The PvE MOBA, offline persistency and the system-driven MMORPG

There have been a few very interesting opinion pieces out there for a couple of days. I’d like to- somewhat- chime in and express my own opinion on that matter. First, let’s take a look at what we’ve got.

I think it began with Ravious’ “Modicum of Interaction”, where he described his experience with starting on a pvp server in World of Warcraft and came to the conclusion that what he really wants in an MMO is persistence and interaction.

A day later, Bhagpuss described the “pinball machine in an arcade” analogy as being fitting to his own feelings- that you’d want to play in a world where other people play, as well, because it feels alive. He also states that MMORPGs have changed- they’re not new anymore- not in the way they used to be. It wasn’t about features, graphics or somesuch- it was all about the wow-effect of other players from all over the world connecting to the same shared online world. That was the feature that sold MMORPGs. It doesn’t, anymore, and Bhagpuss is ok with that.

The same goes for Syl and her entry of “MMO heartbreak”. She agrees that the MMO experience has changed but that there are still “rainbows to find”, that there’s still interaction- it changed somewhat, but it’s still there.

All these posts are worth a read and i encourage you to go and read them if you haven’t- in my opinion, all of these put the finger on the wound many of us feel while being positive in their base tone.

Another post that’s going to be related to this one is Belghasts “Chase for a PvE MOBA”, as well as the Massively Overthinking column on Massively Overpowered concerning the popularity of MMORPGs.

New MMO games

I think we need to further break up the MMORPG genre. You know the opinion that’s always going to pop up as soon as content becomes soloable? If you don’t like to group up in MMORPGs, play singleplayer games, they’re better for story. This “argument”, if we call it that, leaves the pinball-in-the-arcade and the reading-in-a-cafe out of the equation. I’d like to turn it around and state that if you like small-group-instanced-content, there should be a genre for you.

The lobby dungeon experience

Interestingly, there isn’t. I think Forced did something to that end, but i’m still left wondering why we don’t have a game yet that’s based solely on dungeon experiences. The “world” and the “quest” part of MMORPG development are the money sinks in developing an MMO, so i wonder why nobody has thought of getting rid of that part and instead offer something akin to, say, Left for Dead or Payday in the MMORPG realm. This should be possible, right?

You would have to be honest about it, though- if you’d call this kind of game an MMORPG, it would get a similar treatment to Skyforge, which is being criticized for lack of an Open World while on the other hand- and that’s a very early impression- being quite ok for what it does. Even i went into an adventure by way of the group finder. It was a nice enough experience, although i’d have to say that my SWTOR companions are more talkative than the other players i grouped up with.

There could be a few ways to do a game like this- maybe go for the isometric view and create a co-op Diablo/co-op MOBA or go the 3D route and create and distill the dungeon experience from MMORPGs into a new game. You can even keep many of the MMO tropes- maybe a bit of grind, levels, content gating, gear, the trinity- and get rid of the more costly and fluffy parts- loads of text quests, maybe crafting and, of course, the world. Just cut it off. I would also leave out the single-player option entirely, although that could become a problem when the game matures.

The strange part? Even when i prefer open world MMORPGs, i think i’d like to see some kind of game like that emerge. They could do dungeons in different sizes for different session lengths and even go “hardcore” with raids or dungeons that last multiple hours.

I don’t know if this comes close to how Belghast expressed a PvE MOBA would be, but i think it would be a great addition to the genre. Right now, i wonder if there aren’t games like that out already- couldn’t you play Diablo 3 or Marvel Heroes this way?

The persistent and interactive singleplayer experience

Another way to evolve would be to go the route of Elite: Dangerous and further down the line Shroud of the Avatar– give players the option to experience an online world by themselves and have persistency and interaction become indirect, possibly through an ingame-economy. In Elite, i can fly around solo, but actions of all players influence the universe i’m living in- by trade prizes, faction balance and so on. I can play alone and it’s not exactly the “pinball machine in the arcade” experience, but there’s more interaction and interdependency in Elite than in many themepark MMORPG’s questing game.

The MMORPG: cut off rides and provide systems

I think- and in a way we already see this with games like Crowfall, Camelot Unchained and the Repopulation in development- that distilling MMO experiences in new subgenres would free the “real MMORPGs” to get back to a design that focuses more on giving players systems instead of themepark rides. MMORPGs could become more world-like- and cheaper in development, in the end, if they stopped trying to give players a linear experience and went on to being “everything-boxes”.

