Solo content is too hard

| Monday, May 23, 2011
Do we want trivial content? I think not. Maybe sometimes. But it's not an evil elitist conspiracy that causes games to have difficulty parts. It's fun. I mean the difficult parts are fun, not to suggest that evil elitist conspiracies are not.

But sometimes it's hard to find other people. Or we don't want other people. Maybe today I want to do ICC and I don't want to be around other people. Not a problem! I'll just pull out my raid size menu and click down a few notches to... there we go, solo mode Icecrown Citadel.

Okay, not trivial, so how hard? Wrong question. How do we make solo content hard? We could go off reflexes, but that is going to create wide variation in individual difficulty.

We could call for interesting tactical decisions, but balancing those across classes will be pretty hard. So some might be easy, others ways too hard. Heals could trivialize it or be mandatory. A pet might make an otherwise challenging gauntlet into a cakewalk. As much as there has been sharing of abilities and crying of homogenization (guilty), the classes are still different enough that they are not balanced for specific solo situations.

This is the value of a group and of the holy trinity. Together, they give developers some sense of what players can do, what capabilities they will have. Imbalances can be smudged over a bit with a group. So can variation in skill. While the term "carrying" gets so much hate, it's not such an awful thing to be able to boost someone up a bit, to get groups where they could not go otherwise.

I'm not eager to see a solo end-game. Balance would be on a knife-edge. Except more like the head of a needle. Like dancing angels. Given that the Rapture didn't happen, maybe it's all bunk. My point is that balancing a challenging, but not impossible, solo end-game is asking for trouble. Too much trouble to justify what I think would be a fairly small payoff.

In general I think we should be wary of soloing. It's not going to destroy a game. But it's not going to save it either. Instead we should figure out what we can do to help players to play together. That includes figuring out why they wouldn't want to, and fixing that. Maybe it's the toxic culture (not fixed). Maybe groups are too hard to form (fixed). Maybe we can't play with friends (bad idea, but fix in progress). Maybe there's just no one out there to play with, as I lamented in Hello, person I met in the middle of nowhere.


scrusi said...

Frak balance on the scale of individual challenges, really. I really enjoyed soloing elites (such as Fozruk, back when there still were elites in leveling content) on my hunter, but didn't mind at all having to group for them on my previous characters. It is quite a lot of fun to figure out how to do things that others can't (and more than makes up for the inability to do other things.)

Syl said...

The majority of all computer-/videogames are still solo or at least solo-able. I like some soloability in MMOs, but they are NOT supposed to be solo content games - there's enough other games to do this if that's what you seek.
the difference should always be there unless you want to remove the whole point of cooperation in MMOs and then I really wonder why you even bother with them..

I don't want any solo access to dungeons or raids, I don't even want solo access to all maps or quests!

Caramael said...

One of the biggest challenges for a lot of Diablo 2 (yeah, again, sorry :P) players, was being able to solo D2's group content. There are various guides to solo Hell mode, solo the Diablo Clone, solo the Übers etc. A large number of items in D2 are specifically made for this purpose; they are extremely powerful when compared to items required to complete the game with a group.
Personally, I would really REALLY like it if WoW would allow tweaking of characters to be able to solo group content. Maybe it could be as simple as a zone buff and a new type of item sets tailored to that specific purpose. It could be a complete new end-game path of progression which could start by trying to obtain "solo-blues", which could allow to start obtaining "solo-epics" etc.
It would also be interesting to see how many players would then abandon playing in groups because they actually prefer playing the game solo.

Tesh said...

@Syl, a quick aside... even if the entirety of WoW were soloable, just by nature, the game is still a shared space with thousands (per server, anywho, never mind the metagame or shared social space outside of the servers) of players in a persistent world. That offers a very different climate from a pure offline solo game. If nothing else, the simple fact that there *are* other players in the world is what keeps some players coming back, as the game world is a much more interesting place from a sterile Oblivion or something similar.

There's also the "a hero is you" design that so permeates solo offline RPGs. It's nice to pop into WoW and just be a random adventurer making a way in a world that goes on without the player.

Also, just because something *is* soloable, it doesn't mean that a given player will always solo it. If playing with other people is fun, you'll always see group play. (So yes, we need to see why it isn't fun or isn't done and fix that, really...)

...oh, and I'll second Scrusi. Forget balancing content to be soloable by any given class. Establish a "soloable" baseline and let players tweak their classes/builds to adapt (make respeccing free like Guild Wars and you'd see a lot more experimentation, while we're at it).

Why must game designers bend over backwards to cater to everyone's tastes? It's an impossible task. Players should rise to the challenge on their own. So what if solo Icecrown is a faceroll for a level 85 Hunter or Retadin? If that player really wants a challenge, they will find it.

Of course, by the same note, why make raid content soloable? Simply, because you want players to stick around and pay their subs. The more players can get to and do, the longer they pay to play.

Syl said...


"That offers a very different climate from a pure offline solo game"

that seems to be a very small difference to me - so some of your "NPCs" are real people and every now and then you can interact with them a little more or group up, but you don't really need to. create an entire MMORPG just for that? you might as well just merge a DAO with Animal Crossing then. ;)

I see what you mean of course, but that's no more than an added "online mode" to me and like you said, the same game will never satisfy all types of players - I'm certainly looking for the classic , more in-depth concept (but then you already know this!).

Tesh said...

Well, there's also the economy, if that matters. Without other players, the game economy (including crafting) would be a very different thing.

At the same time, I'm not opposed to offering WoW offline as a pure solo game that you could then go online if you felt like playing with others... or even just have the DF grab a few other players with an "online, waiting for group" tag and go to town. Instances are split from the world at large anyway.

...but yeah, I'm all for a more in-depth dynamic, organic online world, too, I just think that means something with a LOT more world-player interaction in more organic ways than WoW offers. :) There really is a lot of potential for online worlds that react to players... but that's been a forgotten evolutionary path.

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