It seems that a recent Bioware interview for Star Wars: The Old Republic has caused quite a stir of echoes about allowing people to play the MMO solo. It’s not too hard to stereotype the two camps. On one hand we have Keen, a single male in college, and Tobold, who is sure to let readers know that he has plenty of liesurely time as he and his lady don’t have kids. On the other hand we have the hardcore father-blogger-student-worker Syp, whose time is precious. I fall in Syp’s crowd because my game time is very precious, and I agree with his assessment the most.
Grouped content is amazing; no one disputes that. Even in Guild Wars which usually requires 8 party members to play, taking along 7 other warm bodies on a mission instead of 7 AI-controlled bots is quite an improved experience. It just feels more organic. Still, the one thing in MMOs that absolutely enrages me is waiting in the hopes a group will form. Bugs or “bad” design implementation are mere itches by comparison.
The ultimate goal, in my opinion, is one that ArenaNet, Turbine, KingsIsle and now Bioware follow: supplement empty chairs with AI characters so that players can actually play. Now, Tobold and Keen are upset because, gosh, a player might choose to go at it alone without experiencing the greatness of polite, helpful pick-up-groups or always-on-time, sober guildies. Tobold, in an earlier post, asks why not just go play a single-player game because they are cheaper (highly debateable) and more convenient. I’ll tell you why again.
Humans are social creatures that need interaction with others of their species. MMOs are games that support that need, but the interactivity is not simply limited to partying in MMOs. Interaction can be a calculated game of cornering a market, it could be enjoying the buzz of the social hubs, and it could be the simple comfort of knowing that even sitting in a small, lonely apartment, the gamer is not alone as another player runs by in the forest. Our connection runs deep.
I found it very interesting that the biggest complaint about Skirmishes, Turbine’s new scalable, instanced, instant content for Lord of the Rings Online, was that it was hard for just two people to play. That’s the level of interaction these couples wanted out of an MMO. Why don’t they just play a co-op game made for 2 players? Because, I would guess, they want just a tad more interaction. They might not want a third wheel in their Skirmish party, but they are playing an MMO because they don’t want to be completely insular. The term “massively” is a term so hotly debated because at the end of the day it’s really not about the server population, number of players in a party, or soloability of the game… it’s about interaction. And, meaningful interaction is relative to each and every person.
live together, die alone