The funny thing is that i think a good MMORPG would cater to many different play-styles while on the other hand, the current themepark MMORPGs are making the mistake of trying to cater to too many play-styles. In the end, i think it’s the way content works in these games right now that is a hindrance- it’s designed content- designed for soloer’s, casuals, hardcore players, for crafters, traders, dungeon-delvers, raiders and so on. Everything is “handcrafted”, which makes content development slow and expensive. If you’d have systems that could provide the same; a good ingame-economy, open world bosses, dynamic events done right, maybe mob settlements that grow from being a single-player experience to being a raid experience, you wouldn’t have the need to handcraft all these experiences.

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Ding, 100…and my kind of endgame

Post #100

This marks post number 100 that is going to be published on this blog, 59 of them this year. All in all, i think one can call this blog “active” and i have to say that so far, it’s been a great ride. I’ve had some ups and downs with the ups mainly being my experience with the larger blogging community- they’re great people that are very welcoming and help out, sometimes knowingly, sometimes just by clicking “like” here or there on one of the scribblings i tend to publish. The downs are just stretches of time when i don’t know what to write about or don’t have time.

Thankfully, this year so far hasn’t had any major breaks in posting. I’m just coming out of a time of lower activity due to some private stuff, generally not playing any one MMO with enough investment to warrant a post and other things. Right now, though, things are looking good since i started what i from now on will call “Project trinity”- selecting three MMOs to play each month and ignoring all the rest, even if they have updates or somesuch. I just hope i won’t be in a situation at some point where either an expansion (GW2) or a business model change (Wildstar, not confirmed of course) hits one of the other MMOs i’m interested in while i chose different ones.

Anyway, back to the round number of posts. I want to thank every one of you who made my blogging experience a pleasure- all those who linked to one of my posts, came here to comment, like, conversed in some way via Twitter and of course all who still read that.

My personal top highlight on this blog is the “Dual Wielding” series Ironweakness and i are doing in cooperation. The first edition has been great fun and i’m very, very positive that it will continue to be so in the future, as well. So i want to take that opportunity to thank Ironweakness for the suggestion and sharing this path with me!

Going forward, i’ll try and put some structure in place here on this blog, as well. Dual Wielding is one of these projects, the “Milestones” – series with its first post being published yesterday is another one- “Milestones” will simply be a project to share some ingame-progress i made, like another 5-level-span, for FFXIV it will be about the MSQ (Main Story Questline)…whenever i feel i have reached another interesting step in venturing through an MMO, it’s a Milestone, to me. Other things are on my mind, as well- guilds, roleplaying, community and ingame stuff not related to progress to name a few. We’ll see how it works out in the end, since i only have so much time to spend here and last time i shared my projects, it didn’t work out so well.

Again, thank you for being here, for making me feel welcome and maybe even liking what you read.

My endgame

Now why would a person that only reached max-level once in an MMO care about endgame? Why would a notoric game- and character hopper look for an MMO to settle nicely into? Well, we’ve been through the reasoning, i tried to make it work in one game or another and lately, i’ve been thinking about how to find “that game” in a different way. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t reach endgame quickly or ever, it is important to know what’s waiting at the end. The options on what to do- either delivered by developers or by making my own fun. And you’d be surprised (i was) how very few MMORPGs would really work as a home MMO for me when viewed through this perspective.

Credits. Gold. Pax. ISK. Call it what you want, but that’s where my endgame is. But if i can’t do anything with it (Pax), the currency given to us in an MMO doesn’t really matter. If your gold has but one purpose- for instance, to buy a sub for a month, it doesn’t work for me. So on the other side of the coin there have to be.

Gold sinks. Housing (Strongholds), Crafting, Unlocks, cosmetic outfits and so on- there should always be something i can spend my ingame gold on, to try and achieve some measurable goals in a way i like. See, Gold as endgame really is the only currency to allow us players to choose how we want to play by ourselves. If it’s dungeon gear, you have to do the dungeons. If it’s crafting, well, you have to craft. If it’s luck, you have to grind.

So gold it is. An MMORPG that i’d consider as a candidate for my personal “home MMO”, it needs to offer stuff in exchange for gold- and multiple ways to earn said gold. All those alternative currencies you gain by doing dungeons, pvp and whatnot might allow you to choose the way to play and get you rewarded- but it’s a tunnel system- you get rewarded for doing stuff you like with stuff that helps you perform better in said stuff. There’s a reason we use money as “universal currency” in the real world instead of giving tools to the handiman, computers to developers, frying pans to cooks and so on. Virtual worlds should follow suit.

