Previously, I discussed some of the reasons why I prefer to solo through most MMO content. This got me to thinking about something I’ve noticed since switching back from World of Warcraft to Guild Wars. Players in World of Warcraft, despite the ease with which the game can be soloed, seem to be far more likely to form pick-up groups than players in Guild Wars. I began to think about why this might be. I’ve come to the conclusion that this, like so many other things in life, is determined by a number of factors adding up to an individual’s experience within a game.
Likeliness to Group
A player’s likeliness to form or join a group can be traced to a number of factors.
The difficulty of the game itself weights heavily on a player’s decision to group. A difficult game will affect players in one of two ways. The first, and more likely, is that players will become more likely to group so that they can get through the difficult content successfully. A few players will be affected inversely, choosing to solo the difficult content for the extra challenge. This second group is a small but elite subsection of the community that I find hard to understand sometimes. I personally don’t enjoy hammering my head against a wall just to complete a section of a game.
Another key aspect of a game that can have a huge impact on whether players choose to group or not is the UI. Current MMOs offer a multitude of answers to this issue, some good, some bad. Most offer some way to indicate what you’re looking to do and what sort of player you are. Some simply provide a chat channel that anyone looking to join or form a group can see. Others provide nothing at all. Surprisingly, I have yet to see one with the simplicity of the Quick Match option for Xbox Live in an MMO. An option that looks at your character, your skills, and your gear and matches you with appropriate teammates. A player rating system, also similar to Xbox Live, would be handy as well.
Feeling Like a Hero
As discussed in my previous article, players want to feel like the star of the show. In a group environment, that can still be accomplished, but it can be tricky. Playing World of Warcraft as a priest, I enjoyed being able to heal well and gain respect from those I grouped with. Designers are simply unable to create the feeling a player gets when his teammates offer praise for a job well done, exchange friend list invites, and promise to group up again in the future. Even more so, many of us have experience that shining moment where we, as the last person left alive in a group, managed to finish off a boss at the last second. No cutscene starring my character can equal that rush.
Finally, players’ decisions to join a group are influenced greatly by past experiences in groups. Basically, this boils down to the attitude of the vocal majority of players in the game. If a player decides to PUG a dungeon three times and all three times they are paired up with a bunch of jerks, then they’re not likely to join PUGs anymore. For me, it seemed for a while that every time I joined a group for The Mechanar in WoW, I ended up with a group that either couldn’t down the first boss or broke apart soon after. I nearly decided to give up on the dungeon entirely.
How Soloing Affects the Players
So as I said at the beginning of this article, I’ve noticed a big difference in how players behave in Guild Wars compared to World of Warcraft. I attribute this to the effect that a good solo experience can have on players. As noted above, good experiences with groups make players more likely to continue grouping. Most of the groups I joined during my time in World of Warcraft were pretty good. WoW makes it easy to find a group, get started, and get through most dungeons quickly before that magic point where a group goes sour.Additionally, it can be said that you are always in a group of some kind while playing WoW. Even when you’re out questing, you can encounter other players or talk to them in the global chat channels. This, I believe, is where the first divide with Guild Wars occurs. Guild Wars provides a different experience to other MMOs. Major cities and outposts in Guild Wars provide the only locations where you can interact with players not in your group already. Once you leave these outposts to begin your quests, you are on your own.If, like me, you would rather go adventuring with the provided AI characters to fill out the rest of your party, you become totally cut off from the rest of the player base while questing. Since solo players tend to focus more on playing the game than interacting with others, a solo Guild Wars player generally pops into towns long enough to turn in quests, sell loot, and head back out. This then has a greater effect on the game as a whole. Because players are not accustomed to interacting with others during the majority of their in-game activities, this anti-social way of playing continues throughout. Those seeking a group receive very few offers to team up as most players are content with their fairly capable AI teammates. This leads those who would like to group to fill in their ranks with AI players as well, further limiting interaction while playing.
In A Perfect Virtual World…
Arenanet has recognized that their instanced questing areas are not ideal and have already announced that the upcoming Guild Wars 2 will include less instanced areas, providing more opportunities for players to meet and team up for various activities.While I still contend that any MMO should provide elements for the solo player, I believe that too much emphasis on solo activities, such as in Guild Wars, can hurt a game and weaken its community. The ideal balance has yet to be reached, but one that allows for players to play however they wish while benefitting from the presence of a diverse online community is certainly a goal that any MMO developer should seek to achieve.