Soloing in MMOs - Out of Control or Just Right?
Is there too much soloing in MMOs? Should MMO developers push things more in the direction of encouraging grouping? Is the prevalence of soloing hurting the social aspect of MMOs and MMO communities?
The Evolution of Solo Play - Solo Friendly MMO
The concept of soloing in MUDs/MMORPGs has undergone a bit of an evolution. MUD characters soloed the majority of the time. Some of the time this was due to an actual lack of coded grouping. Much of the time, there just weren’t other people around. For some, it was technical – either a bad internet connection (or slow modem) or they played a game that could not handle the load of more than a few people.
Forced Grouping - What Could Go Wrong?
Computers got faster and bandwidth got fatter, and graphical MMOs came along. Suddenly, the concept of forced grouping was born and while some hated it others loved it. Those who hated it complained loudly and frequently, causing the next generation of MMOs to be significantly more solo friendly. Eventually, WoW came along and turned soloing into an art form. Nearly the entirety of the pre-raid game is soloable. Some see this as a virtue. Others wonder why bother making an MMO at all if people are just going to play solo.
One Developer's View: We Have Gone a Bit Too Far
I certainly believe that one of the most crucial elements of an MMO is the interaction between players. If everyone is just soloing the game, interaction is minimized and fewer meaningful emotional connections are forged in the game. But on the flip side, I believe in the fun that can be had from playing a game alone, together. Sometimes a player might want to do their own thing without interruption or interference from other players, but they’d still like to chat with other players. So they go about their business solo while talking to friends in /tells or various chat channels. A solo friendly MMO is nice, but there is a point where it goes too far.
We Need to Strike a Balance Between Solo Play and Grouping
What it then becomes is a matter of balance. A good MMO has content that can be played solo, but not ALL content. It has development paths that can be pursued both solo or in groups, with neither feeling so better or worse than one method is functionally irrelevant. There should be fun and real benefits to grouping, but playing solo should be supported. However, I do not think playing solo should ever be outright encouraged. There are enough natural reasons for people to play a game by themselves from time to time. Encouraging it, rewarding it, or bragging about support for it are all bad things in an MMO.
Well… that’s my view anyway. What is yours? Please share it in the comments.