When you think about that, there really aren’t that many MMORPGs that offer this- i could list a few. I know prompting for comments is a cheap move, but i’m really curious and might get some suggestions for games- so i ask you; which MMO lets you spend your earned gold/pax/credits/ISK in multiple (ingame) ways? On what can you spend this gold? How do you earn it?

The good and the bad future

Happy new year! These days, we’re celebrating chinese new year….well, to some extent, at least. Our son is sick, so i get pretty much no time in games and/or writing about them right now, but i want to try and take this opportunity to do some of the general “predictions”-stuff one does when a new year begins.

All my 2015 predictions have already been proven true. Well, granted, i only made one, an easy one at that, so that doesn’t say too much. Today, i want to take a quick look at the genre and what i think we’ll see in the near future.

MMOs are going back to their corner

The gold fever years are over. The success of World of Warcraft made other developers think they can recreate what Blizzard has done- and all of them have been proven wrong. We could, of course, look at why WoW was successful where other games weren’t, but to be honest, i don’t think we’ll find the answer to this question in the game alone. The timing, the fanbase…it was the strike of lightning and Blizzard should be thankful for what they’ve got- as do we all, because it has been a great decade for MMORPGs. Nowadays, while you could say WoW’s influence hasn’t been all good, we have a lot of choice in MMORPGs that wasn’t there before WoW was released. Yes, all these games are in the same subgenre and if you prefer another subgenre, this kind of sucks. But within this subgenre, there is a lot of choice. One could even say too much.

I think in the near future- and this isn’t a very brave prediction, either, we’ll come to see MMORPGs being put into their place once again- not only do developers stop to chase WoW’s numbers, but they’ll also stop to chase the same player base. We might see some closures, and most likely some of them will hurt. It seems we aren’t seeing “AAA” MMORPGs from western developers for the forseeable future, maybe with the exception of Everquest Next. MMORPGs will become smaller, and this is a bad and a good thing at the same time.

It’s bad because the community/fanbase/number of potential customers will shrink, which will lead to some other difficulties, as well, but i think those who like MMOs and/or MMORPGs, a distinction that will soon be more prevalent, are in for some good years to come.

The genre matures and changes

We will see more games like Destiny, The Division or The Crew- single player games with MMO features and maybe some persistent parts of world building and progression being part of the experience. I think these games will concentrate on providing a great and diverse gameplay experience with selected parts of the “massively multiplayer” genre who add to the fun of the game.

MMORPGs will move in the other direction- they will concentrate on providing the “massively multiplayer” part in addition to persistent worlds and progression while providing an adequate gameplay experience. I think this is great for everybody who loves MMORPGs, because the genre stops chasing every player on the planet and start providing great games for their niche.

We see this happening right now- while there are no real Triple-A games coming, there are a lot of indie games in development who concentrate on some parts of the genre instead of trying to cater to all- Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained and the Repopulation are games that are very different from each other, more so than, say, SWTOR and Lotro. I’m pretty sure this is what the next 5 years will be about- diversification, providing great experiences for a niche while the mass market will integrate MMO-y stuff in AAA games.

Being niche is a good thing

MMORPGs are big games, but they grew into monsters after WoW’s success. These games cost tens or even hundreds of million dollars to get created, and they want to hit the mass-market. It’s not enough for them to cater to only one group of players, they have to get them all- and if possible, even non-MMO-players, as well. So what they’ll do is provide multi-vitamin juice concentrate- everything’s in there, but it doesn’t taste as good as the real thing.

So by concentrating on smaller playerbases and smaller feature sets, the development process will be cheaper and faster while providing better experiences for their customers. Now, i’m no economics expert, but i think specialization in a market is considered a good thing there- for every actor.

The communities will change for the better

A smaller community will be more tight-knit. I think it was in 2013 when some blogger asked the open question if (MMO) blogging was dead- replaced maybe by streamers, social media and things like that. Since then, i think the community has grown and has become better- there are things like the Newbie Blogger Initiative, bloggy Xmas, there’s some kind of blogger’s guild and community, so one could say the blogging community might have had some losses, but regrouped and is growing again.

