MMOs have become more and more focused on solo players and there are many reasons for this. Many people are out there, like me, that just don’t have the time to find a group or else they are worried about having to leave in the middle of something and making the group angry. I claim this is a game design flaw and instead of designing in heavy solo content, games should be focusing on ways to take advantage of the fact that a large number of people are playing the same game at the same time.
Lets take a look at groups in general. Currently many people shy away from “pick up groups” because either they end up with someone that doesn’t know how to play very well and thus harming the group’s advancement or else they are worried something in real life will force them to have to leave too soon. Therefore, they end up playing solo. If a game was to focus instead on making grouping up fun no matter the group make up, and make it easy for people to come and go easily, it would change the interest levels of the players towards grouping in general.
Technically, we could even go so far as to group people up automatically. If I am on a quest and I’m in the proper area, perhaps the game can pop everyone in that area working on the quest into an impromptu group. Perhaps I am out fighting something, and have my auto-group option turned on. A healer might come running by and see I need some help. In games like WoW, helping me out will only reduce my XP. But with auto-group and the right game design, the healer could group up with me simply by joining in the battle – and we could get XP bonuses instead of a penalty for being social. Why are games so afraid of what might be considered “power leveling”? If the game is designed right, there would be no race to the end game because there would be no end game. Therefore, rushing to the level cap (do we even need to make levels a big deal? or have them at all?) would just result in missing content.
Now I’m no game designer, but it seems to me as a player that we are losing out on something important here. Grouping up should be the main focus of MMOs. If you can design a game that by having someone in the group makes it more fun and better than not having them, the problem could be solved. Question is, how can that be done? Well, how about including group skills that become active when you have a certain number of people in the group? The “combo” skills included in several games (FFXI and LotRO to name a few) is a good start. Imagine a game where one player could toss some sand into the eyes of the enemy while a second moves in to trip him up and a third pins him to the ground with a well placed spear jab. Or how about a few magic users casting spells that work together to form a more powerful spell with everyone getting a chance to toss in a little twist to make it special. All I am really saying here is let’s try to make it so much fun to group that nobody wants to solo. Don’t force the group, make it so you can’t wait to group.
Simple things that games like Asheron’s Call has where you can have a patron/vassal situation that is beneficial to both players. A new player can pledge allegiance to a veteran player which results in XP pass-up going to the veteran and perhaps financial gain (or even knowledge) going down to the new player. Like I said, I’m no designer, but shouldn’t we be focusing on ways to encourage socialization? These games are massive, but we are turning them in to soloing with a chat channel.
Speaking of that, why are guilds reduced to simply chat channels these days? At least Everquest 2 provides a guild leveling system so that is a plus over games like World of Warcraft. But there needs to be more. There needs to be pride in belonging to a guild, where veterans spend time seeking out new low level good quality players to bring into the guild and teach them the ways of the game. There should be rewards for taking someone under your wing and rewards for joining a good guild. Guilds need to have something to bind them together. Games with a guild keep that you can defend would certainly be a good start.
Another problem area is the buddy list. How many games must be made that require you to enter your friend for each and every character you have. Do we really need a separate buddy list for each of my alts? The list needs to be good for all your characters. And while we are at it, let me assign an “alias” for my friend so that no matter what character he logs into – I can see he is online. I would also like to see what level all the characters on my list are and when they last played. I’d like to see where they are in the game world. I want to be able to leave them a message right on the buddy list. See what I am getting at here? Encourage socialization!
From what I have read, Warhammer Online is going to approach some of these issues from a different angle then many of the current “solo” focused MMOs. Public quests are a step forward, in that it groups people up without them feeling like they are grouped up by force. If you can make people want to group and want to have people in their group, it’s a good thing.
I’ve turned into a solo player over the past several years and I’m wondering why it needs to be that way. I feel like the grand possibilities of what people can do with MMOs are just being reduced into only meeting the lowest and most basic common needs.