Hello, person I met in the middle of nowhere

| Tuesday, April 26, 2011
So there I was, in the Silithus desert...

I want to talk about solo-friendly MMO gaming. What is it? Why? How? Marshmallows.

Why would anyone want a solo-friendly MMO?
I see two reasons. First, it keeps scheduling flexibility. If I log on before my friends and guildies (but not so long before that we're in "get a different guild" territory) I won't want to sit around bored. Give me something to do while I wait for my friends.

Second, a person may simply desire to be alone at the moment. Maybe they want to kill some foozles without needing someone around. They're just not feeling social. This may seem like a strange situation to accommodate for a game type based on multi-player play, but everyone has their lonely moods and it is potentially profitable to be able to keep people playing in your (dev/comapny's) world, rather than going somewhere else and learning something awful like "they don't need you."

How do we make a solo-friendly MMO?
I see two general methods. One is the obvious one: make quests and content easy enough to be done alone by most or all classes and specs. Most gathering and crafting fits this model, with relatively few recipes needing materials that don't come from the corresponding gathering profession. Except engineering. Most quests also fit this model. Note that this model fits will with either reason for soloing: unavailability of friends and desire to be alone.

There is the opposite approach as well: make groups easy enough and quick enough to find using in-game tools and social aspects that a player does not need to be with their guild to participate in group content. This can come in two forms: tools and location.

Tools are things like LFG channel (I miss thee), the early LFG tool (LFG three heroics, plus all the other ones that I cannot select because apparently no one actually tested this for anything but bugs), and the current LFD tool (LFG anything, just don't talk to me). Oh and the elite quest grouping tool. Lol. Or was that part of the LFG tool that no one used for anything beside instances? These served the function of putting people with common goals in contact with each other when they might not have otherwise (especially cross-server). They're really great at what they do.

Location means putting them in the same place. If I'm struggling to kill elite bugs here and you're struggling to kill elite bugs there, maybe we could work together and not struggle. What a crazy idea. This works well when we're both in Silithus. If I'm in Silithis and you're in Blasted Lands, not so much. The idea here is that players will naturally congregate in certain areas for similar goals and the challenges in those areas will be such that they can play alone, but will notice a significant benefit from working together. You might have noticed that I am using Silithus as an example, probably because it's a good one: hives filled with elite bugs and multiple boss-level mobs that could be summoned, one type even requiring a small raid to beat. Note that this has changed a lot since then: at 85 you can solo all of it and the bugs are no longer elites anyway.

Solo-friendly does not have to mean trivial
Like the bold words say: solo-friendly does not have to mean trivial. The previously mentioned bugs were not easy to solo. They could be, so you don't need friends, or anyone at all, to quest there. For me they're a convincing piece of evidence for the location method of solo-friendly play. You can play alone. You can play on a random schedule and play with whoever you happen to run into, which you are likely to do because a meaningful, useful location is going to be a popular spot.

In other words, a game can be solo-friendly without discouraging grouping or encouraging sociopathic behavior. However rigid quest structures and the anonymous, reward-driven LFD system, each do at least one of those.

13 comments:

Nils said...

I remember farming the scarlet monastary in the eastern plagueland, because these mobs were elite.

If there hadn't been any elites to farm yourself I'd quit classic WoW long before TBC came out.

- The feeling of 'pride' to be able to do it.
- Creating plans for 3-mob pulls.
- Executing plans.
- The adrenalin rush when something went wrong.
- The very small chance for an epic (got one in whole classic WoW.),
- The pure fun of doing the core gameplay.

It was fun. It was already a bit missing in TBC, it was possible, but completely pointless in WotLK. It is non-existent in Cataclysm.

I just hope Rift offers the same mob-strength variety at maxlvl that it offers at each particular level.

Gilded said...

Some content can be solo-content by its nature. Collecting and gathering for example. Going about and looking for mushrooms and rare herbs. Fishing, crafting, a lot of the non-combat aspects of the game would also make great solo content they were well implemented (like not have to worry about fighting through mobs while going out to gather things).

Klepsacovic said...

@Nils: Were you farming for crusader formula? That's something I liked, the pursuit of hard-to-get recipes. Though some were perhaps excessively annoying, such as anything off late mobs in Arcatraz.

@Gilded: You're right, gathering has tended to be a solo activity. But I did briefly get into the business of hunting trees in Sethekk, helping people with their kills so I could get the special herbs off them.

Caramael said...

I loved trying to solo elites in vanilla. It's just like what Nils said. Beating them made you feel like you ruled the world, and getting an extremely rare world drop was awesome too. I remember keeping an Icemail Jerkin equipped long after I dinged 60 on my enhancement shaman. It was stupid (it used to be a spirit item), but I just couldn't replace it because I found it myself.

Andrei said...

@Nils: I remember solo farming some of the named elites in Burning Steppes. Volchan and Hermatos come to mind. At first, they were quite challenging and even groups of 2-3 players could get wiped if they didn't know what they were doing. It became a bit trivial once I had T2/T3 gear.

Tesh said...

Speaking as a dedicated soloist, I love the LFD for making it possible to play the group content without requiring me to spam LFG channels or join a guild that I'd probably just /mute anyway.

Yeah, yeah, I could solo dungeons once I've outleveled them, and there's a certain appeal in pushing my abilities that way (I sometimes wish I could delevel to push it further)... but it's just not the same as playing with other hapless players. I play 95% solo, but when I do want to play with others (gasp!), LFD has made it possible to do so without much fuss. I've actually had maybe 90% good experiences with it.

...that's not to say that it couldn't be better, and I recognize I'm an aberration... I'm just noting that it's a useful tool, for the reasons noted here, and that there are some fun players out there, even if they are random samples.

Klepsacovic said...

@Tesh: "...that's not to say that it couldn't be better, and I recognize I'm an aberration... I'm just noting that it's a useful tool, for the reasons noted here, and that there are some fun players out there, even if they are random samples. "
It is a useful tool indeed, which could be better. But I wonder just how much of an aberration you are, as a proportion of the population.

Tesh said...

I've wondered as well. I do think that, generally speaking, more players would play together if it was easier to do and more fun. Seems to me that the LFD's popularity at least suggests that such is a fair assumption.

Psychochild has a good article on making grouping easier, and I've written about it in one way or another in the past. This is one of my favorites on the subject:

What a Ship Is...

Y'see, I love soloing, but if the barrier to grouping is low, and it's a fun way to play, I'll actually do so. That's one part of the appeal of a shared world, after all, even if I don't want to be joined at the hip to some other guy to actually play most of the time.

...not sure how common that attitude is. It might be more common out of the blogosphere, though.

Tesh said...

Psychochild's article:

Punishing Grouping

Klepsacovic said...

Ooh, thanks for the read. I love the comment discussions over there and this one is huge. I may have to steal some ideas.

Dallanna said...

Solo Friendly?

Well, in light of my departure from WoW, Vindictus (one of them Korean 'Free-mium' MMOs), has probably given my my best fix so far.

It is as polished and refined as WoW? Not really, but for the single player, with a bit of mutliplayer interaction if you want to breeze through the earlier content, it's worth the time you put in.

It gets another plus from me because it uses the Source Engine. Got a soft spot for Valve, though I'm not really sure about them now and then.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, something I would like to see is solo raiding, still doing the damage dance, keeping the challenge but with potions or some other thing to use to complete the bosses.

Just my two pence.

Klepsacovic said...

I noticed that the wow insider link seemed to portray this as possibility for a theoretical future MMO. These are not new ideas, but observations of content which already exists or did exist.

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