Saturday, September 15, 2007

Why Can't We Solo With Other People?

I frequently solo. In fact, that's what I do most of the time. Recently, I've been two boxing a lot. Not too long ago, in game, someone I've known since my days in Final Fantasy XI (to whom I've often complained about not being able to find a group) asked me how I can reconcile my post stating that I feel like modern MMOs feel like a bunch of people all alone, together with the fact that I was actively soloing, avoiding a (real) group by two-boxing. In my previous post, I talk about how I believe modern MMOs lack a strong sense of community. I guess I do somewhat imply that I think the ease of soloing is part of the problem, so I suppose there is an apparent contradiction. ("Objection!," says Mr. Wright.)

But I don't think my thoughts and behavior are actually contradictory. I DO think the ease of soloing has reduced the sense of community in these games to some degree, and I do think thats a bad thing. But I don't think soloing itself is bad. I enjoy EQ2 much more now that it is much more possible to solo; I probably wouldn't still be playing it if it hadn't become more casual accessible.

Sometimes, I don't have time to sit around LFG, and sometimes I'm just lazy and don't want to bother. Sometimes, I'm only logging on for thirty minutes and don't want to trouble anyone by leaving shortly after I join. Sometimes I need to go AFK at any moment and don't want to inconvenience anyone.

And sometimes I DO want to group, but the lack of decent tools gets in the way. Maybe I'm playing my level 70 Monk but I'd really like to group with my level 45 Defiler. Sure, I can spam the level 45 channels or /ooc until I'm blue in the face (and /ignored by half the server). So I grudgingly go off on my own.

At the same time though, I do feel that modern MMOs lack a lot of the sense of community that I saw before. Forced grouping did forge a stronger sense of community. Being able to solo your way through a game means we can simply play our way to the end game without having to deal with anyone else except as passing pixels on our monitors. If someone chooses to do so, that's fine. I'm not going to tell someone how they have to play the game they are paying for. But I do think it would be nice to introduce new game elements that encourage a stronger sense of community.

I don't think that means going back to the days when forced grouping was the ONLY option or in any way reducing the viability of soloing in these games. We can have our cake and eat it too. It should be quite possible to build a sense of community while still accomodating the solo playstyle. I don't see why soloing has to be an isolated affair where you interact solely with a crafting station or randomly spawning monsters as you finish off your quests alone. There should be more ways for us to "solo" with other people.

In EQ2 there were a number of times when they introduced quests to build griffon towers in various zones. Some people fought off monsters, some people harvested and delivered them to the crafters, and others crafted. Take that idea and make it a permanent (or temporary but recurring) part of some aspect of the game (a contested battlefield with two or more sides; crafters building siege weapons perhaps, with soloable enemies from opposing forces spawning to thwart the efforts which would require adventurers need to repel, and rewards for everyone who contributes to the extent they contribute.) People won't need to group in a game setting like that; they could log in and participate in whatever fashion they prefer for 5/15/500 minutes, but the important thing is they would be interacting together as a community.

I think Warhammer is planning on doing something like that with their concept of public quests which would allow people, even alone, to make contributions (however small) to a greater effort being worked on by many people. I don't know the details, but its something I'm looking forward to seeing.

Or as another example: instead of wasting some EQ2 developers time having them come up with new writs (which are essentially crafting quests that reward you XP for making a random number of crap no one wants), put in a game mechanic that lets PLAYERS put up work orders stating they want "X number of Y" and rewards the crafter who accepts and completes the order the same XP. The crafter may still be making crap for XP, but now they know someone in the community that they might run into is wearing/eating/shooting that crap. Which means a lot more than having the items get sent to /dev/null.

There should be plenty of ways to encourage players to interact and forge a stronger sense of community aside from forcing us to find a tank, healer, and DPS, who can make it out to the zone we are in within a reasonable timeframe, find a substitute tank because the one we had suddenly had to help a guildmate, figure out what quests we have in common, find the quest giver for the starting quest because someone missed a step and we couldn't share the quest, and........., /sigh.

1 comment:

DamianoV said...

Another soloing together example might be the "monsters" (giant squid in IP, Paladin clockwork in KR) and "Rikti invasion events" in CoH/CoV.

People often still do group up to be able to tap into group bonuses, but these are all short events, largely ignoring levels, where a single challenge is overcome and then everyone generally disperses... fits into the same basic mold, I think. More of those could be good, definitely.