Monday, November 10, 2008

Meaningful Solo in MMO's

Not a week goes by where I don't see a remark somewhere on some forum that the current trend of soloing is ruining MMO's. But I think they have it all wrong. In comparison to older titles, the more recent ones are actually less solo friendly.

Let's look at EQ1, what many consider to have been the ultimate grouping game. A good portion of folks I knew there soloed at some point. Every one of my alts soloed, of course some better than others. It took a long while to kill something, your experience bar didn't move much, and maybe you had to stick to green/light blue mobs. But it was done. Typically, I'd go to a zone and start soloing. If someone shouted out that they were looking for more, I joined in. If someone shouted looking for a group, I invited them to join me and eventually more would join. While leveling was still slow, grouping took some of the tedium away and just made things more enjoyable overall.

In more recent titles, leveling speed is increased and quests often yield more than the kills. It's not efficient to group since many are on different quests. And forming up groups is more tedious than just going out and getting it done on your own.

All that's changed is leveling speed, color of mobs you can take on, and the introduction of quests. But there's one major difference in current titles from prior. There is no meaningful solo content anymore. In EQ1 there were numerous dungeons that could be soloed, many with placeholders for named mobs that dropped nice items. This wasn't exclusive to dungeons though. Named mobs could be found in outdoor zones as well, if you didn't mind camping a spot to get them to spawn. In DAOC also dungeons and named mobs indoors and out could be soloed, both for armor and trophy heads which could be mounted and placed in your home. I didn't have the best gear and didn't always have the best solo class. But there were meaningful things for me to do on my own while out adventuring. Even SWG was more solo friendly pre-NGE than it is today.

In the current games I've played, you solo strictly to level. It doesn't lead to eventual groups and usually gains you nothing but experience. Anything meaningful, and what I consider to be fun, requires groups, usually full ones at that. And they are organized events, not chance encounters while you're out and about. Occasionally you might meet someone on the same quest. You group up for a few minutes to get it done and then part ways. So come to think of it, not only are current games less solo friendly, but also less group friendly.

So soloing has always been around. It's just not very fun anymore.


Scott said...

I've developed a similar perspective over the years but to me, solo was always just something *entertaining enough* (I hope) to pass the time while I wake up in the mornings, or craft, or whatever until I get a group for *fun* content. Big group, small group, raid, whatever. What you can do with other people is always more interesting, dynamic and FUN than anything you can do solo.

Even in Guild Wars where I can have a full group of myself, 3 Heroes and 4 Henchmen (ie. I'm the only actual human player) the experience is so much more alive when suddenly you're in a real group with people making their own decisions and taking their own actions that the AI would not have.

I still haven't put my finger on exactly why this is, but for me, WAR's solo PvE never managed to raise itself up to the level of "entertaining enough" to stick with in the hopes of getting the group to have FUN with.

Thallian said...

I personally think the best games have such meaningful soloing that you crave to do it, and then if you are able to do it with others and happen to then it just becomes better.

Anonymous said...

Most games have not adopted questing to support multiplayer properly, at best they may have some bandaids like quest sharing.
They have just introduced a new type of grind, but with less multiplayer support. An exception may be City of Heroes/Villains whihc is ok:ish in terms of multiplayer/tou set goals eam support. And Guild Wars is ok because of the general quality of missions/quests are fairly high.

Some reasons people do not group are the hassles associated with it. But I also think with the more goal-oriented and more directed grind-type questing that has made groups worse and in a way caused the dreaded PUG problem.
Because when you set team goals explicitly for people with good/better rewards than other types of play you get people in groups that cannot handle grouping. It just becomes a means to an end because the game says so - not because that idea is formed by the people themselves that they need to cooperate.

Really, loose the "MMO on rails" unless there is a strong story element to take people somewhere for a limited part.

Aspendawn said...

Scott & Thallian - Definitely agree. If the solo is not entertaining and fun enough, why stick around in hopes of maybe finding a group to have fun with. It needs to be fun enough that it's even more fun and not inconvenient to add others.

Sente - I do think it's the quests that have separated players more than brought them together. If they must be present in an MMO, there's got to be a better way to implement them.

I did like how Guild Wars handled though compared to others. There's a mission hub so people can hook up and they were fun to complete.

Scott said...

The videogame industry still has not figured out how to evolve beyond the "kill shit" goal to have "fun." From Space Invaders to Warhammer, if it moves, KILL IT! The End.

From what I saw looking over friends shoulders at EQ, as well as most of what I read about EQ, I got the impression it was little more than your average F2P grinder, only with ridiculously lengthy spawn timers and servers that could actually deal with mobs having some AI which allowed SOE to script the raids. By and large, I rarely ever actually heard my friends talking about "quests" despite the name of the game. It was find a group to camp in one area and kill shit. Repeatedly. Just like any run of the mill Korean F2P...

The advent of "quests" which are more accurately "errands" or "tasks" simply gave an additional reason to bother grinding mobs. You can still go out and grind mobs, solo or grouped, for the same XP, drops, etc. you would have gotten. But now some NPC is willing to REWARD you for grinding! Bonus XP, Bonus CASH, Bonus GEAR! But we're still just killin' shit. If the NPC's ask us to travel or deliver items that don't involve said killing of shit, we gripe and complain. If quest texts are too lengthy we skip through screaming "just tell me how many foozles to kill" and click the OK button. And yet we're quivering with semi-orgasmic anticipation that BioWare will have dialogue trees in Old Republic?

Anyway, quests are all good and fine for what they are: directed incentives to do the only real game play element MMO's have: kill shit.

Quest chains, on the other hand, have become a problem. Since the demise of EQ we're seeing reality: the majority of people don't WANT to stay grouped constantly but in EQ had little choice. Now we have that choice, and we pop into a group to accomplish a goal then move on. Kinda like we do in life.

First and foremost, the concepts, execution and implementation of "quests" needs to be addressed.

Secondly, for a genre that allegedly claims the ability for so many people to cooperate (and compete) as one of its greatest strengths, the current design model sure goes out of its way to penalize us when we do group.

Third, could we find something that is "fun" to a vast majority of players *in addition* to killing shit to move things along in this industry?

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