Solo-play in MMORPGs seemed to be the hot topic yesterday. Massively was looking for the best Solo MMORPG, Keen looked into reasons for playing solo and offered some suggestions to encourage grouping via game design and Syncaine also chimed in. So i’d like to visit that topic, too, because i feel every article states something that’s worth mentioning.
Massively’s Bree mentions, for instance, that soloplayers are often seen as “violating the rules of the genre” by other players and sometimes even as one of many reasons the genre’s not doing so well. This doesn’t sit well with me, too, because i think there are valid reasons to solo in a MMORPG.
Being a father of an 18-month-old toddler i can tell you; grouping up with me often isn’t as much fun as it should be. When he wakes up, i’ll have to take care of him until he falls asleep again. This can take 5 to 60 minutes. So when i group, i need my groupmates to be understanding on the one hand, so that they won’t hold a grudge on me for leaving quickly and maybe for a longer stretch of time. On the other hand, i’d like to know that they won’t just stand there and wait for me while their mood gets worse with every minute. I need to know that at some point, they’ll just log out or continue without me. Now, there are people i know who fit this description, but there are only two of them and i know them for quite some time. Nowadays, i don’t think i’ll be able to get to know someone on that level in an MMO.
It’s not really about the games, though
While Keens observations are good and valid points themselves (i also preferred the lfg tools over the lfd tools), he’s looking at game mechanics mostly. I think the reasons for people playing solo- at least those in a certain age, or let’s just say living a certain kind of life (job, other hobbies, friends, maybe neighbors, kids etc.)- are mostly found in our lives, which doesn’t mean game design can’t help us out, but “quicker progression”, “boring group classes”, “ability to do everything” aren’t really the reasons why i most of the time end up playing solo.
I think TSW has found a sweet spot in the “quicker progression”-part Keen mentions- the mobs take time to kill; you’re always having an easier time if you can find 1-2 other people doing the same quests. But still most people play solo and TSW is often mentioned as a good solo mmorpg in that Daily grind on Massively.
Here are some of my out-of-game-reasons for playing solo mostly:
- i can go afk whenever i want without feeling guilty. A bio break, getting a drink or something are easy, but what about a friend calling/visiting, a toddler crying/waking up or the wife wanting to discuss something? These are not “finished” in a few minutes and while it is true that in the beginning of WoW, this would be just fine and resolved with a quick message, i think the normal players don’t really put up with stuff like that. You won’t be added to friendlists as quick as others
- i can play the game at my own pace. Even if nobody says something, i always feel pressured to not-read-quest-text/skip cutscenes/not enjoy the scenery/don’t look over that hill/don’t gather ressources when grouped up. I don’t like that.
- This is something that turns up in guilds, mostly, but still: i don’t like voice chat very much. It used to be that i preferred to listen to music instead. Nowadays, my talking might wake up our son. “But you can just listen”, i hear you say, but really, 99% of conversation via voice chat is small talk, i don’t see a reason why this couldn’t happen via chat.
So, what can a game do?
I think the best solution might be some cross over between GW2’s “alone together”-mechanics and TSW’s ttk (time-to-kill). Also, stop putting group content in instanced areas- i think it would help a lot if you could just meet people willing to group up in the world. Aion comes to mind, with the Elite/group zones they had in 2009. Don’t know if they’re still there, but they came quite early in the progression and while you could do the quests there solo…somewhat…it was difficult and slow. So people grouped up, spontaneously.
LFD-tools don’t help, either. The other players are often treated as if they were npcs, so there’ll be no socializing. And i agree with Syncaine here when he writes that the social bonds are going to help players grow roots in your game. But i think those social bonds will grow better if their seeds are planted in the open world, not in instanced dungeons.
So another general suggestion would be to stop pulling people out of the worlds- battlegrounds, dungeons, raids, housing- put it in the world. Also, a game should provide more than one hub where players can get services.
Finally, yes, please, bring back lfg-tools (Blizzard has done it in the latest expansion, don’t know if it is used by the player base).