Events like the almost-closure of Massively have pulled the community together even stronger, so there’s that. I think if the games we all like get more specialized and provide focused experiences for their niche, the smaller communities themselves, but also the bigger MMORPG community will grow and even get more friendly. After all, if PvPers/Raiders/Crafters/Roleplayers don’t ruin my game anymore because they have their own game to play, the game i chose will provide a better experience for me- everybody wins, even the developers, if they don’t misjudge the amount of players they’ll have (hello, Wildstar).

Encouraging social play: venues

From time to time, i think possible ways to make MMORPGs more social (again). I believe that this topic is an important one, that the highs and lows of the genre are connected to this topic, but i also think that this is not something we can only blame the developers for. When WoW launched, the internet was fairly new (at least in these parts; i had access to it since about ~1999) and there was still the wonder of a place where humans from all over the world can gather, chat, work and play games together. Even if your area had access to the internet longer than i did, i personally think that the behaviour of players in Everquest 1 was different to today’s just because the whole experience was new.

The city
The city

When you think about World of Warcraft, again, there is something in its success that gets mentioned often: the social ties. Everybody and his/her grandma play WoW, sometimes literally. Even if they unsubscribed, they’ll return for an expansion. I’ve read countless reports of mmo playing friends that they tried to find a new place with a guild and couldn’t agree on the game to play. So WoW’s expansion cycle is like a bi-yearly “class of 2004” event.

Social ties are important- they make the games so much more than just games. I am not really involved in many things, don’t have so many ingame friends, but my wife still teases me from time to time that i’m in an “expensive 3D chat room” while playing.

Now we have social ties on different levels: the bigger MMORPG community, the communities on sites like Massively Overpowered, the ingame community, the Twitter community (i’m slowly getting the hang of it), the blogging community, guilds, friends and real-life friends. These levels are one reason why i like the genre so much.

So why is it that the games we love, themselves, seem unable to tie these bonds? Generally speaking, the communities in Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XIV and Guild Wars 2 seem to be quite good and friendly. This has been connected to the fact that there isn’t any competition in these games between players. I think that there’s something else at work, as well.

Venues

We need places to meet, and this in such a way that we really feel like we’re meeting other players and not NPCs. If you look at the list of communities above, they all have their venues: Massively Overpowered is one by definition, as is Twitter, the blogging community has their own ways of connecting, guilds have forums and so on. Ingame communities need places to meet up, as well.

Localities

One possibility would be to add “real” places into the worlds we visit where we can meet other people. But this will not suffice- if you look at some of the newer games, they mostly deal with one “central hub”- in SWTOR you have the fleet, in Rift there are capital cities for each faction/expansion, in GW2 as well, so an effort has been made to centralize the players in cities on the map. But all we really do is just stand there.

One-off grouping isn't enough
One-off grouping isn’t enough

I think these places should be smaller and directed to a smaller audience. It isn’t enough to create one “social hub” place where everybody…just is. I don’t think someone would argue that it’s more social to live in, say, New York than it is to live in some village in Maine.

There are examples, even within the bigger social hubs. Think about the Prancing Pony in Bree- i guess it also has the lore going for it, but it is a nice inn in a larger, nice city. Roleplayers and other types of players go there to meet up- i even went there in the early days to get a group going for the group content that existed back then.

For instance, the world could be designed in such a way that, say, housing afficionados gather in one place, metalsmiths in another and so on. There could still be big cities where everything is possible, but then you’d have to get rid of fast-travel, to avoid all players being there all the time.

I think there need to be more places in the world(s) where small groups meet each other.

Reasons

We also need reasons for visiting different places. Maybe there are certain resources that can only be gathered at special places, or rare loot drops in some open world area. I mentioned this in another post, but an open world area filled with stronger mobs that drop something worthwhile would help, as well. There’s a reason people flock all over GW2’s maps to get the named mobs and group up to do this. Things like this also happen in FF14.

We’ll also have to have reasons for higher level characters to be in lower level areas- again, i think crafting is the key here: if you don’t make early resources obsolete in later crafting levels, there’s a reason to visit. Or maybe there’s an NPC vendor that sells special housing items, or a special workbench as the only place to craft certain items- and so on.

Opportunity

I mentioned the stages, the theater of TSW would be another thing and Lord of the Rings Online does a great job at hosting seasonal events outside of the bigger hubs. Lotro also caters strongly to roleplayers- there’s really only this game where something like Weatherstock happens.

