iteration of the treadmill. That’s a design paradigm that’s too blatantly artificial and definitely not fun for me, and it’s a trend I’ve found disturbing – and judging by WoW’s plummeting subscriber numbers it seems I’m not the only one.
I’m not particularly motivated by items and I’m even less motivated by item treadmills. I don’t care about bragging to my friends about this or that “phat lewt”. Upgrading my gear now and then is fine, but doing it over and over every 6 months? In group content that gets ever more anally retentive in an effort to keep me challenged without having to actually design anything challenging? So that I have to tango out of the fire but tango into the blue mist while making sure that I don’t move till the light goes green? That’s not fun, that’s Simon says with a bit of musical chairs and timing issues thrown in.
MMOs have always been about getting and improving stuff to some extent, and I get that. But when that’s all they’re about, to the point where people who prefer to group have to group or not have fun, then something’s wrong with the basic concept and not with those who refuse to climb on the hamster-wheel. Don’t blame your lack of fun on my playstyle (which has been around at least as long as yours); blame it on paint-by-numbers design and cutting corners on imagination.
I didn’t sign on to play MMOs as a second (or third) job. Refusing to participate in a design paradigm that wants exactly that isn’t antisocial and it’s not what’s destroying the quality of MMOs. It’s smart. Instead of bitching about different playstyles from yours, start asking for group content that’s meaningful in its own right rather than as a way to keep people paying and playing. Then we can talk.