The open world

Whenever i think about this topic, the open world gets mentioned a lot. I think instanced dungeons and dungeon finders are not the way to go for MMORPGs- not that they shouldn’t be done, but maybe, instead of offering bonuses, why not do it the other way around and give the bonus to people who didn’t use it to enter the dungeon? I know, queue times, but still.

In my opinion, the open world(s) need places where smaller groups of people gather- not people who coincidentally do the same quests or small areas with a few quests that require small groups- it should be bigger areas, maybe even whole zones (like Craglorn, maybe?) and there need to be reasons to visit as well as a bonus for venturing forth in a group- there are many ways to do this, mechanically.

For instance, Vanguard had a system that applied bonuses when you were gathering resources in a group. Combine that with an area with rare materials and tough mobs (that give out good loot), and you may just have given a small group made of a few crafters and adventurers something to do together- and tell something more than “Hello” and maybe, even create social ties.

 

 

Being a subscription game

Whenever a game announces a switch to a free-to-play or buy-to-play model, there’s talk about how the game design goals change from delivering a fun experience and good gameplay to adding grinds and developing stuff for the ingame cash shop. Often, the line of thinking is that a subscription game offers the best possible experience for the players to keep them playing, while a game with a cash shop only serves as a medium to get players to buy something from the shop.

I’ll have to disagree there. Subscription games have their own ways of making you pay- namely, timesinks. I write this after trying to get the story quests of Final Fantasy XIV up to par- so the proposed level of the story quest is the same as my adventuring level. I did this, neglecting all other quests with the exception of those which i know to offer gameplay mechanics (yesterday i learned how to dye my gear). I have to say, it is a tiresome affair- you travel a lot- going from the grand company you chose to the Scions’ headquarters there’s a lot of ping-ponging around. This is done to a degree that the last two playsessions i had were devoted to doing just that- and the proposed level of the story quest went from level 19 to 20 in this time.

Now, if i could ignore that quest line, everything would be fine. But i can’t- Final Fantasy XIV gates game mechanics with the help of the main story questline. For instance, your character doesn’t have a bank or access to the market until you clear the three introductory dungeons for the main story questline. Which is also forced grouping. As a father- i mentioned this in other posts- it is sometimes quite difficult to know when i’m able to dedicate a chunk of time – the dungeons don’t take long, but if you have to use the duty finder and play a damage dealing class you could wait some time to get a party going- so that these three dungeons pose an obstacle big enough so that i won’t consider rolling an alt anytime soon. Not that you have to, though, because one character can do it all.

Final Fantasy XIV isn’t the only offender, of course. World of Warcraft is also a very time-intensive game, in EVE skill gain is time gated and the coming Pathfinder Online also has this mechanic. In Elder Scrolls Online the inventory- on character and the available bank slots- is so limited that you spend a considerable amount of time managing your inventory, especially if you are like me and want to keep all the crafting stuff to level crafting disciplines later.

Maybe this is one reason sub games don’t work out that way anymore- if you have limited time- and we all know the MMORPG population to be aging (i think the average age is 37)- these timesinks and content gates, including forced grouping, are really some kind of quit wall. If i couldn’t manage to do these three introductory dungeons in FF14, limiting my access to bank and retainer/markets stops me from, for instance, crafting- because a bank inventory and access to the market help a lot with that, that would be a huge disadvantage for the game and i’d maybe consider whether keeping the sub up was worth it. Luckily, i’m with a free company who finished those dungeons with me.

On the other hand i know that Final Fantasy XIV has content to keep me happy and occupied for a long time- if the fun lasts as long. There are a few adventuring classes i’d like to play and come the expansion, the astrologist and the machinist also look very interesting and sooner or later i’ll want to level every crafting job. Add this to the fact that i’ll probably never really reach “endgame”, and i could play Final Fantasy XIV for quite a few years. But that’s another topic.

Subscription games time-gate content to get you to pay for another month, and another month. Free-to-play games try to get you to buy stuff from their cash shop. I’m not entirely convinced that f2p works in the long term- i don’t think there’s still more players playing Lotro or DDO, for instance, now than there were when they were subscription based, and both models surely have their downsides. But both- or all three, if you count buy-to-play- have to balance the opening-your-wallet-part with the game-being-fun-part. So while there might be a change in design philosophy, i think it’s a minor one.

As for my preferences, i don’t really care if a game is b2p, f2p or p2p. I like how i’m able to hop into a game for an evening to see if i like to play it some more / return to playing it for free in b2p/f2p models, but i’ll also pay 12€ to do that in sub games i know i’ll like to play for at least a few days. Wildstar and TESO, though, they won’t get a sub from me while they are still in p2p-mode. For p2p/subscription, i’d really like one studio to try and do this with ingame-time- i’d really love to buy, for instance, 100 hours in game for 15€ or something- they can still include the monthly subscription as a flat-fee-option (and maybe even raise the price point), but for me, paying by the hour would work out better.

Oh, and btw., i think studios profit from players subbing up for 6 months and maybe forgetting to cancel it in time or maybe not playing a lot, so i continue to think removing such an option is likely done to avoid doing refunds after a business model change.

Encouraging group play / Friendlist minions

I’ll try and visit some possibilities to encourage group play in modern MMORPGs. I’ve given reasons for ultimately playing solo most of the times and still like playing in the genre. The thing is, i’d also like MMORPGs to be a social experience where one can chat with people you know and get to know new “players”.

I think, one reason for social networks being so successful in these days- or even messenger apps like WhatsApp- is their asynchronous nature. If i want to contact one of my friends, i can do so- it doesn’t matter if they’re working at that time, taking care of their child or whatever. When they are free to do so, they’ll read my message and reply.

So, one possibility to encourage social play in MMORPGs could be to give asynchronous options- i’m not the first one to mention this, of course, and i could point you to Mark Kerns column over at MMORPG.com, where he mentions this idea. The whole column is worth a read- even if you’re thinking “why didn’t he apply this to Firefall?” half of the time. He mentions an asynchronous communication method that could be implemented in the games. But as i sat here and tried to come up with my own ideas, one thing came to mind and wouldn’t let go, even if it probably has some problems and will be a rough idea- i’m no game designer, after all.

Let us be our minions!

The minion/follower system of Rift and World of Warcraft is liked by many. What if a game would allow you to give these tasks to friends and guildmates instead of NPCs/trading cards? The idea started small, but the more i think about it, the more possibilities come to mind. The easy way, of course, is to have 1-person tasks that could be handed out to friends and guildmates. But you’d also have to think about a reward. So how could it work?

Simple Tasks, rewards for both parties

The easiest way to do this, as mentioned, would be to give players the ability to assign tasks to friends or guildmates. These tasks could range from gathering resources, crafting of items to just killing mobs. If we’d take the easiest road, kill-quests would probably be it. You’d also have to have ingame rewards for people to use this system, and i think there are games that already have nice ideas.

Such as FFXIV and Wildstar. In FFXIV, after a dungeon run using their dungeon finder tool, you can give a recommendation to one player. They can later use these recommendations to get some rewards. In Wildstar there’s a similar currency, though i think it’s used more often there and it is gained by simply grouping up. Now that i think of it, SWTOR does have this system, as well, though i’m not so sure what players get out of it.

So, the player who’s assigned to a task gets this currency and also XP and loot from stuff he or she is killing. Since the currencies in Wildstar and SWTOR didn’t really encourage more group play, the rewards for doing these “Minion-Tasks” would have to be huge- maybe even as good as, say, raid loot.

The player who’s assigning these tasks could get XP, of course, and maybe ingame currency as well as the “social currency”…and maybe even get some kind of “Task Master XP” that allows him or her to assign bigger/harder/more rewarding tasks in the future.

I know this is themepark talk- i’d do it differently in sandboxes (more economical, less xp and special currency. Also, i wouldn’t provide a user interface tab but something like player vendors who stand in the open world).

Basically, this would be a player-to-player quest system.

Expanding

Now throw in gathering, crafting, maybe searching something as well as the potential to use special tasks for certain character classes/professions and maybe even group tasks, and there should be a lot of possibilities.

The group tasks could be sequential, consosting of mutiple steps, with each step tailored to one class/profession or both. Or they could consist of only one step designed for more than one player. And here we are again, you’d need group areas in the open world for this. Suddenly, there’s the possibility to meet other people doing the same task, maybe socialize, expand the friendlist and so on.

What game could do something like that?

I really don’t know. Maybe those who already have the Minion/Follower system in place; World of Warcraft, Rift, maybe Star Trek Online and SWTOR. And i think it would be becoming in most sandboxes.

Why i play solo

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).